Fighting Eviction, a Gardener Turns to Organic Industry Giants for Help
A community garden in Los Angeles that is threatened with eviction has gained the support of some high-profile leaders from the organic and natural food movements.
Gangsta Garden, founded by Ron Finley, became a cause célèbre after he repurposed a barren strip of public property in front of his house in the South Los Angeles neighborhood as a garden and then fought the city when it tried to fine him for violating a law requiring sidewalks and curbs be free of obstruction. The City Council eventually voted to waive the law in the case of community gardens, and Mr. Finley went on to host workshops and other events to help communities develop their own gardens in vacant lots, empty spaces and even shopping carts.
Now, the heads of Annie’s Homegrown, a division of General Mills, and other food companies have taken to social media to help raise the $500,000 needed to buy the property that Mr. Finley rents and uses to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers for his neighborhood.
Last week, John Foraker, a founder of Annie’s, took to Twitter for the cause.
Mr. Finley, a former personal trainer and fashion designer, began Gangsta Garden in 2010. He started with a 150-foot-by-10-foot strip of land between the sidewalk in front of his house, a former natatorium, and the street. He sowed pumpkin, kale, sunflowers and other fruits and vegetables that he couldn’t buy in the neighborhood.
After he caught some of his neighbors taking the produce, Mr. Finley helped start L.A. Green Grounds, a nonprofit that plants gardens in vacant lots, open spaces and even abandoned shopping carts in “food deserts,” which are urban areas that lack grocery stores and access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Two years later, he was invited to do a TED talk on guerrilla gardening, and the video was widely viewed, attracting the attention of celebrities like Alice Waters and Bette Midler.
Mr. Finley is no longer affiliated with L.A. Green Grounds. and his focus is on the Gangsta Garden, where banana trees grow alongside crops like sugar cane, Japanese sweet potatoes, artichokes, onions and cotton. Tree stumps offer seating to passers-by, who may also pick what they want to eat.
“The way I plant, it’s not like a farm, it’s more like art,” said Mr. Finley, who runs the Ron Finley Project.