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By Ras Jaffee Judah

Sep 19, 2023

A Visit with Ron Finley: The Gangster Gardener

During a recent trip to California for a sustainability conference, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Ron Finley, the Gangster Gardener. Welcoming me into his home, Ron engaged in an in-depth conversation about my "Elevator Pitch," where I shared my commitment to closing the gap between trash and crime. His sharp response, "What's the connection?" set the stage for an enlightening discussion.

Ron Finley is a rebel with a green thumb. In 2010, Ron set out to fix a problem in his South Central neighborhood parkways, those often neglected dirt patches next to our streets. He planted some vegetables there. 

Soon after, he was cited for gardening without a permit by the apparent owners of those dirt patches: the City of Los Angeles. Queue the beginning of a horticulture revolution. 

Ron fought back and won. He started a petition with fellow green activists and demanded the right to garden and grow food in his neighborhood. Having grown up in the South Central Los Angeles food prison, Ron knows the area’s lack of fresh produce. He knew what it was like to drive 45 minutes to get a fresh tomato. 

Boldly and tenderly, Ron’s vision to rejuvenate communities worldwide through gardening, knowledge, and togetherness has taken root. 

I explained that the connection between waste management and criminal justice encompasses various factors, including community divestment, lack of access to healthy food, and economic development. These issues often lead to problems like redlining, which designates certain areas as undesirable and facilitates the establishment of landfills in communities like the Bordeaux neighborhood in Nashville, TN.

Motivated by my own past wrongdoings as a youth, I established Recycle and Reinvest in October 2018. Ron's own journey resonated with me, as he explained that his work is a response to the dangers and negative impact of gangbanging on the African American community. For him, being a gangster gardener is about doing something unique and radical rather than perpetuating violence.

Ron's authenticity shone through during our conversation, as did his immense knowledge and respect for nature. Walking through his open-to-the-public garden alongside his garden assistant, Fred, I experienced firsthand the beauty of fresh fruit directly from the trees. Ron's commitment to cultivating the earth and empowering others to dream big left a lasting impact on me.

The Ron Finley Project:

Inspired by Ron's passionate work, I delved into understanding The Ron Finley Project further. Founded with the goal of transforming food deserts into food sanctuaries, the project aims to create healthy communities by providing resources and education on gardening and healthy eating. Through various initiatives, workshops, and partnerships, Ron Finley and his team are empowering individuals to take control of their food and their lives.


South-Central Los Angeles is a food desert: a geographic location where access to healthy food options are extremely limited or nonexistent. 

There are currently 23.5 million people living in food deserts in the US. And cities with high African American and Latin American populations, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York City, regularly top the list of those hit hardest by food scarcity. 

South-Central L.A. has higher obesity rates than more affluent neighboring communities like Beverly Hills, Glendale, and Pasadena, which are only a few miles to its north, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Throughout our conversation, Ron imparted several thought-provoking statements that encapsulate his philosophy. He emphasized the importance of planting seeds, not just in terms of gardening but also in offering opportunities, knowledge, and resources to others. 

Ron stressed the value of understanding one's worth and pursuing actions that bring happiness and joy, rather than living a miserable existence.

My visit with Ron Finley, the Gangster Gardener, was a transformative experience. His passion, authenticity, and dedication to creating change through gardening and education left an indelible mark on me. The Ron Finley Project stands as a testament to the power of individuals to transform their communities by nourishing themselves and the earth. 

As Ron famously champions, "Change your food, change your life!" Don't forget to celebrate his incredible work and, as he would say, "Plant some shit!"




Ron Finley Website

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