Cli-Fi: Ron Finley Rewilds South Central

My latest piece for Civil Eats chronicles the victory of sanity over nonsense, Earth over concrete, regeneration over regression. It was an honor to write, and even more brilliant to witness in person.

Ron Finley Celebrates Victory For His South Central Garden

It’s hard to miss Ron Finley‘s community garden in South Central Los Angeles. Across the street from Dorsey High, launch pad for some of pro sports’ greatest athletes, and the Farmdale stop of the Expo Line, the loud train line that bisects his otherwise quiet neighborhood like a scar, Finley’s leafy gangsta gardener compound sticks out like a green thumb.

And now, after a protracted ownership battle, the land is finally his.

For years, Finley has been on a mission to evangelize hyper-locally grown food, especially by gardening the empty lots lining the under-resourced streets of South Central. His rousing, hilarious TED Talk on guerilla gardening helped him attract attention with foodies and social justice advocates alike, thanks partly to sobering insights like, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

gangsta gardenThen, last year, Finley learned that his community garden, reportedly worth $380,000, was going to be seized by high-profile developers, Strategic Acquisitions. So he launched a crowdfunding campaign and reached out to a number of influencers in the food and entertainment industries. Bette Midler, Nell Newman, John Foraker, president of Annie’s, and nearly 3,000 others ponied up the $550,000 that Strategic Acquisitions demanded in lieu of taking possession and shutting the garden down.

It’s a major victory for Finley, the Gangsta Garden, and community members—and one that not every urban farm can claim, as evidenced by the fate of the South Central Farm, which just over 10 years ago was bulldozed despite community protests.

Finley believes saving urban farms like his is worth it, especially considering how healthy food can save people in his community money in the long run, he recently explained, as we sat in the shade of his sprawling garden, densely populated with potted plants and trees. Touching soil is a necessary pathway back to caring for the planet we’ve taken too long for granted, Finley noted during a refreshingly honest conversation about institutional racism, environmental justice, and unsustainable industry.

Touching soil, touching people, and—as Finley emphasized—breathing.

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