In Our Own Front Yard: Earth Day 2017

#ThinkGlobalActLocal means creating positive change in your community with the health of the entire planet in mind. That change can start small — maybe it’s an idea, a daydream, a small revelation. The start of something big can come simply by looking outside your front door.

For Ron Finley, that’s how it began: by peering out at the barren lot in front of his house in South Central Los Angeles. His neighborhood is an area long-burdened by poverty, racial injustice, and systematic neglect. It’s a part of town monopolized by fast-food options, where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by, and highly processed foods are either the most affordable or the only choice.

Ron says he began digging and planting because he wanted to beautify the surroundings, to be able to walk outside and see hummingbirds. He turned the 150’x10’ median into a garden bursting with edible fruits and vegetables on the north side of Exposition Blvd.

The LA Expo Line runs past the garden, and passengers on the train or passersby on the sidewalks can marvel at the 12' tall sunflowers Ron strategically planted on the corner to delight people because, in his words, “You can’t not smile if you see a sunflower.” Ron dubbed it the Gangsta Garden based on his desire to flip the script on the term ‘gangsta’ — because in his eyes, "Mother Nature is the most gangsta thing of all."

Before long, the Gangsta Garden became an inspiration. Ron’s goal is to inspire community members to regenerate their own land, plant some $#*! and transform the urban landscape into something nutritious and healing on all levels. Ron gave a TED Talk in 2013 that went viral and inspired many urban gardeners locally, nationally, and globally.

Greg Steltenpohl, CEO of Califia Farms, said, “Ron’s story hit many of us on a personal level. He’s really on the front line, tackling food deserts in underserved communities.”

The Gangsta Garden is a true expression of nature’s bounty: peach and plum trees, sweet potato (pro tip from Ron: the leaves are edible and highly nutritious), blooming artichokes, sugarcane, nasturtiums, and our personal favorites: almond and citrus trees. A hedge behind the sunflowers has been pruned to spell out the word “Love.” Ron uses cisterns and ollas, ancient techniques of water storage and irrigation, because he says they’re common sense when it comes to water conservation.

Ron’s identity is as rich as his garden: he’s an artist, a philosopher, a hero, a "community artivist", an educator, an orator, a nutritionist. The garden represents freedom and peace. It’s a sanctuary and oasis in the middle of South Central, and it’s growing in pursuit of the same great purpose of Califia Farms: to reverse-engineer a broken food system.

Recently, Ron's project came under the threat of eviction, and he’s being forced to either leave or purchase the land. Faced with this harsh reality, a friend of his started a GoFundMe to raise the $550K needed to keep the garden growing.

As members of the downtown LA community, Califia Farms was proud to contribute to the efforts to save the Gangsta Garden, donating $50,000 to the cause. By thinking globally and acting locally, Ron has heroically shown what gardens can do and the impact they can make on the health and wellbeing of an inner city and its constituents.

A placard at the garden reads: “Systems must be reevaluated, remodeled, reengineered, let’s rethink possibilities. Let’s reclaim, recycle, repurpose our lives and our resources instead of discarding everything. Reestablish community and reinvigorate neighborhoods, renew purpose and renew passion. Let’s reshape and reconfigure, recover, regenerate, revitalize our health and wellness. Restore soil. Resuscitate, revive, reawaken our planet. Let’s renovate and rehabilitate this whole f****ing system.”

Thank you to everyone at The Ron Finley Project for your dedication and work, and happy Earth Day from all of us at Califia Farms.

Let’s all go look outside our front doors.

Ron Finley is also the focus of our new series called Cultivators, where we profile people who harness the power of plants – ya know, our people. Enjoy!