Meet The Gangsta Gardener, The Guy Transforming South Central One Seed At A Time

How far would you drive to get a fresh tomato? Five minutes? Ten? Meet Ron Finley, the guy who got tired of driving 45 minutes for one — so he planted the seeds for a revolution instead.

Finley, known as the “Gangsta Gardener” to some, lives in South Central Los Angeles — “Home of the drive-thru and the drive-by,” as he once put it in his TED Talk. “Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

In 2008, in the middle of the recession, Finley started to reflect on two major health issues in his community — childhood obesity and diabetes. He was angry about the unhealthy food options in South Central, particularly when fresh produce was easy to access in other L.A. communities. Finley was living in what he calls “a food desert.”

“A food desert is a place that I feel is designed to have no healthy food and to keep people in very poor health. But I’m sure the USDA and the government has another definition for it. To me, it’s food apartheid. It’s food slavery — the lack of healthy choices are killing a lot of people and they don’t even realize it.”


Finley dug in – taking the initiative to plant what he calls a “food forest” on the strip of dirt along the sidewalk outside his home. This so he could eat fresh fruit and veggies when he wanted, and share them with neighbors.

For that public service, he’d naturally be commended by the city for bringing a ray of sunlight to a community fraught with economic hardship, right?

Not so much.

Finley was met by citations from the City of Los Angeles, and when he didn’t back down… a warrant for his arrest. “There’s something defiant about growing your own foods,” says Finley, who had to weigh the idea of being jailed versus the idea of doing something bold for a community and taking a stand.