Ron Finley, a guerrilla gardener and community activist from South Los Angeles, sees himself as more of a graffiti artist than a gardener. Describing the soil as his canvas, his projects express a desire for disobedience and a belief that local people have to come together and take ownership of their neighbourhoods.
He describes South LA as a collection of 'liquor stores', 'fast food joints' and ' vacant lots'. But as 'The City' owns over 26 square miles of vacant and unused land; equivalent to the size of 20 Central Parks, or enough space to grow over 720 million tomato plants, Finley suggests that LA could quickly transform from a 'food desert' to a urban oasis of sustainable community gardens.
Finley acknowledges that food is a key part of the problem he sees at home, where obesity rates are up to 4x higher in the poorest neighbourhoods of LA. But he also believes that by changing the way we think about food it can become the solution.
Fed up of having such limited access and control over his food Finley worked with LA Green Grounds to plant a 'Food Forrest' along the curbside outside his house. Once 'The City' had learnt of his alterations to the streetscape they demanded that he return the land back to its original condition or suffer legal action. Finley was able to challenge this with help from the local community and regional newspapers. Since then he has been working with other individuals and organisations to develop more gardens around the South LA area.
Finley says that he has witnessed changes; which are similar to movements such as The Incredible Edible Network, within his neighbourhood, as the gardens have also become community hubs, tools for education and acted as a catalysis for the transformation of his neighbourhood.
Finley's straight talking attitude and desire to empowering the community and individual remind me of other great political activists of the 20th C and with his charisma and relatability Finley is able to bring the discussion about what we eat to a much wider audience, making food cool.
Initiatives like this are great for strengthening bonds within communities, educating people about the food process, reducing the environmental stresses of industrial agriculture and promoting general health and well-being. However local co-operative programs cannot answer all of the problems we face alone, to satisfy food demands globally a diverse range of strategies will be needed, and for the foreseeable future this will require some form of industrial agriculture. Still, there are many lessons that the private sector can learn from organisations like LA Green Grounds. Perhaps, with regional food grown at a humanistic scale, in mixed use urban landscapes, where the public could visit, relax, learn, eat and cook. We could all enjoy the benefits of locally sourced organic food without damaging the bank account or the planet.