“Dervaes is a grade-A kook”: Or more on urban homesteading

Some of the back garden

Facebook decided to remove the above remark from a comment I made about Jules Dervaes on someone else’s post some time back. Facebook said it violated their community standards–apparently, Dervaes or one of his minions complained about his holy name being taken in vain. It doesn’t violate the standards of my blog, though, so here it is.

Who is this guy and why did I remark in an offhand manner that he is a kook? Am I some kind of mean person? Hey, at least I did not talk about shotguns or horses having their way with him. He decided, even though there was great evidence that he did not originate the term, to trademark the phrase “urban homesteading” back in 2011.  This phrase was first used in Mother Earth magazine back in 1976 and in The Whole Earth Catalog back in 1980, when Dervaes was still in rural Florida running a hobby farm–not an urban homestead. But he decided to go ahead and register a trademark for the phrase “for educational purposes” in 2011. Now, it is a fact that if you try to trademark a word or phrase that you know has been used for the same purpose by others prior to your use, your trademark is null and void (and in fact, the challenge to his trademarks is still ongoing, while he stalls and stalls and stalls). His action didn’t go over too well in the urban homesteading community, of which I was a part at the time (thus my “hedgesteading” concept). So Dervaes backtracked.

He claimed it wasn’t all about money but that he was trying to “protect” the phrase from corporate co-optation, much as I have heard people say Robert Rodale should have “protected” the word “organic.” What do you think–if Rodale had “protected” the word “organic” the way Dervaes is trying to protect “urban homesteading,” how many people do you think would even know what organic meant today, much less be gardening organically? Maybe five, I think.

Broader view of the back garden, including in the background queen of the meadow, wild sunflower, huge species rose bush

How did Dervaes go about “protecting” urban homesteading? He started sending Cease and Desist letters, or rather, the “Dervaes Institute” (which according to its non-profit status is supposed to be a church–I’m am going to file a complaint to the IRS that it does not qualify as such) started sending out these letters. For instance, he demanded FaceBook delete any group that had the phrase as part of its name. These weren’t corporations or corporate fronts. These were groups of ordinary people doing urban homesteading or wanting to learn about it. So a group in Detroit that was teaching kids how to grow veggies on vacant lots was shut down because of Dervaes’ complaints and lots of other groups who had never done anyone any harm and who were a lot more dedicated to educating people about urban homesteading than Dervaes was (because they didn’t charge anything for it) got trashed. Some protection, eh?

I guess the protection intended was of his own wallet, because his particular focus was a very excellent book that I highly recommend by Kelley Coyle and Erik Knutzen called Urban Homesteading. I guess it really cheezed off Dervaes or the Dervaes Institute that someone out there had written something he didn’t make any money off, unlike his website or his classes or his market garden or whatever. A good summary of the whole stupid, pathetic, jerky mess Dervaes created of his own free will is on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website.

Flowers grown next to the patio for the simple joy of seeing their sunny faces. The white marigold is surprisingly fragrant and its flowers are beautifully delicate. I will grow it again.

Just as Dervaes’ action re my offhand remark on Facebook has resulted in the removal of splinter causing a two-by-four to appear, so his attempts to smash anyone who had the audacity to use the phrase “urban homesteading” online wtihout a link back to his site(!) led to him getting his ass kicked all over the interwebs. For instance, within a few hours of being put up, the Facebook page “Take back urban homesteading” had over 6000 likes. This was back in 2011, when he first foolishly decided to kick up a shitstorm. Now? It has 13K likes. Whereas the Dervaes business site (and his conception of urban homesteading is indeed a business), which will not be provided any link juice here, ever, has decreased in hits. Why? Maybe because people don’t like a greedy jackass. He has certainly monetized the crap out of it, which can be very annoying.

But what about the kook stuff? Oh, there’s buckets.

A few of the many pots of flowers (and henbane!) on the west side of the house, making use of the unused driveway.

For a while there, Dervaes was making a lot of noise about moving to some country in South America to start his own private hell on Earth, but much like all the other wingnuts who make these threats, he still has not left. He used to have a great humiliating letter allegedly from his ex-wife on his kook website (as opposed to the business one) in which she said that she knew her place was to obey him and follow his spiritual leadership but she just couldn’t do it, but I guess even he was embarrassed by this level of kookery and removed it. Still, we are left with the gigantic kookery exemplified in his “end-time spiritual holocaust” which was caused by the fact that Dervaes’ pastor at the world-renowned Worldwide Church of God (formerly known as the Radio Church of God and now known as something else altogether out of embarrassment) would not heed his endless lecturing, bullying, harrassing letters. Dervaes’ church leader said back in the fifties that nuclear war would come and humanity would be enslaved until Jesus came back to free us in 1975, by which time all the Worldwide Church of God people would have emigrated to Jordan.  Anyone who questioned church dicta would be “disfellowshipped” and burn in the Lake of Fire for eternity. I won’t even detail the incredible GREED that the Worldwide Church of God demonstrated in its many mansions that were part of its headquarters in Pasadena. Their “tithe” was 30% of your after-tax income. Neat, huh? Their Jesus was not big on math, I guess. Dervaes left the Church spitting mad because when the original leader died and Jesus still had not shown up, a new guy took over the church and turned it away from much of its kookery so that it could enter the “mainstream of the evangelical movement.” In other words, Dervaes’ criticism of the church was not that it was kooky but that it was no longer kooky enough. For instance, the Worldwide Church of God was in the process of rejecting kook ideas like: The US, Canada, and parts of Europe are the lost tribes of Israel, medical treatment must be rejected in favor of praying, interracial marriage is wrong, ALL other churches are Satanic fronts, and so on. Dervaes didn’t want to reject these kook ideas, and when his church did and further “disfellowshipped” him, condemning him to the Lake of Fire for eternity, he got mad and is still feeling the sting 30+ years later.

When you are a public person, which you ensured you would become by constantly putting yourself forward on websites, in forums, in classes, and later even on TV (“Doomsday Preppers,” totally a class act), you no longer are a private person whom nice people will refrain from mocking out of just plain consideration. People can point and laugh at you. And when you try to stop them from laughing at you and mocking you, what you get is a post that has already been googled with the title “Dervaes is a grade-A kook” on it. Because people don’t like to be muzzled. It just rubs their fur the wrong way.

Hops getting strobiles. This is growing in a very large pot combined with Japanese morning glory and regular morning glory.

Now, why did I spend two hours writing this post about this kook when I didn’t bother to write any post at all about the goofball with a similar problem in terms of the word “sabbatica”? Because I don’t give a damn about the word “sabbatica,” but I do give a damn about the idea of urban homesteading. I think it’s an important practice and one that can lead to not only a little more self-sufficiency but that it can also be, like magic, empowering. At the same time, unlike magic, urban homesteading is not something easy to fake. It teaches us that we have to be open to listening to nature, even as it appears in the cityscape, in order for us to do well. With magic, we can be arrogant, but it is much more difficult to be arrogant to nature itself and to insist that plants grow. 🙂 I myself gave urban homesteading a serious try until it was brought home to me that it is very difficult to grow demanding veggies in shade full of tree roots and soil that does not contain topsoil, only rock fragments (according to people who know about soil). I decided to stick with what the yard wanted to do, which is grow a lot of beautiful, healthy herbs, some for magic (belladonna, black nightshade, mugwort, wormwood), some for tea and cooking (oregano, spearmint, sage), and some just for pleasure (roses, queen of the meadow, wild sunflower). I do have some food plants, like currants, gooseberries, elderberries, raspberries, blackberries, and Cornelian cherries, but I consider these more for fun than for sustenance at this point. Perhaps in the future, after some further propagation, they will provide more. But other folks out there might well not be dealing with the shade, trees, and rocks that I am dealing with and could well prosper from growing some of their own food. I encourage folks to check out the urban homesteading book I mentioned above and to take a look at their site, RootSimple. It’s really about more than growing food, and I do a lot of those other things, especially preserve food and make my own wine. So check it out. And don’t be intimidated by kooks.

4 comments to “Dervaes is a grade-A kook”: Or more on urban homesteading

  • Some people think they own the world…or word as it stands here. I’ve heard of Urban Homesteading, I’ve never heard of Dervaes so what does that tell you? In my mind, he does not qualify – except in the epic douchebag awards.

  • Alchemist in Charge

    Because of my experience with him years ago in his Yahoo group, where he acted like a bully, I didn’t want to have anything to do with him and never recommended his site or his way of doing things to people when I used to participate in gardening forums or when I discussed self-sufficiency with customers. Heck, the biggest inspiration for me in terms of urban homesteading was not his type but the British TV show from the seventies, Good Neighbors, aka The Good Life, about a couple in mid-life who decide to become self-sufficient in their suburban home (although their suburban lot is more the size of one of our city lots).


    It was actually what started me off being interested in the very idea of self-sufficiency.

  • Ditto what Stacey said. I think that speaks volumes against this prick.

    Coincidentally I just watched a video documentary on the couple from Root Simple and was very impressed with them. I’d love to have tea with them in their yard and pick their brains. I have a few friends who are urban homesteaders and I am a bit jelly at the moment. Right now I’m just an urban forager as I live in an apartment without a balcony or yard, but I hope to change that soon…

    • Alchemist in Charge

      I hope you get a place with good gardening opportunities soon, Sarah. I was just thinking this morning that life would be a lot less happy without a garden. Btw, your new site is gorgeous!

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