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The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  204 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Patricia Klindienst crossed the country to write this book, inspired by a torn and faded photograph that shed new light on the story of her Italian immigrant family's struggle to adapt to America. She gathered the stories of urban, suburban, and rural gardens created by people rarely presented in books about American gardens: Native Americans, immigrants from across Asia a ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Beacon Press (first published 2006)
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Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm not a gardener, but this is an absolutely fascinating book that lives at the intersection of politics, culture, the food industry, and (of course) gardening. It's built around the stories of immigrant gardeners: what they brought from the "old country", how they brought it, why it's important. And more important, it's about what we've lost through the food industry, and how that can be regained.

Worth reading on many, many different levels.

May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
It's really more of a 3.5 rating, but Goodreads doesn't offer half stars, so I rounded up the rating for this enjoyable read.

The book is a collection of stories about the author visiting various immigrant families and their gardens. Each family has been kept together or strengthened or healed by their gardening, in many cases across generations. Throughout the book, Klindienst subtly but powerfully advances the argument that growing our own food is healthy for the planet, our families, and the c
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a really lovely collection of stories of gardeners and farmer's market scale farmers across the US and their cultural reasons for maintaining the practice (mainly, she's saying, it's the need for conection to memories of a life before being plunged into a foreign, non-farming-based culture). One of the chapters focused on my paternal aunt and uncle, who have an organic farm in Espanola, NM, my hometown. Some parts of the interviews with them made me choke up, sentimental weakling that I ...more
Christine Kenney
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
This one was interesting but tough for me. The profiles are beautiful, but for some reason, I found myself reading them with the impatience I would listen to a grandparent's rambling reminiscences, wishing the book was organized more tightly by topic rather than a person or family-- history of maize or a book devoted to the specific struggles of a single displaced culture... All the while, half acknowledging that only after I have delved more deeply into that specific historic time will I apprec ...more
Dec 22, 2008 is currently reading it
Klindienst brings gardening back to its essential and practical, as well as, passionate roots via the lens of different ethnic approaches. Based on in depth interviews that had her traveling all over the United States, to walk in widely varying gardens with its their knowledgeable tenders, Kliendienst offer stories with practical and scholarly information that brings the reader back to the passionate, sensual wisdom of our great grand parents.
Emily Bertholf
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book. Readers are in for a treat as Patricia Klindienst's thoughtful and beautiful writing takes them on a stroll through several different cultures and gardens of immigrant Americans. What a unique treat on a topics we seem to never discuss, but should - like the origin of our food, the roles of work, labor, assimilation, and poverty in our country, what is home, and so much more. And it's also packed with information and great sources about sustainable agriculture - lesso ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps one of the finest books I have read- ever. I don't know why this booked moved me the way it did. The writing is exceptional, yes, but it's also graceful and peaceful. The blend of immigrant stories of hardship and survival combined with the peace re-found in gardening, lives lived close to the land, small, sustainable eco-systems thriving on small plots of land, perhaps this is what moved me. In any case, I loved this book and certainly recommend it. I would love to read future b ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the most hopeful book that I have read in a long time. Americans have never treated folks that don't fit into a preconceived notion of normal very well. However, those who were other than "normal" persevered. The gardens that the communities and people created bring hope and healing.

"For so many of the gardeners whose stories we have heard...when the human community failed them, the community of the land did not."
Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For 26 years I struggled to feel at home in Western Pennsylvania; to 'grow where I was planted.' But the fact is that I was a Smith, daughter of Marshall the gardener, grown in West Whately, watered by New England rain. In retrospect, having returned to the same zip code of my youth, I see Pennsylvania as an exile a place of transplantation where I never really flourished.

The Earth Knows My Name is about the deep relationship between the soil, plants, planters, family, food and culture. It is wo
Dec 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Gardens are about taking care. Of land, of plants, and of ourselves in the end. This "radical" notion pervades the stories of the ethnic gardeners covered in this book . Through the act of tending gardens, these ethnic gardeners find their place in the world. It's a joy to read about each gardener's favorite crops or the family history embedded in gardening traditions. It's often heartbreaking to hear the suffering or indignities they have endured in their homeland or in America.

A theme touched
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The writing in this book was a little sentimental at times, but that's really my only criticism. I loved this book for introducing me to an amazing group of people who come from many different cultures, and have many different gardens, but the same kind of love for the land and the food that comes from it. Klindienst focuses on one or two gardeners in each chapter, and provides some background on their culture and the larger conflicts that led them to America (whether from a foreign land or the ...more
Jun 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: For those who believe gardens are for more than growing vegetables
Shelves: earth
I believe in fresh, green, healthy, vegetables for all! This book and the stories here do as well. This book is composed of stories of gardeners. Not just any garden, cultural gardens. This author traveled the United States and interviewed farmers/gardeners who are not only growing a garden for food, they are also growing to preserve the cultures which they come from. I believe in community and urban gardening. This books shares amazing stories about amazing people, and I fell in love with garde ...more
Jan 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardening
While I was irritated by the author's continual use of the present tense, the vivid adventures of those who came to the U.S. for so many different reasons captured my imagination and my attention. The common thread of the sense of peace and timelessness they all nurtured in their gardens and the connection gardening gave them to their ancestors resonated with my own gardening experiences. If you have a middling tolerance for flowery prose, it is worth wading through to absorb the history and adv ...more
Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all gardeners
Shelves: gardening
Now I'm done with this book. I love it. I love reading books where each chapter is a different story but they are all of the same basic theme. This book follows the theme of immigrant farmers. Each story involves cultural history, the journey to America, and a deep connection to the Earth as a connection to familial history. The people in these stories are as real as people get. Determined, strong people who have been through hell yet still keep on going. This book is incredibly inspiring. ...more
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
How do you put into words a summary of a book when it moves your soul the way The Earth Knows My Name did? Finding it's way deep into my soul and then moving it is exactly what this book did for me. The writing is so beautiful. The stories, so moving. I have been a gardener for 40 years. I love to travel our country, eat food that comes from gardens, and reading about history. This book, with a focus on indelible characters, has all that and more. Thank you Patricia for such a gift. ...more
Klindienst writes beautifully about the gardens she visits. She tells the stories of people who garden because it connects them to their cultures, allows them to nourish life, be an expert in a world where they usually feel so alien. This is a great little book, with short, vivid stories told in lovely, rich poetic prose.
Smita Pamar
May 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful read. She goes through 9 different groups of immigrants and basically poetically tells the story of their lives through their gardens. One of my favorites is on the Khmer garden. She goes through different social/political categories for each story, i.e. Freedom, Justice, Community. It is also a great read of political/social history, too.
Dec 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: food
This is a good book if a bit sentimental. I appreciated the point of view of the author. I loved reading about the many different ways that people in America connect with farming and how that connects to their particular historical background (both their identity and the history of the place where they are farming now).
May 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
The issues this book presents won't be new to anyone who's read books like The Omnivore's Dilemma or Animal Vegetable Miracle, but the stories Klindienst has gathered are powerful, and she tells them skillfully and respectfully. Bonus for PacNW types: two of her interviewees are on Bainbridge Island. ...more
Mar 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. May have to switch things around in my ag history class to be able to teach it.
Her narrative voice is a little cloying at times, but the people she interviews and their family stories are amazing. A great way to spend the winter, reading this in little sips before bed. Ethnic studies and gardening in one lovely mash-up.
May 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
A nice collection of the author's impressions, associations and research relating to a series of interviews with Americans of varied ethnic heritage and varied connections with gardens. Didn't keep me on the edge of my seat, but it was enjoyable to read. ...more
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book tells stories of refugees and immigrants who have made a piece of Earth their own again by growing gardens with food and plants dear to their hearts and heritage. It is a wonderful glimpse in to the lives and culture of people not featured in most gardening magazines.
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, even if it's reminders of our huge environmental dilemma we created for ourselves made my mind reel. The different farmers' stories are inspiring and make you want to go out and till some soil. ...more
Dec 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Who knew Bartolomeo Vanzetti waxed lyric on his last days about his father's fabulous farm? I love how Klindeinst shows us various immigrants' lives, and how they use their gardens to either help them integrate into American society or help them keep connection with their original cultures. ...more
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: naturopathic
A wonderful tour of gardens around the country, grown by Americans who have immigrated from different parts of the world and at different times. Beautiful reminder of why ground and diversity are so important to the health of communities and the nation.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I read this year, Klindienst shares a journey of appreciating gardens as sites of healing, reparative justice, hope, claiming and reclaiming cultures and selves, and feeding hearts and hopes as well as bodies.
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Had a potluck lunch at one of the gardens in the book today, Maska & Mario's in Redwood City with their daughter and granddaughter. Also had a Facetime call with the author, Patricia Klindienst what a great culmination to a very good book. ...more
Oct 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Lovely story of the author's journey into history, gardens and what makes us human.

Fantastic story about Sacco and Vanzetti - a real surprise.
May 01, 2008 marked it as to-read
Featured at the Lower East Side Tenement Musuem
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
excellent book on community garden
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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
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“In keeping alive their heritage, ethnic gardeners also keep alive a wisdom about our place in nature that is all but lost to mainstream American culture. In this, the garden can be a powerful expression of resistance, as much a refusal of one set of cultural values as an assertion of others. This, I felt, was a little-noticed or little-understood aspect of the contribution of ethnic peoples: in refusing to assimilate fully to mainstream American values, ethnic gardeners keep alive, and offer back to us, viable alternatives to the habits of mind that have brought us to our current ecological crisis. The irony of the pressure to assimilate, then, is that it not only robs people of their heritage and their dignity, it robs the dominant culture too, impoverishing us all.” 0 likes
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