You may or may not have noticed that urban homesteading has become all the rage these days, spawning a surge in community gardens across the country. The existence of more than 18,000 community gardens throughout the United States and Canada seems like a positive trend, but in a fascinating article in Bitch Media, Marianne Kirby argues that contemporary homesteading practices are actually hurting those who have traditionally been involved in the practice for survival rather than chic-ness.

In short, we’re in danger of wiping a historical sense of community and necessity in this new commodified version, which has been largely spawned by the locavore/artisan-food movement.

Kirby share the tale of the Dervaes family, whose “Urban Homestead” project “is a form of capitalistic homesteading.” In fact, they have attempted to corner the term urban homestead, providing instructions not use “urban homesteading” if it isn’t in direct reference to them and/or their products; previously, “cease-and-desist letters were sent to bloggers who used the term to encompass the general phenomenon of homesteading in the city.” The Dervaeses, as Kirby clarifies, aren’t bad people. In pursuit of their business, however, they “erase [those] who have been practicing these skills for much longer and with much more need.”

To frame the practice historically, Kirby hits the books. It began with the 1862 Homestead Act, which gave chosen applicants a 160-acre plot to farm for five years or so. The victory gardens of World War II were urban and surburban gardens that supplied 40% of the produce consumed in American households. More recently, community gardens in South Bronx and South Los Angeles have become solutions “to help revitalize the community around [them].”

In all these instances, Kirby illustrates how homesteading has long been a means of meeting basic needs and developing survival skills, but the new trendy version threatens to co-opt the practice and turn it into a purely capitalistic, Style-section-friendly endeavor.

[via Bitch Media]