Ron Finley Has Mission to Make Gardening Cool

Ron Finley Has Mission to Make Gardening Cool

May 18, 2021 0

Imagine a world where everyone knows how to garden and grow their own nutritious food, and food deserts are a problem of the past. This is the dream that “gangsta gardener” Ron Finley had turned into a reality in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. “When you learn how to cultivate your own food, that’s freedom,” Finley recently told Vanity Fair. “The way I see it, we are gardens. We are nature. I’m trying to change what people value: what we value in each other, and in humanity.” 

Finley wasn’t always known for being a “rebel with a green thumb,” however. The gangsta gardener got his start in fashion at LA Trade-Technical School, where he took fashion design classes. He’d go on to create an iconic clothing line, DROPDEAD Collexion, that was sold in high-end boutiques and department stores like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus in the ’80s and ’90s. 

Then the 2008 recession came along, and Finley’s business suffered a hit. “That’s when I started gardening on my parkway, that strip of dirt between the sidewalk and curb,” Finley reflected in Zoom interview with The Cut. In 2010, Finley decided to create something his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood needed: free community gardens. 

A predominately Black and Latino neighborhood, South Central Los Angeles is known for being a food desert where people have limited access to fresh, nutritious food but have plenty of convenient, fast foods. Finley saw empty city medians and lots as grounds to build edible gardens for a community that needed it most. 

“I got tired of driving 45 minutes round trip to get an apple that wasn’t impregnated with pesticides. So I planted a food forest in front of my house,” Finley said to People Magazine. His growing oasis caught the attention of neighbors whom Finley allowed to grow and eat from the garden. It wasn’t long before city officials called for the garden’s removal stating that Finley lacked the proper permits to plant food on city grounds. 

“I said, ‘Do what you’re going to do because I’m not taking this garden out.’  To me, it was ridiculous,” Finley recalls his struggle with the city. “That’s when the fight started.” 

Thankfully, Finley was able to get the law changed five years later, and his mission has only skyrocketed since. He’s created more than dozens of community gardens using unused plots in Los Angeles, and his project, called The Ron Finley Project, has gained global attention. Now Finley travels the world to give talks on food access and gardening. 

Finley wants the world to know that gardening is an essential skill. “This is not a hobby, this is a life skill. Everybody should be able to have a healthy, nutritious meal, and this is where it starts.” 

He shares his knowledge of gardening and the urban food revolution in his new MasterClass. Learn more about gardening from gangsta gardener Ron Finley online at

Reese Williams