Ron Finley, United States, North America

Environmental action can take many forms: from organizing on the global level to a local, community-based, small-scale interventions.
Ron Finley, the “Gangsta Gardener” from Los Angeles, has been working to spread the word about importance of gardening for our planet, community, and our own soul. He is an activist and advocate who started gardening in the low-income neighborhood where he lives and, in the process, not only changed his own life but also influenced a whole lot of people in his neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles and beyond.

Ron Finley is an artist and fashion designer who became a world-renowned gardener. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles in what he calls a “food desert,” where majority of Hispanic and Black people live below the poverty line. In his 2013 Ted Talk, Finley discussed and protested the fact that predominantly Hispanic and Black neighborhoods have an excess of liquor stores and fast-food chains and lack of quality produce and healthy food options, which creates health problems and obesity. Ron’s “food revolution” started in 2010 when he decided that the strip of dirt between the street and the sidewalk in front of his house could be a place to plant vegetables and flowers, instead of being strewn with broken bottles, trash, and other unwanted items.

But the city government did not applaud his initiative and efforts. Instead, he was issued a citation, then a warrant for his arrest on the grounds that he was working on public land without a permit. Finley would not accept that: he challenged the system and with help of an L.A. Times article in 2011 was able to convince City Council to change the ordinance and allow gardening in those barren, detritus-strewn150-by-10-feet plots of land. Now residents all over the city can plant seeds and watch them grow, creating edible gardens in areas where low-income residents have limited healthful options. Thus, Ron became a community gardening activist, emboldened to motivate others to see what truly has a value and how they can achieve it. Whether it is a food item or a flower, both nourish and could be shared. He demonstrates the value of this approach regardless of where one lives, explaining that through gardening, the community is being built and strengthened. Finley has inspired thousands of gardeners locally and globally — all those who’ve watched his talks or attended his workshops that he’s conducted through the Ron Finley Project.

Ron is one of the featured “gardeners” in the 2015 documentary film Can You Dig This, produced by John Legend. The film “explores the urban gardening revolution currently taking place in South Central Los Angeles, one of the largest food deserts in the country. We follow the inspirational personal journeys of five ‘gangster gardeners,’ all planting the seeds for a better life.” As Ron Finley said, “Gardens equal opportunity for you to build community. It's about humanity, freedom, and equality.” As stated on Ron Finley Project website: “We envision a world where people know nutrition and where it comes from. Where all ages embrace the act of growing, knowing and sharing the best of the earth’s fresh-grown food.

The Ron Finley Project is teaching communities how to transform food deserts into food sanctuaries, and teaching individuals how to regenerate their lands into creative business models. We envision and want to facilitate a world where gardening is gangsta!”
The Ron Finley Project offers a kit to help people become part of the food revolution. It includes a facsimile of paper money with a value of $25 of arugula seeds. The idea here is that growing your own food is like printing your own money. Finley declares that “Gardening is the most defiant thing we cando, and it’s time to act. You have the power to put good food in your body, and your families.” We hope that Finley’s example may inspire people in Vallejo to join his food revolution.

Learn More

Ron Finley: Plant Some Money Campaign Website

L.A. Times article: In the weeds of bureaucratic insanity there sprouts a small reprieve