Patricia Klindienst, The Earth Knows My Name

The title to this book doesn't work for me, not at all, but the subtitle sold me on it in the ASLE publisher's exhibit, from the table run by Beacon Press -- Patricia Klindienst's The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans. The title feels mushy to me, but there's something precise and attractive about the elements of that subtitle.

I bought this book at the same time as I picked up Nancy Gift's A Weed By Any Other Name, also from Beacon, which so far remains on my shelf. I'm guessing Gift's book won't last the summer unread, though, based partly on its subject (embracing clover and the dandelion, rejecting the swathe of grass) and partly on the very high quality of Klindienst's non-academic but seriously reputable book for the same press.

The basic approach here is straightforward. Klindienst gives us eight chapters, each of which deals with one garden or with a few connected gardens, in pursuit of assorted questions around soil health and cultural community. Not all of them work equally well for me, but there are some gems. Individual lines jump out, as with the German man quoted as telling one of our gardeners, "If you cannot see where your food comes from, you are doomed to live in ugliness" (p.84). Individual scenes stand out, as with the tree fruit in the Punjabi garden in Fullerton, California. The details of this book are exceptional, and I would delightedly have read another half-dozen chapters.

The message is a bit foggy, though, as the title made me fear. These people dedicate their lives to the soil, and as a result most of them have intense connections to and within their local communities, so intense that I don't see any way for some of them to have connections to a broader community. Others have very little connection even to their local communities, so while they're showing tremendous allegiance to the earth (the Earth?), their human connections seem more strongly based in nostalgia than in anything else. And what of those of us without the available hours? How do we connect?


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