Self-proclaimed “Gangsta Gardener” Ron Finely decided to take action against the lack of healthy foods available in his South Los Angeles community. The former fashion designer converted an abandoned public pool into a garden filled with pomegranates, oranges, curly kale and even bananas.
His grassroots work has inspired green thumbs around the globe.
“I live in a food desert, South Central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by,” Finley said in his 2013 TED talk, three years after first planting his rows of vegetables.
I got tired of seeing this happening. And I was wondering, how would you feel if you had no access to healthy food if every time you walk out your door you see the ill effects that the present food system has on your neighborhood?
So what I did, I planted a food forest in front of my house. It was on a strip of land that we call a parkway. It’s 150 feet by 10 feet. Thing is, it’s owned by the city. But you have to maintain it. So I’m like, “Cool. I can do whatever the hell I want since it’s my responsibility and I gotta maintain it.” And this is how I decided to maintain it.
Finely said his Gangsta Garden is more about empowerment than just food deserts.
“If the powers that be cared, we wouldn’t have food deserts — food deserts are by design,” Finley told the New York Times recently. “So the garden is really about waking up and realizing that this is all by design, but we can change the design. We have the power to change it.”
Now, seven years after its inception, the Ron Finely Project hopes to secure an independent future. In 2016, real estate firm Strategic Acquisitions bought the property then gave Finley a $500K price tag to buy it back or face eviction.
In response, his community launched a GoFundMe campaign that received support from natural food giants Nell Newman, co-founder of Newman’s Own, and John Foraker, president of Annie’s.
The campaign surpassed its original goal of $500K and Finley’s legal team is now working to close the deal.
When asked if he thought the new owners would honor that deal, Finely replied. “Let’s hope so, they got a lot of money, but we’ve got a lot of people, we got a lot of souls. It would be beautiful if they did the right thing.”