Who has the ‘right’ to use the term Urban Homesteading? Before this week, a whole community of people identified with the term and used it to describe the way they pursue their back-to-basics ideals in their urban backyard. The ‘movement’ generally draws people wanting to live life with as much self-sufficiency as possible–growing their own food (fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat), canning, conserving water, recycling, and just generally learning to do things for themselves while they consciously try to reduce their carbon footprint on the world we all share.
It sums up a thought process, culture, a way of life.
And now that mindset is being challenged by an urban homestead in California that recently trademarked the terms Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading, along with about a dozen other terms . To say that the back-to-basics folks are up in arms about this is an understatement! The dirt is flying on this one, to be sure.
For a group of people who celebrates a way of life, a way of sharing, a community of like-mindedness, this move feels like a slap on the face. People who embrace urban homesteading as a way of life, tend to feel like something was just sneakily stolen from them. And if they use those terms that they’ve used as a way of describing who they are, they face trademark infringement.
Whether or not the family homestead that started this did it for selfish or thoughtless reasons, I don’t know. I can guess, however, they had no idea the back-lash they’d create. The buzz being heard on blogs, forums, and social media, is more like a 5-alarm siren than a buzz. A group started on Facebook called Take Back Urban Home-Steading(s)–(spelled this way so Facebook doesn’t yank it for trademark infringement like all other FB sites using those now trademarked terms) and it’s getting huge support at a dizzying rate. Petitions are being circulated to cancel the trademark on both urban homesteading and urban homesteader.
It raises questions about how a family (even like the one in question that has been participating in urban homesteading for 20+ years now), an institution, an entity can grab a commonly shared identity and claim it as its own. And how a community of people who embrace urban homesteading will then be allowed to identify themselves and their way of life. And how a trademark of a commonly used term is even trademarked to begin with.
As the folks who grow and raise their own food in the city grapple with what this means, and as (I’d suspect) a legal battle is fought, it’s sad to me. One of the things I love about the whole movement is the community of sharing. Whenever I have a question, I look to someone who has more experience and knowledge than I do and I’m always given what I need and then some. The generosity and spirit of the urban homesteading movement is amazing. I’ve never encountered anyone who was afraid I’d steal their ideas or methods and somehow get ahead of them.
When the dust settles, I hope that the way of life itself will have been even more jealously guarded than the terms in which to describe it. I hope that one family’s insistence on claiming an identifying term as their own doesn’t taint the giving, generous community that’s feeling ripped off right now.
And I don’t think it will. Afterall, a rose by any other name is still a rose, right? And the spirit that fuels urban homesteaders goes down deep. Even if a new descriptive term needs to be generated to do it.