“Gangsta” Gardening and Changing People’s Lives

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Jan 14, 2020
by Claire Kidwell
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“Gangsta” Gardening and Changing People’s Lives

Ron Finley on the fight against complex systems, growing together, and actionable outcomes Ron Finley in conversation at Salzburg Global Seminar

“We’re in a war where we’re fighting for souls. We’re fighting for life,” says Ron Finley, otherwise known as the “gangsta gardener.”

Finley is speaking to me while attending the Salzburg Global Seminar and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program, Halting the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Identifying Decisive Interventions in Complex Systems.

With the Ron Finley Project, he’s hoping to bring culture and community together. He envisions a world where children know their nutrition and communities embrace growing and sharing fresh-grown food.

Finley says people should expect an uphill battle and recognize the problems they’re all trying to tackle didn’t start overnight. These problems won’t be fixed overnight either.

“Sometimes, you’re going to get extremely frustrated and think that nothing’s happening,” says Finley. “But if your message is getting out, know that you’re affecting somebody. Know that somebody is hearing you, and you’re changing somebody’s life.”

Finley wants to show children gardening is an art form, which also allows them to provide for themselves. These skills are tools children can utilize for the rest of their lives.

His work also includes showing people how to be humane. He wants to teach people “how to take their neighborhoods back, how to take their lives back, and design them the way they want to live.” He adds, “Not the way that some clown has designed it for them.”

However, Finley recognizes it’s not just enough to give kids tools. It involves gardening and life skills. “It needs to be a full circle,” he says, and many children don’t get this full lesson.

As for the “gangsta” aspect, Finley wanted to change the vernacular of that word, of what people consider to be “gangsta.” If you have knowledge, that’s gangsta, according to Finley. “If you’re a gardener, that’s gangsta because you’re providing not only for yourself, you’re providing for your community and the people around you,” he adds.

It’s not just about nutrition and gardening, though. Finley says there are “many lessons in that garden that are metaphors and truths for life.” For him, it’s about showing children their worth.

“We as a race need to embrace our kids and tell them just how special, just how unique, just how brilliant they are.”

Finley says it’s the adults who inadvertently show children they have little worth. “How do we show kids that they have no value? Easy,” he says. “We put stuff in front of them that they cannot obtain, and we don’t give them the tools to get these things. So, therefore, they think things are worth more than the things they have, and things have more value than they do.”

As for what comes after this program, Finley says there’s more to get out of Salzburg Global than hope. He says, “I don’t really deal in hope. I don’t. I don’t even like the word hope. I like the word opportunity.”

Finley wants to see action come from these discussions – measures which put an end to issues like childhood obesity, so hope is no longer required. He says, “I want to see something that we go out and affect people... I want to see us build and move mountains with this with. That’s what I’m here for. To hell with all this conversation - we know the problem.”

Finley says research can take too long, and communities lose lives in the interim. He says he got his reputation through doing something about the issues he saw around him, not sitting and waiting for something to happen.

“It’s like I said, good in, good out. If you put good in, that’s what you’re going to get out. And if we grow together, we grow together. Thism is about community, period. And this is our community, not just the community you live in. I mean, we’re all on the same planet. We’re all breathing the same air. Let’s bring it down to that.”

Did you know?

Ron Finley’s TED Talk, “A guerrilla gardener in South Central LA,” has - at the time of writing - received 3,489,528 views. The video was published in February 2013. Watch the video below.


The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Halting the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Identifying Decisive Interventions in Complex Systems, is part of our Health and Health Care Innovation multi-year series. This program is being held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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