Deep in the barren concrete landscape of South Central L.A., hidden amongst the barrage of corporate signage, is Ron Finley’s verdant playground. Where most would see a swimming pool to fill with a limited precious resource, L.A.’s “gangsta gardener” saw fertile land. And he turned it into a cornucopia, one that provided enough sustenance to ensure he only needed to step foot in a supermarket once during the lockdown.
While most of us were waiting in endless grocery store lines, panic-buying canned food, Finley was enjoying the sunshine and patiently nurturing his own urban jungle, what he now calls his “office.” He managed to live off the seasonal produce harvested in his own backyard for a whole month and he only needed to leave the premises once for some fresh fish.
- Credit: SLA Team
Ron is a defiant grower of all things but in particular, these three: plants, people and community. And that starts at home, right in his backyard in South Central LA with the Ron Finley Project and stretches across the globe with his lessons on MasterClass and a global Ted Talk with over 4 million views.
It might seem an unlikely leap for an L.A.-based fashion designer to be getting his hands dirty in a yard, but the parallels are there if you dig a little deeper. They both revolve around creating with color and fabric, constant transformation, and meeting a basic need.
- Credit: SLA Team
The Ron Finely project was inspired by two main things, the “lack of one, healthy food in the neighborhood of South Central and, two, lack of beauty,” Finley tells us. In what he calls a “food desert,” where there’s a dearth of vegetation or fresh produce between the derelict lots and liquor stores, nature becomes a paintbrush. He lives by the principle of “beauty in, beauty out,” explaining that you get what you put into a space.
This “experiment,” as he calls it, is about making communities realize that they have value before anyone moves in and gives it to them. It’s about showing the power of growing things as individuals and showing the endless possibilities of doing it collectively.
- CRedit: The Ron Finley Project
There’s everything from fresh pineapples, guavas and nectarines to mangos and peaches growing in his lush utopia, but make no mistake, this garden is not your local farm. “It’s an example of what’s possible,” says Finley.
His green revolution began when Finley began growing food along a parkway. When the neighbors complained, that drove him to get the law changed in L.A. Now, everyone in the city can grow food in any space— a shoe, a drawer, or even the sidewalk.
If you’re wondering how you can, he says, “find out the most difficult thing to grow ” After that, everything is easy.” Part of gardening is that it takes patience; you don’t just plant a seed and walk away.
His advice to everyone (besides wearing a hat during summer) is, “plant some sh*t!”