TED Talks', a nonprofit organization that gives a platform for people with ideas worth sharing. Ron's presentation was based on his frustration of needing to drive for 45 minutes, round trip to buy an apple that hadn't been impregnated with chemicals that he could spell. In the South Los Angeles community where Ron lives, your food options are limited to fast food or processed, low cost supermarket offering. Childhood obesity and curable Type 2 diabetes has been on a steady rise in reflection to poor health options in low income neighborhoods. Ron's hope was to get the message out there and bring change.
"If kids grow kale, kids eat kale. If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes. But when none of this is presented to them, if they're not shown how food affects the mind and body, they blindly eat whatever you put in front of them"
Although South LA (previously called South Central) is infamous for Drive-by shootings, statistically the Drive-Thru's are killing more people. When dialysis clinics started popping up like coffee shops and wheel chairs were sold like used cars on street corners, he knew something had to give. Ron began looking at ways to create an alternative to what had become normal and to give hope to the next generation.
To put some perspective on this, in November 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau said that more than 16% of the population lived in poverty, with 1.2% of that total living in extreme poverty. 15% of households also lived without food security, not knowing if they could afford a diet for what the government deems necessary for a healthy activity. One sobering static put almost 20% of America's children fall into the poverty bracket with an estimated 16.1 million living in food insecure households. Most of these statistics fall into the neighborhoods and communities of South LA.
So what did Ron do? He planted what he referred to as food forest in a strip of land (10 ft x 150 ft) that separates his property from the street. The problem is that the land belonged to the city, but he's required to maintain it, so Ron turned it into a productive space rather than just to grow grass. Of course the city objected to it and issued him a citation to remove it or face being issued a warranty for his arrest. Yep, apparently you can be arrested for planting food on city land that they required to maintain!
Of course this antiquated thinking hit the media and coupled with a 900 plus signed petition on Change.org the city sat up and took note. Ron points out that Los Angeles leads the country in vacant lots. The City owns 26 square miles of underutilized land that is comparable to 20 central parks. To drive his point home he pointed out that you could grow 724 million tomatoes and help feed people in need. Ron's fight ended up becoming his gospel and started to preach it to change the manufactured culture he saw every day. Together with LA Green Grounds, a group he help start of like minded, pay it forward gardeners, they began to transform abandon lots to transform the food desert of South LA into food forests for everyone.
'We've got to flipping the script on what it means to garden, if you ain't gardening, you ain't a gangsta'
Ron's drive and passion to make a change is definitely infectious. Looking at the TED Talk stats for his presentation, it has been view nearly 1.5 million times since first aired. Couple that with You tube's 250,000 and that's a lot of hits. His fresh approach of looking at gardening is as refreshing as as the food he grows. He knows that to get more people caring about there health and community he needs to make gardening sexy. When he talks about growing your own food is on par to printing your own money, it brings a rebellious edge to a pastime often disregarded by youths. He considers this use of city land to feed the community as a defiant act and sprays it with this edible green graffiti for everyone to enjoy. His down to earth message resonated strongly with me, let just hope the other 1.75 million who have watched him also got the message.
"My Weapon of choice is a shovel, now let's plant some shit"
Learn more at RonFinley.com
Learn more at RonFinley.com