10:47
TED2013

Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

Filmed:

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA -- in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where "the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys."

- Gardener
Ron Finley grows a nourishing food culture in South Central L.A.’s food desert by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating. Full bio

I live in South Central.
00:16
This is South Central:
00:19
liquor stores,
00:21
fast food,
00:24
vacant lots.
00:26
So the city planners, they get together and they figure
00:29
they're going to change the name South Central to make it represent something else,
00:30
so they change it to South Los Angeles,
00:34
like this is going to fix what's really going wrong in the city.
00:37
This is South Los Angeles. (Laughter)
00:41
Liquor stores,
00:44
fast food,
00:47
vacant lots.
00:49
Just like 26.5 million other Americans,
00:52
I live in a food desert,
00:55
South Central Los Angeles,
00:58
home of the drive-thru and the drive-by.
01:00
Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.
01:04
People are dying from curable diseases
01:09
in South Central Los Angeles.
01:12
For instance, the obesity rate in my neighborhood
01:15
is five times higher than, say, Beverly Hills,
01:17
which is probably eight, 10 miles away.
01:21
I got tired of seeing this happening.
01:24
And I was wondering, how would you feel
01:28
if you had no access to healthy food,
01:30
if every time you walk out your door you see the ill effects
01:33
that the present food system has on your neighborhood?
01:36
I see wheelchairs bought and sold
01:40
like used cars.
01:42
I see dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks.
01:44
And I figured, this has to stop.
01:48
So I figured that the problem is the solution.
01:52
Food is the problem and food is the solution.
01:58
Plus I got tired of driving 45 minutes round trip
02:01
to get an apple that wasn't impregnated with pesticides.
02:04
So what I did, I planted a food forest in front of my house.
02:08
It was on a strip of land that we call a parkway.
02:13
It's 150 feet by 10 feet.
02:15
Thing is, it's owned by the city.
02:19
But you have to maintain it.
02:21
So I'm like, "Cool. I can do whatever the hell I want,
02:24
since it's my responsibility and I gotta maintain it."
02:28
And this is how I decided to maintain it.
02:32
So me and my group, L.A. Green Grounds, we got together
02:35
and we started planting my food forest, fruit trees,
02:38
you know, the whole nine, vegetables.
02:40
What we do, we're a pay-it-forward kind of group,
02:42
where it's composed of gardeners from all walks of life,
02:45
from all over the city, and it's completely volunteer,
02:50
and everything we do is free.
02:53
And the garden, it was beautiful.
02:54
And then somebody complained.
02:58
The city came down on me,
03:00
and basically gave me a citation saying that I had to remove my garden,
03:02
which this citation was turning into a warrant.
03:07
And I'm like, "Come on, really?
03:09
A warrant for planting food on a piece of land
03:12
that you could care less about?" (Laughter)
03:15
And I was like, "Cool. Bring it."
03:18
Because this time it wasn't coming up.
03:20
So L.A. Times got ahold of it. Steve Lopez did a story on it
03:24
and talked to the councilman,
03:29
and one of the Green Grounds members,
03:32
they put up a petition on Change.org,
03:33
and with 900 signatures, we were a success.
03:36
We had a victory on our hands.
03:39
My councilman even called in and said how they endorse
03:41
and love what we're doing.
03:44
I mean, come on, why wouldn't they?
03:47
L.A. leads the United States in vacant lots that the city actually owns.
03:50
They own 26 square miles of vacant lots.
03:54
That's 20 Central Parks.
04:00
That's enough space to plant 725 million tomato plants.
04:03
Why in the hell would they not okay this?
04:10
Growing one plant will give you 1,000, 10,000 seeds.
04:15
When one dollar's worth of green beans
04:19
will give you 75 dollars' worth of produce.
04:22
It's my gospel, when I'm telling people, grow your own food.
04:26
Growing your own food is like printing your own money.
04:29
(Applause)
04:32
See, I have a legacy in South Central.
04:39
I grew up there. I raised my sons there.
04:42
And I refuse to be a part of this manufactured reality
04:47
that was manufactured for me by some other people,
04:51
and I'm manufacturing my own reality.
04:54
See, I'm an artist.
04:57
Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art.
04:59
Just like a graffiti artist, where they beautify walls,
05:03
me, I beautiful lawns, parkways.
05:08
I use the garden, the soil, like it's a piece of cloth,
05:11
and the plants and the trees,
05:15
that's my embellishment for that cloth.
05:17
You'd be surprised what the soil could do
05:21
if you let it be your canvas.
05:27
You just couldn't imagine how amazing a sunflower is
05:29
and how it affects people.
05:32
So what happened?
05:35
I have witnessed my garden become a tool for the education,
05:38
a tool for the transformation of my neighborhood.
05:43
To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil.
05:46
We are the soil.
05:51
You'd be surprised how kids are affected by this.
05:55
Gardening is the most therapeutic
06:01
and defiant act you can do,
06:05
especially in the inner city.
06:08
Plus you get strawberries.
06:11
(Laughter)
06:13
I remember this time,
06:17
there was this mother and a daughter came,
06:19
it was, like, 10:30 at night, and they were in my yard,
06:21
and I came out and they looked so ashamed.
06:25
So I'm like, man, it made me feel bad that they were there,
06:28
and I told them, you know, you don't have to do this like this.
06:32
This is on the street for a reason.
06:35
It made me feel ashamed to see people
06:37
that were this close to me that were hungry,
06:40
and this only reinforced why I do this,
06:43
and people asked me, "Fin, aren't you afraid
06:46
people are going to steal your food?"
06:49
And I'm like, "Hell no, I ain't afraid they're gonna steal it.
06:51
That's why it's on the street.
06:53
That's the whole idea.
06:55
I want them to take it, but at the same time,
06:58
I want them to take back their health."
07:00
There's another time when I put
07:04
a garden in this homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles.
07:06
These are the guys, they helped me unload the truck.
07:12
It was cool, and they just shared the stories
07:15
about how this affected them and how
07:17
they used to plant with their mother and their grandmother,
07:20
and it was just cool to see how this changed them,
07:23
if it was only for that one moment.
07:26
So Green Grounds has gone on to plant
07:32
maybe 20 gardens.
07:35
We've had, like, 50 people come to our dig-ins
07:37
and participate, and it's all volunteers.
07:41
If kids grow kale, kids eat kale.
07:44
(Laughter)
07:47
If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes. (Applause)
07:49
But when none of this is presented to them,
07:54
if they're not shown how food affects the mind and the body,
07:57
they blindly eat whatever the hell you put in front of them.
08:01
I see young people
08:05
and they want to work,
08:07
but they're in this thing where they're caught up --
08:10
I see kids of color and they're just on this track
08:12
that's designed for them,
08:16
that leads them to nowhere.
08:19
So with gardening, I see an opportunity
08:21
where we can train these kids
08:24
to take over their communities,
08:26
to have a sustainable life.
08:29
And when we do this, who knows?
08:33
We might produce the next George Washington Carver.
08:35
but if we don't change the composition of the soil,
08:38
we will never do this.
08:40
Now this is one of my plans. This is what I want to do.
08:42
I want to plant a whole block of gardens
08:45
where people can share in the food in the same block.
08:49
I want to take shipping containers
08:52
and turn them into healthy cafes.
08:54
Now don't get me wrong.
08:57
I'm not talking about no free shit,
08:59
because free is not sustainable.
09:02
The funny thing about sustainability,
09:05
you have to sustain it.
09:07
(Laughter) (Applause)
09:09
What I'm talking about is putting people to work,
09:13
and getting kids off the street, and letting them know
09:15
the joy, the pride and the honor in growing your own food,
09:18
opening farmer's markets.
09:23
So what I want to do here,
09:26
we gotta make this sexy.
09:28
So I want us all to become ecolutionary renegades,
09:30
gangstas, gangsta gardeners.
09:35
We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is.
09:36
If you ain't a gardener, you ain't gangsta.
09:41
Get gangsta with your shovel, okay?
09:42
And let that be your weapon of choice.
09:47
(Applause)
09:50
So basically, if you want to meet with me,
09:57
you know, if you want to meet,
10:03
don't call me if you want to sit around in cushy chairs
10:06
and have meetings where you talk about doing some shit --
10:10
where you talk about doing some shit.
10:13
If you want to meet with me, come to the garden
10:17
with your shovel so we can plant some shit.
10:20
Peace. Thank you.
10:23
(Applause)
10:26
Thank you. (Applause)
10:30
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the Speaker:

Ron Finley - Gardener
Ron Finley grows a nourishing food culture in South Central L.A.’s food desert by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating.

Why you should listen

Artist and designer Ron Finley couldn’t help but notice what was going on in his backyard. “South Central Los Angeles,” he quips, “home of the drive-thru and the drive-by.” And it's the drive-thru fast-food stands that contribute more to the area’s poor health and high mortality rate, with one in two kids contracting a curable disease like Type 2 diabetes.

Finley’s vision for a healthy, accessible “food forest” started with the curbside veggie garden he planted in the strip of dirt in front of his own house. When the city tried to shut it down, Finley’s fight gave voice to a larger movement that provides nourishment, empowerment, education -- and healthy, hopeful futures -- one urban garden at a time.

More profile about the speaker
Ron Finley | Speaker | TED.com