Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ron Finley - Gangsta Gardener

While researching for a recent post (A Garden to Die for), I kept coming across a guy who is part of a growing group of people who call themselves 'Guerrilla Gardeners'.  He is not your run of the mill granola eating, feral type looking to change the world with compost toilets and Goji berry bars.  Instead, this gardening renegade, Ron Finley, is a straight talking, regular kind of guy who is just fed up with living in a food desert, where finding healthy food is just as barren as a desert.



Ron Finley hit the headlines after he presented a talk on '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

8 comments:

  1. I saw his Ted Talk several months ago. He is AMAZING!! He's so inspirational and just completely real. His passion resonated with me so much more than 99% of the gardening gurus I see in slick magazines and on store book shelves.

    I once taught at a school where my students were so impoverished they would take uneaten food off the plates of other students during their free breakfast and lunches just so they could eat at home. In a country were many people are obese and farmers are paid not to grow crops, it was incredibly sad. How do you educate a child who is hungry? You don't.

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    1. That's a point that many of us can't comprehend. When you think about poverty and hunger you think about other countries, not our own, but this its very real. We need more people like Ron taking matters into their own hands and bring change. Like he says, talking doesn't change anything but doing will.

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  2. I've linked to your post in my post today. This makes me think about the allocation of wealth. So much money in the hands of a few. Something seriously wrong in our economic system.

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    1. History has a way of repeating itself. The revolution in france came about from the detachment of the wealthy from what was really going on with the common man. 'Let them eat cake' was a trigger for many well dress aristocrats to lose their heads at the base of the guillotine. Maybe instead, we should all get a slice of the cake to keep are heads above water! Thanks for your comments.

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  3. What an awesome guy! On a much smaller, less impressive scale... When we lived in Kansas, surrounded by corn fields and empty lots that had not sold in our new subdivision, we had a guy (Covenants Committee nut) who bitterly opposed a neighborhood community garden. There is opposition to planting food in every corner of America - I found the irony of being totally surrounded by corn fields (inedible for human consumption, but still) all summer long but my tomato plants caused such angst VERY amusing! Hands in the air for Ron Finley!

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    1. It's a crazy world with crazy rules! Your comment reminded me of a poem we were forced to read in middle school, 'The Ancient Mariner'. The only part I remembered was the line 'water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink', fitting for such a neighborhood amongst the corn fields!

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  4. Reading this was so inspirational, i am only learning the very basics of gardening and i am 34! i do feel that gardening has been eroded from society and there is a need for everyone to at least learn something about growing your own food.

    Great reading

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    1. Thank you for reading. I have to say that I feel guilty for not knowing as much as I should about growing food. I have always worked in the discipline of ornamental horticulture which is far removed from growing to live gardening. Once you start growing to feed yourself you're gaining independence from what others consider you should be eating. Grow forth and conquer!

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