Kumunda Garden is one of many community gardens in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. One of the rules that makes the garden thrive but also feel like a collection of individual plots rather than a commons is called 'use-it-or-lose-it".
# Legal Status and Location
# When did they start?
In the fall of 2015, the City of Chicago owned 387 vacant lots in the neighborhood of Woodlawn. As many others, the Kumunda Garden lots once had multi-family apartments on them, inhabited mostly by black families. Since the 1960th, there was an enduring demographic decline. And here is a pattern that can be observed over and over again:
In 1998, the leading land trust for the Chicago region, Openlands, found that the city ranked eighteenth out of twenty large U.S. cities in terms of open space per capita. The same report noted that at the same time, there was an abundance of vacant lots, many of which were owned by the city. (Ela 2016:16)
Openlands recommended to create a land trust for community gardens, and to make sure neighborhood spaces were safe from development. In 1996, an intergovernmental agreement between the City, the County, the Forest Preserve, and the Chicago Park District created such a trust: NeighborSpace (html ). Its mission is to hold land for such gardens in the City of Chicago.
Growing vegetables and flowers in the Garden began only in 2013, while its history goes back to these mid 1990th and to what was known by then as "the 61st Street community garden", whose gardeners have resisted displacement anounced by Chicago University, by then the formal land owner. Nate Ela writes: "Since the legal right of the University to displace the gardeners was uncontested, the moral duty it owed to the gardeners who had been using the land became the issue. ... the garden benefited from the social and cultural capital of its gardeners." Many of them where students who had moved into the neighborhood. They understood how to negotiate with, and mobilize against the University.
They used digital video storytelling and conversations as a way to rhetorically claim the land, even though they only had limited right to use it. (ibid: 18)
# How do they work?
Today, the garden sits on land owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, not by NeighborSpace - the land trust that owns most of Chicago's community gardens. Compared to many other community gardens, Kumunda has abundant resources, as a " result of its organizers having seized an opportunity made possible by dispossession." (ibid: 17)
Kumunda is the size of two city lots, about one-third of an acre, with about 40 sunny, ten by ten feet plots. Gardeners Trust Situated Knowing, Deepen Communion with Nature and clearly meet some of the dimensions of commoning. But they don't Ritualize Togetherness, nor seem to be engaged in a consciously designed commoning process.
However, Kumunda Community Garden is certainly a collective and peer-governed use of (otherwise idle or "developed") space in an urban context).
[G]rowers work together to manage the space, and to strike a balance between sharing their bounty and keeping it from being taken by outsiders. Much of this they figure out on their own, whether in person at the garden or via the group’s email list. (Ela 2016:14)
# How are they financed?
Today, the land is owned by the Presbyterian Church. There is a use fee per plot: 40 USD (per year?).
# Peer-Governance in the Commons
Growing lettuce, broccoli and much more individually but using a shared space. source
The internal rules are made by the gardeners themselves who "prioritize use and sharing", reports Nate Ela, a reasearcher who became a Kumundu Gardener. If a plot is assigned, people (members) pay a use fee and sign a usage agreement, that has been developed by the gardeners.
On these assigned plots, everybody can grow what s/he wants. But there is one important rule in the Garden's Agreement (a document that is part of the gardener's way to Declare Shared Purpose & Values everybody explicitely recognizes before joining the community.
Use it or loose it. (Garden Agreement)
New gardener are told at the very first meeting that it is their responsibility to get the plot planted by June 1, or they lose both the fee for the year and the use of the plot. An intriguing way to Pool, Cap & Divide Up.
"At the time, as an eager first - year gardener, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal", writes Ela, learning quickly that it was - a big deal. Just as it is a big deal to "stop smoking as of January 1. "The following spring, the use-it-or-lose-it rule about which I had been so nonchalant the year before nearly came back to bite me. ... Weekends came and went. Between two busy schedules, a wet spring, and a lot of travel .... With the rule hanging over us, we eventually rushed out to put some seedlings that we had bought into the ground. ... we planted a few remaining seedlings outside the fence, in the common area." (ibid: 21)
Ela concludes, that "This didn’t feel like claiming land for the commons; if anything, we were ensuring our claim to our individual plot, to prevent it from reverting to the commons. ... One might think of it more like a condominium complex than a fishery." (ibid:22)
However, this is a conclusion stuck in a binary way of interpreting the messy realities of the commons. One could also conclude, that the rule makes sure, others can make use of that same plot, when you are too busy doing it. One can think about it as a ways to Relationalize Property.
Additionally, there are shared spaces and tasks like maintaining weed-free paths or maintaining common spaces. Emails and reminders during meetings are mainly used to enforce these ideas. People are also invited to join the community work days. Not only the owner, the Presbyterian Church, but also Kumunda Gardeners. Direct Capital to Commons Provisioning. The community garden fund is used to invest in shared spaces, like the drip irrigation system or the tool shed.
Free riding on the communal work of other gardeners doesn't seem to be a problem. Let us explore some other aspects in greater detail:
Set Semi-Permeable Boundaries. The garden is fenced with wooden stakes to the south and east and a metal chain-link fence to the north and west. Gates are locked and gardeners are reminded of locking or being aware of people who jump the fence to pick free vegetables. However, "[D]uring the summer of 2015, a row of small kale plants lined the strip of land between the fence and the sidewalk on Kimbark Street, an offering to passers-by. At the southeast corner, a pile of woodchips—material for keeping down grass along the garden paths—spilled over onto both sides of the fence, making it possible to step over the fence by climbing the mound." (Ela:2016:14)´ It is this pile of woodchips, that makes the "border" semi-permeable.
USE THIS TO QUOTE
# External Politics & Culture]]
The Kumunda Garden sits on land owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, not by (the land trust) NeighborSpace.
There is an interesting moment in the garden's history that shows how municipal law, the church's needs and the destiny of the garden are interlinked. The church's leaders might have been eager to make land available for the Kumunda Garden based on a municipal landscaping ordinance of 2008: a weed abatement regulation, which includes considerable "fines for any 'weeds' over ten inches in length."
In fact, between 2009 and 2014, the city reportedly collected over $19 million in fines for uncut weed, a problem for absentee ownersm reports Ela. This is not only a problem for absentee landowners, but also for those who don't have the means to keep up landscaping to legal requirements. Community Gardens are a mid-term solution to that problem in case owners don't want to selling their properties. Furthermore, as the gardens are non profit, "sharing the land with them does not jeopardize the Church’s tax - exempt status." (ibid: 19)
# Realms of Commoning