Ron Finley lives in South Central Los Angeles, a place he says is a food desert, where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.” Once known for its widespread poverty, unemployment, and insecurity, the crime rate in South Central L.A. has lowered in recent years, but the community is still commonly associated with poverty and gangs. Finley observed that people in his neighbourhood were dying from curable diseases such as diabetes, and the obesity rate was significantly higher than other communities, like Beverly Hills, only 10 miles away. He could plainly see the negative effects caused by poor access to fresh, healthy food in his neighbourhood. He decided to take the problem of food and turn it into a solution.
Finley started by planting a vegetable garden on the city-owned strip of land in front of his house. He opened the garden to all of his neighbours. He also founded L.A. Green Grounds, a grassroots volunteer group that brings people together to turn residential front lawns and vacant spaces into edible gardens that can be shared with the neighbourhood. The volunteers are gardeners from all walks of life who produce beautiful, bountiful gardens where they are needed.
L.A. leads the United States in vacant lots; an estimated 26 square miles of unused land. Finley quickly realized that the vacant land could be used to grow fruits and vegetables. More than that, it could sustain a movement that provides nourishment, empowerment, education, and health to the entire community. As Finley says, “To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil. We are the soil.”
L.A. Green Grounds has been actively involved in staging dig-ins with participating volunteers, and planting gardens all over the city. For these volunteers, gardening has become a way to train local youth to take over their communities and to live healthy, sustainable lives. The group focuses on sustainability as well. The seeds and the plants are free, but community members have to put in the work. People from all walks of life have volunteered to help plant and maintain gardens that are open to the entire neighbourhood. Finley believes this emphasizes the joy and pride people can experience in growing food on their own. It also emphasizes that money can be saved by growing healthy fruits and vegetables, which is important in this inner city community.
Finley says he will continue to push for even more vacant lots to be turned into community gardens, so everyone can learn how to become self-sufficient and provide a healthier diet for themselves. He also stresses that this problem isn’t restricted to South Central L.A. alone. “From Norway to Nairobi to Ireland to all parts of Canada and Chicago, companies are producing food and drinks that are killing us, and that needs to be addressed. How does this serve the community?” Ron Finley and L.A. Green Grounds are showing the world how to take back the system and improve access to healthy food for inner city residents.