Ron Finley is the Gangsta Gardener, bringing people's attention to food deserts and helping people grow nourishing food all over the world.
"Food is the problem and food is the solution." This is how Ron Finley, aka the Gangsta Gardener, summed up one of the troubling issues in South Los Angeles.
All he saw across the city he grew up in and raised his kids in, were liquor stores, fast food and vacant lots. Finley got tired of driving 45 minutes round trip to get fresh food, so he decided to do something about it. He planted a garden on a narrow parkway outside of his house, and then got a citation, followed by a warrant from the city. That brought some press and attention to his cause. It also started the Gangsta Gardener on his crusade to plant fresh ingredients in areas of need throughout Los Angeles and other cities throughout the world.
I first learned of the Gangsta Gardener from his moving Ted Talk in 2013 that's now been listened to by nearly 3 million people. I followed his story and then his gardens that proceeded to pop-up all over Los Angeles. Then I had the opportunity to meet him and see the garden that started it all.
Ron Finley's home and elaborate garden set-up are directly across from an Expo Line stop in South LA. You can watch a metro car pass while admiring the artichokes growing out in front of it. There's a large banana tree that dangles green fruit high above as cars zoom down the road beneath. Sunflowers stretch between sidewalk and street. Then there's the pool.
Inside Finley's yard is a pool empty of water, but filled with art, plants and life. There's fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches and grapes, next to chard, kale and grapes.
When asked about the gardening of the space, Finley asked who gardens the forest. If you plant properly, you don't need to do anything. "Worm shit is magic," he says of the way mother nature does her thing. This garden is Ron's replication of mother nature.
The Gangsta Gardener is all about the soil. In his Ted Talk he says, "Change the community, change the composition of the soil. We are the soil." He uses his soil like a piece of cloth and calls gardening his graffiti. "I grow my art."
Finley was recently in danger of losing his living property, but a quick fundraising campaign and some generous donors allowed him to reclaim the space. Now he has even bigger plans.
"What I want to do eventually, is have this be a space for community - a place people can come get a healthy, inexpensive meal" Finley says. He wants to create a cafe with a wall where you can pick your own salad. He envisions his pool as a cistern to store water, and a garden on top.
"It's not about food, it's about people," and what Ron is doing is bringing the two together. If a kid grows kale, he's going to eat kale. Finley believes that there should be healthy options for everyone to eat, no matter where they live.
So his rallying cry is, "Plant some shit!" You can read more about his non-profit, the Ron Finley Project, and donate your time or money to his cause here.