Ron Finley on Cultivating the Garden of the Mind /79

Claudia Mcneilly

Claudia Mcneilly

In the 1960s, economic development in the suburbs of Los Angeles led to “supermarket flight,” which paralleled other public and private divestment in neighborhoods like South LA, contributing to lost tax revenues, jobs, and access to amenities. This set the stage for the deep frustration that erupted in South LA following the controversial verdict of the 1992 Rodney King trial, out of which the community experienced additional losses in business including grocery stores. Through the subsequent ReBuild LA program, 32 new grocery stores were proposed to be built in South LA. Ten years after the unrest, there was only one. South LA remains a food desert.
There has been some success in South LA through changes to zoning regulations to preserve the limited remaining land there. In 2008 the city responded to community concerns regarding South LA’s over-concentration of fast food restaurants by putting a moratorium on the development of new free-standing fast food restaurants within ½ mile of an existing fast food restaurant. Since the moratorium, 14 new grocery stores have opened in the area, and only one new fast food restaurant.

Only through people power and community agitation does change arise, and as more communities organize to shape their own lives, hope spreads like a seed on the wind. Policies can structure change, and good ideas can be borrowed from one neighborhood to another. This Thursday, we speak with Ron Finley, a South LA "gangsta" gardener & designer who made the change he wanted to see in his own neighborhood. Ron started out with one guerrilla garden then founded the Ron Finley Project, which plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA yards free of charge and has installed public gardens in curb strips, homeless shelters, abandoned lots, and traffic medians. The all-volunteer organization has installed over 30 gardens.

“It's amazing what a sunflower can do - it's almost impossible not to smile at a sunflower. It transforms you to walk down the street and see color, smell smells. Beauty in, beauty out.”                                                                                                             -Ron Finley


Music by Paul Defiglia, Jack Buschman & Ben Chace