How Ron Finley transformed his community with flourishing urban gardens

The 'Gangsta Gardener' in a Los Angeles Urban Garden. Image Credit: The Ron Finley Project.

How Ron Finley transformed his community with flourishing urban gardens

Each week One Earth is proud to feature a Climate Hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can thrive together.

According to Ron Finley, growing regenerative gardens and nurturing soil can transform the world. A  former fashion designer turned urban gardener, he is turning unused spaces in Los Angeles into abundant greens to feed, nurture, educate, and build communities. 

Finding himself in a food desert  

After realizing that his South Los Angeles neighborhood had an abundance of accessible liquor stores, but purchasing organic produce required a 10-mile walk, he decided to become a “gangsta.” In Finley's perspective, a true gangsta is "having knowledge of how systems work and being able to support yourself."

Becoming the 'Gangsta Gardener' 

With this mindset, he began to teach himself how to grow food. In 2010, Finley transformed the grassy median in front of his house, known as a ‘parkway,’ typically reserved for trash and weeds, into an abundant 150 x 10 feet garden full of everything from strawberries to kale. 

There were initial complaints about being non-compliant with city code that turned into a citation and a subsequent arrest warrant to remove the garden. He started a petition that gained 900 signatures, and along with a Los Angeles Times feature about his plight, the city council changed their tune and endorsed Finley’s gardens. 

The 'Gangsta Gardener,' Ron Finley. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Teaching others how to grow and heal the Earth

After catching some of his neighbors taking produce, Finley realized there was potential in teaching others how to cultivate their own urban gardens. He partnered with LA Green Grounds, a grassroots organization of volunteers turning South Los Angeles yards into edible landscapes. 

Knowing that regenerative gardening reverses climate change by building soil, Finley wanted to inspire Los Angeles families, and specifically children, to come together to ignite their enthusiasm about soil, while simultaneously teaching them how to appreciate nature by learning to garden. 

Envisioning a sustainable, collaborative neighborhood 

Working with predominantly African American and Latino children, Finley seeks to empower them to take a positive role in their communities through sustainable living. He envisions a world where people share entire blocks of gardens and repurpose shipping containers into healthy cafes, making edible gardening appealing and empowering.

"Off the streets and into gardens"

Finley wants to redefine the term "gangsta" to mean "taking kids off the streets and into gardens," emphasizing the positive impact of sustainable lifestyles. In 2012, Ron Finley launched The Ron Finley Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to turning food deserts into food forests, revolutionizing our relationship with soil.

The nonprofit hosts free community events to engage local children and families in gardening. Finley's project is initiating an urban garden called ‘HQ,’ providing a space for relaxation and learning about soil and nutrition. Job opportunities, from gardening to business management, aim to create avenues for advancement.

Voicing the power in the guerilla gardening movement

Today, Ron Finley's influence extends globally. He has facilitated the creation of numerous community gardens in empty lots around Los Angeles, becoming a prominent voice in the guerilla gardening movement. His efforts include international travel to inspire others, and he teaches a MasterClass on gardening while appearing in documentaries about urban farming, such as Urban Fruit and Can You Dig This.

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