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18 February 2011

Loss of a Mentor

Jim Otterstrom died January 22nd, his memorial service will be held in his home town of Big Bear. 

Jim, and his wife Peggy, became my friends through my association with Orchid Black. They were close friends of hers, living a lifestyle that closely approximates her dreams. I spent only a few hours with Jim and Peggy, but found them to be like-spirits and I too admired their car-less life that had such low impact on the earth. Jim took fantastic photos and posted them to his blog. Peruse some of them if you will.

Orchid will read some poetry and I will play a couple of songs in the memorial service. He had head me play these songs the first night I met him and he approved of them. Music and art of all kinds figured large in Jim's life. The memorial service has been lovingly titled, “Otter-Strum” with a large of host of talented musicians of all flavors.

I wish I had many more hours with Jim in his garden, with his chickens and in their home. It inspired me to press on with my personal vision of how my life will be. I owe him a debt that will probably only be repaid by living the life of my own dreams, in my own way, on my own land.

I am grateful that I was offered the opportunity of knowing Jim Otterstrom. 


Urban Homestead, Urban Homestead, Urban Homestead

A 'city-chick' pecks in her 'urban homestead' yard.  Doubtless she doesn't care about the controversy and maybe we could take a cue from her.  

There are major forces arrayed to stop people from living the homestead dream – in the city and in the country. There are big corporations that believe you need to pay them before you can plant a garden – or that you should not bother to plant a garden at all but buy your food from supermarkets – food that has been grown from trademarked and patented seeds, grown with trademarked and patented inputs like fertilizer and pesticides. The homestead movement, both urban and rural, has a huge fight on its hands everyday of the year against these corporations and the government they control.

On Facebook, the biggest buzz between most of my friends has not been against Monsanto or the Obama administration, or events in Egypt but against one of our own: Path to Freedom, a pioneering family (the Dervaes) project in Pasadena, trademarked the term “urban homestead” and began sending cease and desist letters (NB:  OK, so technically they are not 'cease and desist' letters, not actually using those words... However, read what the Dervaes posted - in their own defense - and tell me if that is an unfair characterization.)   to other urban homesteaders. It was a shock that one of the leaders in this field had become the 'other' and indulge in the same practices associated with land rapers and profiteers.

Let there be no mistake: It is hard to discount the inspiration, if not applicable information, from the Dervaes family. I got to visit their homestead before they were the famous icon of the movement they became. By that point, tours of the homestead were not on their agenda, they were too busy with increasing productivity. Their blog is often referenced in conversations and many people in the homestead vein relish telling newcomers about the chickens, ducks, goats and amazing productivity of the Path to Freedom project.

But we now are fighting between ourselves, those of us who are, or wish to be urban – or rural – homesteaders. Most are aligned firmly against the Dervaes' family simply because they recognize that this is headed to wasted energy that should be used in furthering the cause. There is no ultimate 'urban homestead' worthy of the trademarking of the name. There will never be. It, like the people who flock to be homesteaders, is an ever evolving idea, concept. To attempt to trademark the name is as foolish as an attempt to pin the concept to the present time.

Why even try? There was some feeble defense on the Dervaes' blog that they were trademarking it so the term couldn't be co-opted by industrial imitators. Good move. We know how 'organic' and 'natural' mean nothing any more because they have become ad terms describing something more natural, say, than steroid injections. However, if that was the real idea, why did the cease and desist letters go to those who aren't industrial – the Institute for Urban Homesteading, Eric Knutzen who authored, “The Urban Homestead” or Santa Monica Farmers' Market Association when they did a seminar on the subject? If that was honestly the thought behind the trademarking move, it begs even further explanation because the targets ostensibly were on the same side of the Dervaes family's ideology. It doesn't make any sense.

I conclude it was hubris. The Dervaes have done much and much is owed to them. Somehow, though, they seem to feel that they deserve homage more than recognition. They seem to feel that their advances in urban homesteading are so complete and revolutionary that they alone have the right to be 'urban homesteaders.' This is not true. They wish to deny all of those, for hundreds of years, that went before them, with no trademarks on anything they did, and those that will follow and will take the urban homestead to even greater pinnacles. 

On their website they state:  "We have now secured registered trademarks for certain unique names and images. By protecting our intellectual property we are better able to ensure that our work is presented accurately and contributes to our sustainable living projects and educational initiatives."  Unique?  Our intellectual property? Our work?  Our sustainable projects? They obviously believe that they somehow have come to own 'urban homesteading' which would come as a surprise to the many who have been doing this for years and selfishly wish to protect 'their intellectual property' at the expense of an entire movement.  Sorry, no one can own it more than any other can own it.

You cannot trademark this movement. It moves. It is constantly in flux. It grows. It recoils. And it eats those who think they have mastered it. It is a world of individualists that don't pay homage to a leader. In fact, one of the central ideals of homesteading, predating the 'urban' part, is anti-authority.  I don't believe that homesteader gives a rat's ass for the legal system to begin with.  And then to invoke trademark challenges against your own?  

I hope that we can soon return to our normal diatribes against our real enemies. I pray that the Dervaes family withdraws its poorly-conceived trademark ownership and spends its time and money on making a better ideal for all to follow and allows other urban homesteaders to do the same. This is not a battle we need.  Under even the best circumstances, the Dervaes family has abdicated their roles as leaders and sadly will be known as 'plays poorly with others' more than for their innovation and hard work in making their own urban homestead a truly innovative site in the homestead pantheon.  

While it will move through the courts, here the battle is over.  Let's move on.  We have real work to do.


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