Los Angeles

Guerrilla Gardener Sparks Food Revolution in South Central LA

Ron Finley is seeking to break out of LA's "food prison" by growing his own "food forest"

Meet the man who is seeking to break out of LA's "food prison" by growing his own "food forest."

Ron Finley is fed up with the unhealthy food choices in his community. South Los Angeles is home to nearly 1,000 fast food restaurants. One in seven residents has diabetes and one in three children is obese — statistics that are twice the rate of wealthier neighboring communities.

But, in the shadow of the Metro train station, there lies an oasis in the concrete jungle — it's a place where healthy food is grown and given away free on Exposition Boulevard.

This is the world famous Urban Garden planted by Ron Finley, a fashion designer known as the "guerrilla gardener."

Ten years ago Finley grew tired of driving to other neighborhoods to buy healthy food. He decided to grow his own on the strip of land between the curb and the sidewalk in front of his house. The city of Los Angeles said it was an illegal use of public space and issued an arrest warrant.

Finley said he couldn’t believe the uproar his garden caused.

"I planted a carrot and all hell broke loose," Finley said.

"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," he added,

But, this did little to dissuade Finley's green thumb. He fought to change the law. He won his battle against the city of LA. Now, he helps plant urban gardens all over South LA.

"I don’t want to live in a food prison. I want to live in a food forest," Finley said.

"People walk down the street out of their way to get to the train to see what’s happening in the garden. There’s nothing like that around here," he said.

Finley encourages neighbors to come and plant their own food, and he shares what he’s grown.

Neighbor Jelani Thomas stops by on his way to the train for a healthy snack. He said the garden provides him with greens which help to energize him before exercising.

"I start off with some chard and kale and work my way down the line and pick as I see it," Thomas said as he munched on some freshly picked greens.

Finley’s garden has become a living classroom for children in nearby neighborhoods. They enjoy digging in the dirt, chasing butterflies and being dazzled by hummingbirds.

Erica Elizondo says the garden exposes her 3-year old daughter Kamila to the natural world.

“It really teaches her the interdependence of different species and we’re not isolated. It’s very important for me,” Elizondo said.

Finley’s dream of a healthier food culture is catching on. His February 2013 TED talk has garnered more than 2 million views on the Internet, inspiring people around the globe to plant their own urban gardens. He is sparking a revolution one seed at a time.

"It makes me feel great because you realize one person can change the paradigm," he said.

Finley hopes to expand his non-profit gardening program. If you’d like to help or donate go to www.ronfinley.com.

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