“I put a carrot in the ground and all hell broke loose,” says Ron Finley, aka the gangsta gardener known for changing where and how people around the world grow their food. Finley became an inspiration showing how people can transform their communities by transforming the soil right where they live after giving his first TED Talk in 2013 in Toronto that has been viewed more than 2 million times from around the world.
“It just became my mediation. It just became my solace. It was my escape. I would just get lost in it,” says the fashion designer who once sold to Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. This mediation would produce a 150 x 10-foot curbside garden that would spark the curiosity of both children and adults. However, it is one unknown neighbor who Finley thanks for starting it all by complaining to the city. Finley was cited and told to dig up his garden or the citation would turn into a warrant. Instead, he collected 900 signatures through Change.org, got the attention of the media and the city backed off. He was allowed to keep his garden right where it was. Thanks to his “hater,” Finley’s platform was launched and the Ron Finley Project was born. Known as the “gangsta gardener,” Finley gave the word a whole new meaning. Wearing designer clothes, driving fancy cars and being a negative influence to a community, that’s not gangsta. Growing food and helping others reclaim their health and wealth, now that’s gangsta.
Creating Your Own Beauty
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Finley is no stranger to the challenges and struggles faced by urban communities. Having to drive 45 minutes to get fresh fruits and vegetables, witnessing the placements of dialysis centers mainly occupied by black and brown people as well as the dominance of fast food chains, he envisioned a different community that was vibrant with healthy opportunities and people working together and serving one another. “So when I come out here, I just wanted to see beauty.” I wanted to smell pretty shit like you see in other neighborhoods and I said, ‘Why can’t I.’”
His journey of inspiring his community and others is documented in the film, “Can You Dig This,” by filmmaker and director Delilia Vallot. Airing Sunday, April 24 on Fusion at 8 pm EST, the film follows Finley and three other gardeners in South Central LA who are creating gardens in areas known for drugs and gangs. “We were trying to tell the story through a personal journey point more than another talking head food documentary. We wanted to show examples of Ron’s thesis,” says Vallot whose father is also from South Los Angeles. A thesis that says food is both the issue and the solution. A thesis that also says, “growing your own food is like growing your own money.”
For a year and a half, Vallot followed Finley and gardening newcomers Spicy and Kenya, Hosea ( an ex-conflict who spent half his life in prison) and Quimonie, a young girl under 10 with a larger than life personality. Vallot intentionally set out to find individuals who were just starting their gardens to see how it, along with their lives, would bloom. And in fact, after 80 minutes, you see how their gardens turned into one of life’s teachers with lessons far beyond what they expected.
“My biggest takeaway from Ron personally is that on a micro-level, that this big surmountable food problem is not so insurmountable. If we bloom our own real estate and share that with our neighbors, then we can create completely different looking and feeling communities. It is not impossible,” says Vallot.
Just Plant Something
Encouraging people to “plant some shit,” Finley is looking to put the Ron Finley Project in a box and send it around the world. “It’s a mindset. I want people to realize that you are me. You don’t need me there,” says Finley who receives hundreds of requests from people who are looking to start a garden.
When he is not digging in the soil or speaking in front of thousands, Finley is working on a new food product and also wants to write and release three children’s books at the same time with three different artists.
On June 11, the community is invited to Da FUNction – A Community Fun Fest at the historic Vermont Square Library in Los Angeles hosted by the Ron Finley Project. Now in its second year, the free all-day event is about art and will have a variety of activities for both adults and children to include of course gardening as well as cooking and wood demos and more. For additional details closer to the event, be sure to visit Finley’s website.
With so much work still to be done, one thing is for sure; people are hearing Finley loud and clear. Many, such as the city of Atlanta, hosted a “Plant Some Shit Day,” after seeing the film with others in the works. “The movie is activating people which is a beautiful thing.”
To inquire about hosting a screening of “Can You Dig This,” visit http://canyoudigthisfilm.com. To keep up with the Ron Finley Project, visit www.ronfinley.com. You can also follow Finley on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to show off your gardening skills by using the hashtag #plantsomeshit.