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City Sidewalks: A Garden Visit with Ron Finley in South Los Angeles

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City Sidewalks: A Garden Visit with Ron Finley in South Los Angeles

May 1, 2017

In 2010 Ron Finley transformed an unassuming strip of land alongside the sidewalk bordering his South Los Angeles home into a joyous garden he shares with the community. This act evoked awe, as his neighborhood was better known for strip malls than for greenery, a state of affairs that guerrilla gardener Finley deplores. “Why is concrete and asphalt the norm?” he asks. “Why isn’t this the norm?”

This is a tangle of edible and ornamental plants—from artichokes to sunflowers to bananas—which envelops passersby as they walk along the sidewalk. And Finley’s garden was just his first step. The self-proclaimed Gangsta Gardener has created a non-profit, The Ron Finley Project, to inspire others to transform unused urban spaces.

Meanwhile Finley’s own garden may be living on borrowed time.  A real estate firm purchased the property in late 2016, threatening eviction. Finley and friends, including natural-food company executives and slow-food pioneers, are working to raise funds to buy back the land to save the garden. The other day we visited Finley for a garden visit (and a lesson in an unexpected use for nasturtium pods):

Photography by Stacey Lindsay.

Finley walks in his sidewalk garden, which runs parallel to his home in South Los Angeles.
Above: Finley walks in his sidewalk garden, which runs parallel to his home in South Los Angeles.

Finley says he got the idea for his garden after he grew tired of having to travel far from his neighborhood to purchase fresh produce that wasn’t laced with hard-to-pronounce pesticides. He looked around and saw an epidemic happening in South Central: People suffering from curable diseases and obesity sky-rocketing. He wanted to change all that with his garden by giving his community 24-hour access to healthy produce. After all, “you are what you eat eats,” he says.

Nasturtium vines grow throughout the garden. Finley enjoys adding the spicy edible pods to dishes. “Try this,” he says, picking off one “That will clear your sinuses out.”
Above: Nasturtium vines grow throughout the garden. Finley enjoys adding the spicy edible pods to dishes. “Try this,” he says, picking off one “That will clear your sinuses out.”
 Artichoke and sunflowers mingle.
Above: Artichoke and sunflowers mingle.
 A handmade branch canopy offers an enclosed place to sit.
Above: A handmade branch canopy offers an enclosed place to sit.
Mint grows amid other herbs.
Above: Mint grows amid other herbs.
 The spring bounty in all its glory includes: nasturtium, sweet potato, rosemary, mint, green onion, kale, artichoke, corn, swiss chard, and more.
Above: The spring bounty in all its glory includes: nasturtium, sweet potato, rosemary, mint, green onion, kale, artichoke, corn, swiss chard, and more.
Fig and banana trees thrive, creating shaded areas along the sidewalk.
Above: Fig and banana trees thrive, creating shaded areas along the sidewalk.
The view facing south, running along Finley&#8
Above: The view facing south, running along Finley’s property. On the other side of the wall he transformed an empty swimming pool into a host for more plants and gardening tools.
 Finley handles a poppy flower blooming from a tree that was hacked last year by passersby. The tree re-routed and is now thriving.
Above: Finley handles a poppy flower blooming from a tree that was hacked last year by passersby. The tree re-routed and is now thriving.
 Threatened with eviction, Finley and his supporters have started a campaign to help raise the funds needed to buy the property from its corporate owner.
Above: Threatened with eviction, Finley and his supporters have started a campaign to help raise the funds needed to buy the property from its corporate owner.
 When he is not in his garden, Finley hosts workshops and lectures on the subject of gardening. 
Above: When he is not in his garden, Finley hosts workshops and lectures on the subject of gardening

Interested in exploring more community and family gardens? Visit our posts:

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