Urban dirt artist with impact
Finley turns unused land in South Central LA where he lives into ‘food forests’. He fronts a community organisation called LA Green Grounds that works with locals on gardening projects to edify, empower… and yield strawberries.
Sounds great? Well, you won’t believe the trouble he went through to get the project off the ground. But I think you’ll agree it was worth it.
The project started when Finley noticed the correlation between lack of fresh produce and obesity in his area. So — he took matters into his own shovel and decided to plant an edible garden on the nature strip in front of his house.
It was on a strip of land that we call a parkway. It’s 150 feet by 10 feet. Thing is, it’s owned by the city. But you have to maintain it. So I’m like, “Cool. I can do whatever the hell I want, since it’s my responsibility and I gotta maintain it.” And this is how I decided to maintain it.
So me and my group, L.A. Green Grounds, we got together and we started planting my food forest, fruit trees, you know, the whole nine, vegetables.
What we do, we’re a pay-it-forward kind of group, where it’s composed of gardeners from all walks of life, from all over the city, and it’s completely volunteer, and everything we do is free. And the garden, it was beautiful.”
Council asked him to remove the garden, then issued a warrant when he stood his ground.
The city came down on me, and basically gave me a citation saying that I had to remove my garden, which this citation was turning into a warrant. And I’m like, “Come on, really? A warrant for planting food on a piece of land that you could care less about?” (Laughter) And I was like, “Cool. Bring it.” Because this time it wasn’t coming up.
So L.A. Times got ahold of it. Steve Lopez did a story on it and talked to the councilman, and one of the Green Grounds members, they put up a petition on Change.org, and with 900 signatures, we were a success. We had a victory on our hands.”
Eventually Ron was given the leeway by the council to keep his garden, and began many projects like it involving schools and homeless shelters in his local area.
Interestingly, having grown up and raised kids in South Central LA, he sees himself connected to the local environment through his legacy in the area. Through gardening, he creates sustainable projects that will speak long after he’s gone.
See, I have a legacy in South Central. I grew up there. I raised my sons there. And I refuse to be a part of this manufactured reality that was manufactured for me by some other people, and I’m manufacturing my own reality.”
Here’s the thing, though: Finley doesn’t see himself as a gardener, he sees himself as an artist.
See, I’m an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. Just like a graffiti artist, where they beautify walls, me, I beautify lawns, parkways.”
Art is not always what you do in a posh studio with the luxury of time and money.
True creators live their life as a work of art. Finley, with his green thumb and honeyed, no-nonsense tongue, shows us is the potential of creators to change not only their local communities — but also the world.
Has this piece shaken you at the roots and moved you to action?
Consider the ways you can turn your interests, abilities and passions into a life lived creatively.
And maybe you too will get strawberries.