Ron Finley definitely isn’t your average gardener, but that’s part of what makes his story so unique. Dubbed the ‘Gangsta Gardener,’ Finley originally rose to prominence a few years ago after his effort to turn the small strip of land in front of his house into a garden brought him into a prolonged battle against the South Los Angeles City Council. In more recent times, he has become a leading voice for community gardening efforts and has attempted to spark a conversation about the lack of access to fresh produce that many minority communities face.
The Origins of the Gangsta Garden
Finley was originally a fairly successful fashion designer, but after losing his job during the recession, he decided to take a gardening class with the idea that he would begin growing his own vegetables. At that time, Finley noted that it was easier to get alcohol in his neighborhood than it was fresh produce—with the result that he often had to drive nearly an hour out of his neighborhood to buy fruits and vegetables.
Finley’s first Gangsta Garden was started in a small piece of land in front of his home, which the City Council told him he must remove due to a law stating that sidewalks and medians must be free from obstruction. Although a warrant was issued for his arrest after he refused to pay the resultant fine, Finley eventually got his way and the council was forced to make an exception for community gardens.
The success lead Finley to start the L.A. Green Grounds project, which sought to plant gardens in various urban spaces to allow local residents access to fresh fruits and vegetables that were otherwise unavailable due to a lack of grocery stores. Although he is no longer associated with L.A. Green Grounds, he now runs the Ron Finley Project, which also seeks to create community gardens for similar reasons.
At the same time, Finley has focused on expanding his original Gangsta Garden into a tropical haven full of fresh fruits, flowers and vegetables that he shares with his friends, family and neighbors. However, even this plan was almost derailed when one of the properties he rents for his garden was acquired. Faced with eviction earlier this year, Finley took to the internet to help raise support and, through a successful crowdfunding effort, he was able to come up with $500,000 to buy the property and prevent his garden from closing. Along the way, he received donations from many prominent organic food manufacturers who supported his efforts.
Nowadays, Finley is primarily focused on tending his ever-growing Gangsta Garden in order to ensure his neighborhood continues to have access to fresh produce. As well, the Ron Finley Project continues to hold various fundraising events to allow Finley to continue bringing urban gardening to communities across Los Angeles.