“The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys,” says South Central L.A. urban farmer Ron Finley, “and they’re getting away with it.”
Finley got fed up with the fact that people in his neighborhood didn’t have access to fresh, healthy food. In 2010, he started planting vegetables on one of many neglected curbside dirt strips in South Central. Because urban farming was illegal at the time, Finley promptly got an arrest warrant issued to him—but he fought to get the law changed, and now it’s legal to plant food on your parkway in L.A. “The city supported and loved everything I did after I embarrassed their ass,” explains Finley.
He didn’t stop there. Finley started an organization that puts gardens in people’s homes in South Central for free. “With the right food options, you can watch communities thrive and prosper,” Finley says.
Watch the video above to view Ron Finley’s inspiring presentation at the MAD4 symposium, and read our favorite quotes from the speech below.
On How to Make Positive Change
“What I do is what you all should do: When you leave here, just go plant some shit.”
“We need to make gardening and food sexy. It’s the only way we are going to make a change.”
“I feel that the solution—it’s not necessarily a revolution, it’s an evolution. It’s an evolution back, back to when we did shit. When we built shit, when we made our own food, when we supported ourselves, when we cooked our own meals—instead of driving up to some box and talking into it and ordering a Mac Double with super fries and some other shit like that. And you drive 15 feet, and somebody hands you another box with some shit that’s supposed to be food. We have to change that.”
“There were no hummingbirds in my neighborhood. Apparently they told their cousins that this crazy black guy planted some pineapple sage, and they would come every day and every morning.”
“I tell people: You don’t need meds, you need a garden.”
On What’s Wrong With Our Food System
“I live in a neighborhood in Los Angeles that’s basically designed to kill me, or keep me very unhealthy. I live in a community that should be designated as an ‘open crime scene,’ because they’re killing people. South Central Los Angeles is where I’m form…This is a place where a lot of people get their food from liquor stores, or the gas station, or fast food restaurants. A place where they close supermarkets to open drug stores, and the drug store will have a sign that says ‘Drugs and Liquor.’ You don’t see that in Brentwood, or Beverly Hills.”
“With all the abundance in this world, with all the food that is thrown away each day, why in the hell should anyone be hungry? We got a distribution problem, we don’t have a food problem.”
“If a child eats shit, from the beginning of their life, and continues to eat the same shit, how do you expect them to develop? How do you expect their minds, their bodies to develop? It’s not going to happen.”
“I got here to MAD because I was, basically, a criminal. What I did, I planted food on the street in front of my house, because there was no healthy food to be had in my neighborhood. You just could not buy any kind of food—you can buy all the alcohol you want, but you try to buy an organic apple and you’re shit out of luck.”
“We’re all connected—same water, same soil, same blood. Mother nature don’t waste nothing. If you look at earth’s systems, all the waste is done by us, and we need to stop that.”
On Why He Does What He Does
“I want to see beauty in everything I do. And beauty doesn’t necessarily cost any more money than ugly. If you get an opportunity to look at beautiful every day, it’s going to change your mindset.”
“When I make compost, my nipples get hard.”
On White People Boredom
“Kids from Harvard would come to my house. You know, Harvard, the university. And I’m like, ‘Really? You white folks must be really bored, huh?’ Some random black guy plants a carrot and it’s like, ‘Oh my god we gotta get on a plane!’ I don’t get it.”
“Schools [in South Central] are nothing but incubators for the prison industrial complex.”
“I had these kids work for me that go to these chef schools, and I’m like, ‘Why don’t they teach them where food comes from? Ok, you can cook. So what? Where did this shit come from?’ And they go, ‘What is that?’ And you say, ‘It’s a carrot, you clown.’ And you wonder what they’re learning.”
Finley’s garden in South Central L.A.