The Gangsta Gardener of South Los Angeles
23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, regions that lack access to fresh food. Ron Finley saw a need for produce in the food desert he called home and took action, sparking interest around the world, but more importantly, bringing his community together. The South Los Angeles resident taught us a few things about renegade gardening, and the importance of fresh food in his community's schools.
Bianca Hernandez: What led you to start guerrilla gardening?
Ron Finley: I’m not a “guerrilla gardener.” I’m a renegade gardener. A gangsta gardener. Guerrilla gardeners plant and then they bounce. My thing is to have ownership. I bring healthy food into a community that has none. Show people how easy it is. Help people to be able to design their own lives.
BH: Why is that important to South Los Angeles?
RF: This is a small section of the populace that has more disease and sickness than the larger population, and it’s by design. My thing is to self-empower the neighborhood, take matters into your own hands. Grow your own damn food.
BH: How can this be applied to marginalized communities beyond those in Los Angeles?
RF: Already has been -- healthy food is a basic need. Why should your food make you sick? For me, planting a seed in South Central [Los Angeles] has turned into a planet-wide movement. Kids in India are calling themselves gansta gardeners. I get calls from The Netherlands to London and everywhere in between. A lot of people are realizing food is our medicine. It doesn’t kill you right off, but it does eventually.
BH: Any current projects?
RF: Rooftop gardens are being put up in downtown Los Angeles to help feed the homeless. I’m doing consulting work with Los Angeles Unified School District. Kids are eating garbage and you expect their minds and bodies to develop? Grade school kids are having heart attacks, and it’s not from a lack of food, it’s from a lack of real food.
BH: What can someone do today in their community?
RF: Get a shovel, a pitchfork, and get your community together and grow your own food. You save money on food and health bills. Gardens don’t cost - they pay, and in more than one way. Build communities, build healthy bodies.
-- top photo used with permission from Ron Finley
Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.