Urban Gardens as Commons

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Silvia Federici:

"We also have the many invisible, commoning activities and communities that people are creating in North America, which Chris Carlsson has described in his Nowtopia (2007). As Carlsson shows, much creativity is invested in the production of “virtual commons” and forms of sociality that thrive under the radar of the money/market economy.

Most important has been the creation of urban gardens, which have spread, in the 1980s and 1990s, across the country, thanks mostly to the initiatives of immigrant communities from Africa, the Caribbean or the South of the United States. Their significance cannot be overestimated. Urban gardens have opened the way to a ‘rurbanization’ process that is indispensable if we are to regain control over our food production, regenerate our environment and provide for our subsistence. The gardens are far more than a source of food security: They are centers of sociality, knowledge production, and cultural and intergenerational exchange. As Margarita Fernandez (2003) writes of urban gardens in New York, they “strengthen community cohesion” as places where people come together not just to work the land, but to play cards, hold weddings, and have baby showers or birthday parties.9 Some have partner relationships with local schools whereby they give children environmental education after school. Not least, gardens are “a medium for the transport and encounter of diverse cultural practices” so that African vegetables and farming practices, for example, mix with those of the Caribbean (ibid.).

Still, the most significant feature of urban gardens is that they produce for neighborhood consumption, rather than for commercial purposes. This distinguishes them from other reproductive commons that either produce for the market, like the fisheries of Maine’s “Lobster Coast,”10 or are bought on the market, like the land trusts that preserve open spaces. The problem, however, is that urban gardens have remained a spontaneous grassroots initiative and there have been few attempts by movements in the U.S. to expand their presence and to make access to land a key terrain of struggle. More generally, the left has not posed the question of how to bring together the many proliferating commons that are being defended, developed, and fought for, so that they can form a cohesive whole and provide a foundation for a new mode of production." (http://www.commoner.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/federici-feminism-and-the-politics-of-commons.pdf)