Few people would argue that the area of Los Angeles known as South Central is hardly the Garden of Eden. Yet there are some residents there, like Ron Finley, a local artist and self-described “guerilla gardener” who are bent on changing the image and the very existence of that region. By planting vegetables and fruits, Mr. Finley is not only changing the landscape of his neighborhood, he is setting in motion events that can change lives in so many ways.
This man is leading others to take up the garden tools and follow his actions. Despite opposition from the city, which disapproves officially of his planting in medians, abandoned lots and everywhere that is able to sustain plant life, Ron Finley is inspiring others to dare to change their environment and their lives.
What Ron is proclaiming is not only a method of beautifying a place devoid of beauty and hope but also of enhancing life itself. By planting anything, you change the climate slowly by removing greenhouse gases. Plants release more oxygen into the air, thus enabling the atmosphere full of smog to heal, allowing everyone to breathe more healthily. Eventually the soil becomes more enriched by the addition of nutrients from the plants that, once spent, return to the earth as part of the natural cycle.
As well, he teaches that children will eat vegetables and abandon junk food if healthy, nutritious food is put in front of them. Surely it’s easy to see the validity of this: you can’t eat good food if there isn’t any available. He describes South Central as the home of both the drive-by and the drive-through, and states that the drive-through kills more people, of the two. How true; no matter where you live, in LA or Beverly Hills or elsewhere, if your food clogs up your arteries or causes cancer or other diseases, you have more chance of dying that way than by a gangsta’s gun.
The rebellion Mr. Finley is encouraging us all to participate in is a good fight. It harms no one and instead will encourage healthy activity, knowledge, and community-building. Gardening brings people together in harmony rather than in warfare. Sharing produce, renewing the earth, teaching and spreading sustainability, and even saving money by raising their own food will help the needy far more than any government program has so far. Making people more self-reliant by learning to grow food will lead to more initiatives, quite likely, as in other cities like Detroit where urban gardening is taking over vacant lots with civic government’s approval. Courses in agriculture are now being taught in some urban high schools where poverty is a problem, to change the direction of the younger citizens who will need such skills in the future, with industrialization going the way of the dinosaur.
Ron Finley is a local hero, no doubt about it. His work must be encouraged rather than condemned by the City of Los Angeles. We need more people like him, with the guts and ideas to make good things happen in this city.