Ron Finley Project.

Featured Hero: Ron Finley

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

Ron Finley proves that planting regenerative gardens and building soil can change the world by building communities through urban garden education 

Ron Finley, former fashion-designer-turned-gardener, says being a “gangsta” is ‘having knowledge of how systems work and being able to support yourself.’ 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 take matters into his own hands. 

He believes that food is both the problem and the solution, and in 2010, he decided to create his own edible garden in the grassy median in front of his house, called a ‘parkway’ -- usually reserved for trash and weeds. He planted fruit and vegetables, resulting in 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. He was victorious!

Wikimedia Commons.

After catching neighbors taking his produce, Ron then partnered with LA Green Grounds, a non-profit of farmers who turn unused spaces into gardens and community hubs in places lacking grocery stores and access to fresh produce. 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. 

Many of the children he works with are African American and Latino, and Ron wants to inspire kids, specifically in those demographics, to have an opportunity to take over the community in a positive way by learning to live a sustainable lifestyle. Finley believes that growing your own food is like printing your own money. He envisions a world where people share whole blocks of gardens and where shipping containers are turned into healthy cafes. He wants to flip the script, making edible gardening sexy. Finley wants to change the definition of gangsta to mean taking kids off the streets and into gardens. 

Ron Finley talking to children at a local elementary school. Wikimedia Commons.

In 2012, he launched The Ron Finley Project, a nonprofit organization that turns food deserts into food forests, redefining our relationship with soil. His nonprofit also hosts a number of free community events to get local children and families involved with gardening. His project is also starting an urban garden called ‘HQ’, where people can go to unwind while also learning more about soil and nutrition. There will also be opportunities for advancement by creating jobs that involve everything from gardening and cooking to business management. 

Today, Finley has helped plant dozens of community gardens on empty lots around Los Angeles. He is a voice for the guerilla gardening movement, traveling to cities and countries globally looking to inspire others to follow his lead. In addition, he is teaching a MasterClass on gardening and has appeared in several documentary films about urban farming, including Urban Fruit and Can You Dig This.