"Wake up and change your life," Ron Finley said, who is growing a food forest in the unlikeliest of places.
Ten years ago, Ron Finley was issued an arrest warrant by the City of Los Angeles for ‘illegal use of public space.’ His crime? Urban gardening. Ron had become so sick of driving miles for healthy food he decided to plant a few herbs in a space between the sidewalk and the road. “At first it was the beauty; it was the smell,” he explains. “Lavender, jasmine, rosemary…” He says in this great video from Take Part above.
Next, Ron added a banana tree and some veg. He quickly discovered that while his neighbors didn’t mind a bit, the law wasn’t quite as supportive of his green fingers. “I planted a carrot and all hell broke loose,” Finley told NBC last week. “It was almost, OK, we got a black man with a carrot in the ground in South Central. We need back up. Are you serious? It’s a carrot, dude.”
Ron’s sense of humor and passionate stance on healthy eating have made him a well-known guerilla gardening hero. He fought the law, and he won. He describes himself as “a renegade gangster provocateur game-changing gardener.” A TED talk he gave in 2013 has been watched by over 2 million people, and as a fashion designer Ron appreciates beauty. “For me, the whole urban gardening thing is about art,” Ron says. “I want everyone to be able to design their own life.”
By this, he means giving his neighbors the opportunity to eat local, healthy food. That’s not so easy in South L.A, where there are over 1000 fast food restaurants. One in seven people have diabetes, and one in three children is obese. These statistics are twice those of wealthier neighboring communities. For Ron, this is a disgrace. “I call them food prisons,” he says wearily. “Because you literally have to break out of these situations to get anything healthy.”
“People ask me what was my inspiration,” he goes on. “Cancer, diabetes, asthma…We don’t know where our food comes from, nor do we care.”
But things are changing. Ten years after he first began, Ron has acquired an acre of land behind an old public library, and he has grand plans for it. “I don’t even want to call it an urban community; I just want to turn it into a food forest,” Ron says. “it’s going to be “the most healing, sexiest garden in America.” The land is already attracting bees, hummingbirds, people who want to eat fresh for free, and lots of small children who are learning about nature for the first time. Ron says: “I don’t grow food, I grow people.”