Ron Finley: How Can You Give A Community Better Health? Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs.
NPR logo

How Can You Give A Community Better Health?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How Can You Give A Community Better Health?

How Can You Give A Community Better Health?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


So, if you want a quick snack in South Central Los Angeles some options might be ...

RON FINLEY: ...some Hot Cheetos, or some Coke, Pepsi, or anything sugary...

RAZ: This is Ron Finley, and those snack options, a problem he wanted to solve. How do you introduce yourself, like, how do you describe yourself to people?

FINLEY: You know, I call myself a renegade eco-lutionary.

RAZ: Sounds dangerous.

FINLEY: It is dangerous.

RAZ: I'm thinking like you're armed with two carrots.

FINLEY: No, no, no a pitchfork and a hoe.

RAZ: Oh, got you, okay. That's a little bit more violent than a carrot.

FINLEY: No. (Laughs) No, I'm a renegade. I'm a gangster gardener.

RAZ: Oh, I got it.

FINLEY: You know, I'm not that kind of gardener with overalls and, you know, the straw in his mouth.

RAZ: Yeah.

FINLEY: It's a new world.

RAZ: Okay, so Ron Finley's story, how he became a gangsta gardener, starts in his neighborhood.


FINLEY: I live in South Central - liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots. I live in a food desert. South Central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by. Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys. I see wheelchairs bought and sold like used cars. I see dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks. So I figured that the problem is the solution. Food is the problem and food is the solution. Plus, I got tired of driving 45 minutes to get a apple that wasn't impregnated with pesticides. So what I did, I planted a food forest in front of my house.


FINLEY: Right now I'm standing in front of the pomegranate trees, beets, collard greens, three kinds of kale growing ...

RAZ: This is Ron Finley's garden.

FINLEY: I like different levels. I like different colors, different textures, different smells. You know what? You ever had a alpine strawberry?

RAZ: No.

FINLEY: They're white and they're like ...

RAZ: I've never had one.

FINLEY: ... this tangy two kind of flavor type. Can you see the these almonds growing on my tree right here? I mean, they're beautiful.

RAZ: And his garden, it's literally in front of his house, on the sidewalk, open to the public 24/7. No formal invitation required. And in the beginning, the idea of a community garden on the sidewalk in South Central was so strange that his neighbors would mock him. They'd call him ...

FINLEY: Ronny Appleseed.

RAZ: Ronny Appleseed.


FINLEY: I remember this time there was this mother and her daughter, 10:30 at night and they were in my yard. And I came out and they looked so ashamed. So I'm like, man, it made me feel bad that they were there and I told them, you don't have to do this like this. This is on the street for a reason. It made me feel ashamed to see people that was this close to me that was hungry and this only reinforced why I do this. And people asked me, Fin, aren't you afraid people are going to steal your food? And I'm like, hell no, I ain't afraid they're going to steal it. That's why it's on the street. That's the whole idea. I want them to take it. But then the same time, I want them to take back their health.

RAZ: You just gave it away.

FINLEY: Yeah, and that's what it's for. It's on the street for a reason. I want you to enjoy this food.

RAZ: The food part seems important but it sounds like there's something bigger that you're kind of going after, something about just sharing.

FINLEY: It feels good. It feels good to be able to share. It feels good to be able to change something. It feels good to give. But, I mean, within that, you also have to receive, and a lot of people, they have a problem with that. My thing is that's what the yin and the yang is all about.

RAZ: So Amanda Palmer, who we're going to hear from later in the show, she says that, you know, you have to ask somebody if you also want to give. Like that's an integral part of it.

FINLEY: I think that's the yin and the yang. It has to have balance. This garden is about bring-some-get-some. If you want food, bring some food or bring something. You know, just don't come, take, take, take, take, take. It's mandatory that you have to give, and you have to be able to receive. Just imagine if we had one whole block, a cooperative - that they grow food. And you know what your neighbor's growing so you don't have to grow it 'cause you know Mabel's doing the carrots, and you know Tex is doing the onions, and you know you have the cabbage and fruit trees. That would be my perfect world.

RAZ: Ever since planting his garden, Ron Finley and a group of volunteers have worked on almost 20 other gardens. And his neighbors, even strangers, they've given him wheelbarrows, seedlings, plants, entire trees. Sometimes they just leave them on his front porch.


FINLEY: I see young people and they want to work. But they're in this thing where they're caught up. I see kids of color and they're just on this track that leads them to nowhere. So with gardening I see an opportunity where we can train these kids to take over their communities, to have a sustainable life. And when we do this, who knows, we might produce the next George Washington Carver. But if we don't change the composition of the soil, we will never do this. What I'm talking about is putting people to work and getting kids off the street and letting them know the joy, the pride, and the honor in growing your own food. So what I want to do here, we got to make this sexy. I want us all to become eco-lutionary, renegades, gangster gardeners. We got to change - we got to flip the script on what a gangster is. If you ain't a gardener, you ain't gangster. You're gangster with your shovel, okay. And let that be your weapon of choice. So basically, if you want to meet with me, don't call me if you want to sit around in cushy chairs and have meetings where you talk about doing some [bleep]. If you want to meet with me, come to the garden with your shovel so we can plant some [bleep]. Peace, thank you.


RAZ: That's Ron Finley. You can see his full TED Talk at There should be like gardening gangster rap.

FINLEY: Well, there is one. There's a friend of mine, Keith Cross, has a song called "Home Grown" that is the bomb.


KEITH CROSS: (Singing) Crop farmer, I got what you need. But I ain't blowing smoke when I say I grow trees. It's funny this economy is based on greed. But people don't farm who got mouths to feed.

RAZ: On the show today, giving it away. I'm Guy Raz. It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Stay with us.


CROSS: (Singing) The money I do spend on watering crops, I give right back 'cause I don't shop for groceries. Man, I got that homegrown. I don't care about the Dow Jones. The economy could crash tonight ...

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.