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Gangster gardener making sustainability relevant on his own terms in LA

Gangster gardener making sustainability relevant on his own terms in LA
Ron Finley, Ron Finley Project, Photo Credit: Ron Finley

There are 23.5 million people living in food deserts in the United States. And in urban areas with high Black and Latin American populations, these statistics are even more staggering as these groups are disproportionately the hardest hit by food scarcity. Cities like South-Central Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York City top the list of “food deserts” in the land of plenty. Urban horticulturist, Ron “Gangster Gardner” Finley is turning the corner on the problem in South Central Los Angles. The Ron Finley Project is showing communities how to turn former food deserts into food sanctuaries, and teaching individuals how to make their neighborhoods and communities more sustainable.

How did you get the moniker, “Gangster Gardner”?

Because gardening is gangster. I think true gangsters are people who take care of their communities; not break them down by stealing or robbing. Gardeners are superheroes. They are not looked at like that, but when you are feeding communities; when you are building communities; when you are showing people where their life comes from — to me that is gangster.

How did you get into community gardening?

There’s something called food.

Did you have gardening or horticultural experience prior to getting your hands “dirty”?

As a child, around 10 or 12 years old, my first hustle was doing neighbors’ lawns — mowing lawns, clearing flower beds. That was my experience [along with] gardening at the house with my mom planting flowers.

What do you see as your mission to develop community gardens in South LA?

My mission is to create freedom around the world. Gardening equals Freedom to me. It’s not about South LA. It’s not about Compton. We have these conditions in the world where food is a weapon that has been formed against us. I want people to arm themselves with shovels.

What challenges did you face starting a community garden and how did you overcome them?

Does a bear sleep in the woods? Like we tackle everything. Head on. It is difficult. But what has not been hard for people of color? It’s been hard and it still is, but it does not stop.

Food deserts are a challenge facing Black and Brown populations in most American cities.  What suggestions do you have to offer to address this dilemma?

Stop valuing tennis shoes, cell phones, and jackets with names you can not pronounce. It’s about valuing the food you put in your body. Start valuing the air that fills your lungs. Start valuing oneself over things. It starts there. We must change what we truly value and do we really value each other?

Follow Ron Finley at; Ron Finley’s MasterClass on Gardening is available now.







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