Back in 2008, I started growing where ever I could grow – front lawn, behind the fence, on my balcony – everywhere. Then I worked to donate the food I grew to local food pantries, eventually building up to 500 pounds per season. My city and homeowners association fought me and eventually I went on to speak at a TEDx about how growing unconventionally and donating food can truly make a difference for others. During this time I kept hearing about a man from Los Angeles who was breaking down growing barriers in California – he was growing on the street to help feed his community and teach them about gardening as the solution to food deserts across the nation.
His name is Ron Finley, and I knew from the minute I saw his TED.com speech that we were brother and sister in our beliefs. We both believe that all people should have access to healthy food, all people should understand where their food comes from, and that all people need to eat more REAL food. From the moment I saw his speech, I knew that I HAD to meet him so we might chat about making a difference. This summer I traveled to Los Angeles, California and made my dream come true, and spent a day with him for one of my #TakeaDayNow adventures.
Ron Finley and I have been social media friends. We cheer each other online, but what would it be like to meet? When I pulled up to Ron’s home it was a hot and sultry August day. Before I said hello, before anything, Ron quietly handed me a fig from the tree in his hell strip garden (above). If you have never tasted an overly ripe fig picked fresh from the tree, you are missing something. Flavor exploded and I told him I’d never had a fig before. Ever. He handed me more while we stood in the middle of the street and I ate until I could burst. Delicious overload!
The Hell Strip Garden
Essentially a food desert is an urban area where it is difficult or next-to-impossible to buy affordable or quality fresh food. As we walk along with his street garden we discuss growing food and how Ron’s not-for-profit organization, The Ron Finley Project, was created to ignite a horticultural revolution where more children learn the benefits of growing healthy food in order to prevent food deserts. As we walk this wild garden that stretches a hundred feet along with his property in South L.A. – he has an ear on our conversation, but an eye on his chard, basil, and kale (above).
Ron uses techniques he has learned along the way; he does not have a specific horticultural education, yet he seeks out techniques and friends that help him to grow and supplement the garden. He has herbs growing in pots that are buried in the ground to offer better soil (above) and ollas are buried in the ground (below) to help with irrigation. Watering plants with ollas (pronounced “oy-yahs”) is an ancient tradition – the vessels are unglazed clay or terra-cotta pots buried in the ground with the top exposed above the soil level, then filled with water for underground irrigation of plants.
The Bad Ass Gangsta Swimming Pool Garden
And then there is the totally badass gangsta swimming pool garden (bottom). You read it right – Swimming. Pool. Garden. Ron’s back yard is this giant empty swimming pool which he uses as a nursery for life. There is no chlorinated water, but there are hundreds and hundreds of plants of every imaginable type planted around the edge and dancing in the corners and layered in the pool as if they are living in a fancy greenhouse. Ron’s touch can be seen on everything; there’s graffiti on the walls and composters and a potting table and riots of color and madness everywhere you look. It is garden addiction and triumphs all splayed out for every visitor to see. It is Ron’s heart and soul laid bare.
Hidden at the back of the pool area is a badass beehive with little badass gangsta bee’s doing their thing (below). Ron and I spend the morning talking and wondering about the nature of the world. We share the same philosophy – more people need to understand the connection between food and health. There’s this amazing mix of reclaimed and reused garden containers because he loves to show people how to reuse something unlikely to transform it into something useful. My favorite is a cobalt-blue double-layered shopping cart that is filled with strawberries (below). Ron picks a strawberry for me. I eat it, smiling, in silence.
You Can Make a Difference
So much of the time we spend life saying, “What’s in it for me?”
Perhaps we should all be asking a larger question — “How can we make a difference for others?”
Ron is an astounding inspiration and clearly believes that doing something wonderful for your community can change a neighborhood for the better. Grow where ever you can, share your knowledge about food and planting, and find a way to help others do good. I believe in you – Ron believes in you – make a difference!
*Special thanks to the Visit California team that helped me with a rental car for my #takeadaynow trip so that I was able to come to meet Ron Finley and his rock star California garden. #landscaping #gardening #discoverla #visitcalifornia