Ron Finnley is from South Central Los Angeles, or as the attempted rebranding a couple years ago called it, “South Los Angeles”. Whatever you want to call it, (South Central) is primarily known for being the epicenter of a lot of the bad when it comes to describing Los Angeles in general.
As someone who used to live in LA, I can tell you that the overall consensus was to avoid driving around or through this area at all costs. I ventured close, but never quite in South Central.
With South Central comes the aforementioned litany of “bad things” – gangs, poverty, violence, poor education system, and misguided youth. For most, the lens through which one views this area is probably dominated by Hollywood films such as Boyz in the Hood or Friday. For Ron Finnley, the man’s legacy is in South Central. He’s raised his kids there, was raised there himself, and doesn’t sound like he’s leaving any time soon.
For Ron, the list of “bad things” all revolve around a lesser-known problem in the area: the food supply and dietary habits. It’s no secret that those who come from more impoverished areas typically rely on the system heavily for financial assistance and food stamps. Because of the scarcity of quality food sources, the options are relegated to a host of fast food joints and liquor stores, which are typically stocked with “late night snack” food.
In the continual cycle of poverty for South Central and other parts of the country, personal health is not a mainstream issue as either an educational solution or a lifestyle choice; both of these tend to escape the communal mentality only to further slide downward over the years.
A New Way of Thinking
Ron’s philosophy on changing the status quo started with a seed. He comes across as a guy who has probably experienced a lot of craziness that comes with growing up and raising kids in South Central Los Angeles, so he understands the fabric of why South Central is the way it is. There’s no doubt that he reached an epiphany at one point in life when he decided to pursue different hobbies, one of them mainly being gardening.
The gardening is really only a piece of the story though. As Ron points out in the beginning of his TED Talk, South Central is mainly made up of 3 types of establishments: fast food, liquor stores, and lots and lots of vacant land. In his words, “the drive thru’s are killing more people than the drive by’s.” Beverly Hills, only a 20-minute drive away (that’s short for LA driving) provides stark contrast to the “food desert” of South Central.
Wheelchairs are so commonplace where Ron lives that he compares them to used cars. Dialysis Centers are becoming prevalent equally as fast to accommodate the overwhelming rise of obesity and other food-related issues. Something’s gotta change.
Standing Up Against the City
With the help of some friends, Ron began planting food crops in the parkway (that space between the sidewalk and the street). His group, LA Green Grounds is comprised of gardeners from all walks of life who help transform these areas into fresh gardens.
Eventually, the city issued a citation, which later overturned via a petition on Change.org. Ironically enough, Ron points out that the City of Los Angeles is the owner of the most amount of vacant lots in the country. How much exactly?26 Square Miles, roughly equivalent to 20 Central Parks where you could plant nearly 725 MILLION tomato plants.
Growing Your Own Food is Like Printing Your Own Money
Although it was more commonplace in cultures throughout the previous thousands of years to be well versed in horticulture, the past 100-200 years has changed this mindset dramatically.
Technology is likely the culprit there. Fast, easy, on demand, less effort. It was at one point a right of passage to learn to tend the farm. Today it’s a fringe form of art and leisure that is making a come back.
As food prices rise in the United States and around the world, economic uncertainty and global tension, the idea of growing your own food is becoming more and more of an option to seriously consider. Some would even suggest it’s a crucial skill to develop.
Ron makes a great point that one plant can easily provide up to 1,000, or even 10,000 seeds. Think about the sustainability in that. It’s developing independence while exercising your freedom and taking control of your health all at the same time.
A Tool for Community Transformation
The amazing thing about Ron’s vision for the community is that it provides a solution to their issues that does not revolve around government programs and changing the public schooling system.
Food acts as the fundamental building block of our lives. It shapes the way we eat, how we view our bodies, our health, and in turn trickles down to every other avenue of life.
Gardening is life-changing because it gets you to work, to enjoy the fruits of your labor through eating off the land, and eventually turning that ethic into strategy for making a living. It is all so intertwined, and Ron does a great job at showing initiative for a vision that could radically change the stigma that has to do with South Central, or any other area of the country at the bottom of the economic scale.
For Holistik Health, we love the superfoods and think those are great plants to grow in your home garden. The essentials are always good too. You can even grow food indoors with certain systems. Whatever it is, get involved and start planting!