It has been 10 years since Ron Finley, the self-proclaimed “Gangsta Gardener,” changed the trajectory of his life with a TED Talk about food apartheid in his community, South Central Los Angeles. The talk has been viewed nearly 5 million times since then, and one of its most memorable lines—“Growing your own food is like printing your own money”—has since become the seed of Finley’s burgeoning philanthropic work.
Finley has become famous for planting avocados, bananas, mangoes, and sugar cane in and behind his house in a spot where there was once an Olympic-sized swimming pool and making it available to community members for free.
“This all started because I needed some healthy food.”
He organized against regulation that prevented Angelenos from curbside gardening, and went on to launch a nonprofit, the Ron Finley Project. And yet he says he’s still amazed by the impact of the TED Talk and the number of doors it has opened for him and his work.
In recent years, Finley has become one of the most popular teachers in the online education series MasterClass, and he has been invited to speak in a wide range of far-flung places including Greece, Sweden, and Denmark. And in 2024, Finley and his staff will curate an art show called “Breath(e): Toward Climate and Social Justice” at The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
“Who could plan it? Because I planted some food, I get to speak at the University of London,” Finley told Civil Eats. “The audience is not comprised of academics, so I bring this down so that everybody will understand. [People] don’t understand how big a compliment it is to me when I get told that me being real is what resonates.”
A Campaign to ‘Plant Some Money’
In late 2022, Finley collaborated with the national advertising company BBDO on a short promotional film, “Plant Some Money,” about gardening as a solution to food apartheid. The film, which was awarded a Bronze Lion award at the 2023 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, captured a day when Finley and dozens of advocates marched three miles from the Anacostia Park to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The distance marks the average stretch that those living in economically marginalized U.S. communities must travel to access fresh produce.
Following the march, Finley planting seeds embedded in paper “money” printed especially for the event outside of the Federal Reserve. The bills had the Gansta Gardener’s face on them and included the total value of the produce that could be grown with the seeds: $20 worth of rainbow carrots, $25 of arugula, $100 of collard greens, and $150 of cherry tomatoes.
In addition to the march and the short film, the Ron Finley Project has been offering folks who live in food deserts a chance to sign up for a free starter gardener kit that includes the bills with seeds attached and instructions on how to plant them. Since March 2023, the campaign has distributed more than 2,000 bills around the U.S. and beyond. And while it’s hard to say how many of those seeds were planted, the Ron Finley Project estimates the produce that they yielded could add up to $290,000 saved on produce.
“We hope that the people struggling to have access to fresh produce across the country can get inspired by Ron and start growing their own food not only as a means of sustenance but also as a form of protest against a system that perpetuates food inequality,” added Rafael Gonzaga, BBDO LA’s executive creative director.
A Web of Projects and Impacts
While seated on a bench inside his Los Angeles farm, Finley reflected recently on his journey with a combination of swagger and humility.
Finley, a father of three, grew up in South Central and has worked as a fashion designer on and off for years. According to Vogue, he designed clothes for Will Smith, among other L.A. celebrities and launched a brand of his own in the early 2000s. But he turned to gardening when his career hit a rocky period. “This all started because I needed some healthy food,” he said.
Now, educators often turn to Finley for inspiration. Take Hailey Wolfe, a kindergarten teacher at Vollentine Optional Elementary School, in North Memphis, Tennessee. The school is the alma mater of rapper Juicy J and not known for its test scores or affluence. In the last year, however, Wolfe and her class have garnered statewide attention for an urban gardening-focused curriculum that she developed based on Finley’s work and introduced to her class during Black History Month.
“The goal was to teach a lesson on plants and animals—super redundant and boring,” Wolfe said. “I wanted to find a newer, relevant person who was changing the world of gardening. Our art teacher told me about Ron, and I reached out [on social media]. He was ready to help.”
Powered by WPeMatico
Go to Source
Author: Stephanie Toone