Ron Finley – “Garden Gangsta”

Planting food on a city-owned property can be a radical act that attracts attention to the food desert in South Central Los Angeles.

Ron Finley lives in South Central Los Angeles, and he describes it as “the land of the drive through and the drive-by”. However, he quips that “the drive throughs are killing more than the drive-bys” because the fast food sold in the drive-throughs are producing significantly higher levels of obesity and preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes in the local population. He was discouraged by all the dialysis clinics sprouting up in his neighborhood as signs that unhealthy food was taking its toll on his community.

Mr. Finley’s solution was to plant a food forest garden on the 10’x 100’ parkway strip outside his home along the street that is owned by the city. He wanted it to be a demonstration of the beauty of healthy food in the middle of a food desert. He wanted people to take the food if they were hungry. He stated, “I want people to take the food I grow and to take back their health.”

The city of Los Angeles cited Mr. Finley for not having a permit for a garden on city property and was told to remove it. He and a group he belongs to called LA Green Grounds started a petition to protest the demand by the city to remove the food forest garden. Stories about the garden appeared in the local papers, and Mr. Finley gave a presentation about his food forest as a TED talk.

The petition collected 900 signatures and the city of Los Angeles said the garden could stay. Now Ron Finley wants to plant gardens on vacant lots throughout the city because he says that “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the city – and you get strawberries.” He wants to teach children and youth to take part in gardening and improving their health. However, he says we need to make gardening “sexy” and is calling himself a “Gangsta Gardener”.  For information about starting a community garden in Michigan, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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