How does your garden grow?

1. Farming while black: Soul Fire Farm’s practical guide to liberation on the land
Penniman, Leah. Chelsea Green, 2018

This text, written by an activist and farmer, is a tour de force commentary on black liberation and farming. The 16 chapters and introduction run readers through an array of historical and sociological background and practical guidance. Penniman begins with advice for those interested in becoming growers: acquiring resources and business planning, seed keeping, and urban farming. She extends further guidance to those concerned with social justice: healing, movement building, and uprooting racism. Along the way, Penniman holds nothing back, offering no apologies for reintroducing what is often left out of other scholarly books on farming: homage to our ancestors, correcting falsehoods about farming, and confronting colonial US history and current racism head on. In her overview of her own personal miseducation about agriculture, Penniman includes many of the scholars denied in traditional academic settings, such as Malcolm X, Booker T. Whatley, and George Washington Carver.
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2. Feeding Cahokia: early agriculture in the North American heartland
Fritz, Gayle. Alabama, 2019

This is an excellent book that examines a topic with deep roots in American archaeology: the role of agriculture in the rapid growth, florescence, and decline of Cahokia Mounds, the largest prehistoric population center north of Mexico. As Fritz (emer., Washington Univ.) points out, numerous debates surround this topic. For years, the archaeological story maintained that Cahokia’s ruling class governed via a wealth distribution system that relied mainly on corn grown by the lowest classes of society. Fritz sees this as a vastly oversimplified scenario that misrepresents the status of farmers, who were primarily women and girls of various socioeconomic levels. Further, the narrow focus on corn as the primary crop overlooks the abundant evidence that numerous other plants, including knotweed, chenopodium, and maygrass, were major contributors to the Cahokia diet. Fritz puts that diet in excellent perspective by examining the archaeobotanical record for the several thousand years prior to the rise of Cahokia.
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3. Gardens and gardening in early modern England and Wales
Francis, Jill. Yale, 2018

Lavishly illustrated with photographs, prints, paintings, treatises, drawings, sketches, and plans, this wonderful book “sets out to explore what early modern gardeners were doing in their gardens.” But it does much more than that. Looking beyond the well-researched, grand creations of the upper nobility, its focus is on the “more ordinary gardens of the rural county gentry.” The viewpoint throughout reflects that of a contemporary garden owner, a novel approach Francis, an independent scholar, handles masterfully. Among the topics discussed are available texts of the time period, social and historical contexts, the gardeners themselves and their sites, artificial and natural plants and designs, and two appendixes: a transcript of Thomas Hammer’s essay on gardening and a chronology of garden literature published circa 1558­–1660. Francis provides an egalitarian analysis that takes into account “the concerns, anxieties, hopes, and aspirations of people at the time.”
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4. Magic bean: the rise of soy in America
Roth, Matthew. University Press of Kansas, 2018

How does a plant transform from a rather minor forage crop to a dominant force in US agriculture? In this captivating and highly readable history, Roth (history, Rutgers Univ.) documents the incredible rise of the soybean and its myriad uses during the 20th century. Soy’s dual roles as a primary ingredient in animal feed and as a leading, protein-rich meat alternative for human consumption permeate the narrative. By weaving together the stories of a broad group of individuals with seemingly endless ideas for how to use the emerging legume, it becomes clear that the soybean’s success was not preordained. This history is in many ways a history of the US during the 20th century, from the use of soy as a rationed, protein-rich meat alternative during WW II, to the parallel rise of the counterculture and industrial-scale agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s, to a national discussion of “healthy” fats in the 1980s and 1990s.
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5. Manoomin: the story of wild rice in Michigan
Barton, Barbara J. Michigan State, 2018

Barton is an endangered species biologist for the state of Michigan, and for the last decade has worked on preserving long grain rice. Known in the Anishinaabemowin language as manoomin, long grain rice has played an important cultural role in the lives of Native peoples in Michigan. While it seemingly occupies only a small niche in the larger fields of agricultural and eco-history, Barton’s work is a complex story of the physical, demographic, and cultural changes in Michigan over the course of three centuries. The narrative is crisp, moving seamlessly between well-researched history and a travelogue-like account. Barton uses a combination of biology, oral history, and traditional primary and secondary research to provide an ample basis for her conclusions. Ultimately, Manoomin is a species biography well placed in the larger context of the history of Native peoples and Michigan.
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6. Seacoast plants of the Carolinas: a new guide for plant identification and use in the coastal landscape 
Hosier, Paul E. North Carolina, 2018

With this welcome and practical book, Hosier (emer., Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington) offers a comprehensive update to a much earlier work written by Karl Graetz in 1973. In addition to detailed individual entries, Hosier provides several chapters devoted to key issues for growers, students, and others interested in the flora of North Carolina’s coastal areas. Global climate change, diminishing and altered ecosystems, and increasingly limited global resources present new challenges to those who seek to use native plants to achieve balance and sustainability. The most exciting aspect of this book is the treatment of climate change, including a chapter discussing the impact of coastal storms on local flora. The book is organized by plant use within beach, maritime, and estuary environments. Hosier provides detailed profiles of flora and ways to use many common species. In addition, he includes appendixes with scientific names, a glossary, and geographic sites to view these plants in use.
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7. The Medieval and early modern garden in Britain: enclosure and transformation, c. 1200-1750
ed. by Patricia Skinner and Theresa Tyers Routledge, 2018

Medieval and early modern gardens continued a tradition from antiquity to the present that includes kitchen, medicinal, pleasure, and cloister gardens. As liminal spaces between buildings and landscapes, these gardens functioned as heterotopic loci with rich resonance and metaphoric significance derived from biblical tradition, courtly literature, or didactic texts. They provided sustenance or pleasure in spaces for meditation, cultivation of knowledge, and display of status. Skinner and Tyers, both historians at Swansea University, have curated ten essays which explore aspects of gardens between 1200 and 1750, mostly in Britain, as they are manifested in literary, historical, and archaeological sources. Two essays also highlight contemporary relevance for these gardens as cultural heritage and as a source of well-being. The current interest in historic gardens, their popular appeal, and their inclusion in monument classification encourage archaeological investigation, restoration, re-creation, and design of contemporary medieval-style gardens. This fresh examination of pre-modern gardens is enriched by the meticulous documentation of each essay, providing an invaluable asset for research in an updated compilation of major garden history sources.
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