A fight over "urban homesteading" could wipe city farmers off Facebook

There were some ruffled feathers," admits James Bertini, the attorney/urban farm advocate who's been working for years to get the city to allow chickens in Denver yards. "But there aren't now." Not in this city, at least. Bertini has already filed a ballot initiative that would allow Denverites to keep up to six chickens — but some city officials are proposing to allow even bigger flocks, and unless their effort lays an egg, Bertini won't need to push that initiative in November.

Besides, he has other things to keep him occupied, including a major fight with Facebook, which on February 14 disabled the page for Denver Urban Homesteading — the year-round indoor farmers' market that Bertini owns with his wife — saying that the page violated copyright law. That same day, Facebook pages and blogs across the United States that used the phrase "urban homesteading" or "urban homestead" were also shut down.

Turns out that Jules Dervaes and his family in Pasadena, California, have trademarked the phrases "urban homesteading" and "urban homestead." The family's operations are incorporated as a church, the Dervaes Institute, with Jules listed as a minister of urban homesteading. "A group of us across the country who have small businesses involving urban homesteading and authors of books on this subject are working together to decide how to challenge this situation," says Bertini. "Urban homesteading is a concept that describes city dwellers getting in touch with the soil, learning to garden and raise chickens and teaching their children where food comes from, and the notion that this can be trademarked and that those who discuss it must acknowledge or pay a family church in Pasadena is preposterous."

Bertini isn't the only one putting up a fight. Adam Parfrey, whose Feral House has published everything from the writings of Ted Kaczynski to American Hardcore, also puts out more mainstream books through Process Media, including The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. That was enough to earn Parfrey a cease-and-desist letter last week from the Dervaes Institute. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up his cause, sending a stern letter to the institute demanding that it stop its trademark campaign and giving it until Friday to atone for its sins. "In addition," warned Corynne McSherry, the EFF's intellectual property director, "I strongly urge you to take similar steps with regard to the myriad other organizations and persons who have also been the targets of this misguided campaign. Please be aware that while we are hopeful that this issue can be resolved promptly and amicably, we reserve the right to pursue all legal remedies as necessary."

In other words, the actions of the Dervaes Institute are chickenshit.

Scene and herd: Last week's Off Limits list of a half-dozen great Denver hoaxes brought forth several suggestions from readers. Among them: the cayman in Washington Park, the terrorists who were going to blow up the Dillon Dam, the employee of the Edgewater Blockbuster who stabbed himself to avoid going to work (and netted Denver national press in the process)...and the 2011 Denver Broncos!

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