Sustainable America Blog

Ron Finley’s Guerilla Gardens

Ron Finley wants everyone to understand “growing your own food is like printing your own money.” The group he co-founded is LA Green Grounds. Their mission: “Growing, working, teaching: changing turf into edible gardens in South Los Angeles.”

After giving a rousing 10-minute TED talk about his urban gardening efforts in last winter, Finley found himself shaking hands with the likes of Google’s Sergey Brin and being hugged by Goldie Hawn. For a man who juggles jobs as a fitness trainer and fashion designer to float his unpaid gardening passion the attention was overwhelming, and he is determined to not let it get to his head. As he recently told the New York Times, “All the attention in the world won’t do my dishes.”

Finey lives in a food desert dominated by fast food chains and void of places to buy fresh food. He decided to plant vegetables in the median strip between his house and the street to avoid the 45-minute drive to Whole Foods. When the city of Los Angeles tried to cite him for not having the proper $400 permit, he rounded up a group of activists and headed to the city council who eventually got the city to back off.

Then, when Finley saw a mother and daughter taking vegetables from his median strip garden late one night, he realized the freedom gained from growing food was something he needed to share with others in his community. Today he sponsors community “dig-ins” where volunteers gather together and plant gardens on abandoned city lots. With the advent of his TED-inspired fame, volunteers are now much easier to come by. Here’s his TED talk:

As you can see, Finley is not one to take anything lying down. Everything he does is imbued with a natural spunk that has won him widespread notoriety in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. He fervently believes that gardening is the solution to urban problems as diverse as health issues, gang violence, and poverty. As he told the audience at TED, “if you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta.”

Ron Finley is not the first or the only gardener to be cited for planting vegetables streetside. In December, we wrote about about several people who have had the shocking realization that in certain public and publicly visible spaces, like your own front yard, it is illegal to grow food. Some activists have taken to creating food forests, turning public city spaces into a forests of food free for the taking. (It’s a good idea to check your city ordinances before you plant a big garden in a public space, and if you find out that your local laws are too restrictive or outdated, we recommend lobbying to have them changed rather than breaking them.)

Resilient food systems are an important part of our sustainable future. By localizing food production, whether through organized urban farms or volunteer community efforts like LA Green Grounds, we can secure better access to fresh, healthy food and reduce the amount of fuel it takes to produce it.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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