"Plant some shit." This is the mantra of Ron Finley, aka the Gangsta Gardener and founder of the Ron Finley Project, who started a food revolution in 2010 when he planted vegetables in the city-owned curb outside his house in South Central L.A. He was fined. But rather than abandon the fledgling plants that had taken root, he dug in, eventually changing the city ordinance to make it legal to grow food in the city.
Last month, Finley’s garden, now grown into a beautiful oasis of calm and abundance, faced another hurdle: threat of eviction. Finley was renting the property for years, but when a real estate investment company called Strategic Acquisitions bought the property at foreclosure in November (the LA Weekly reports that firm paid $379,000 for the land), Finley was at risk of being evicted unless he bought the land for the new price of $500,000.
Finley has been an icon in the natural products industry for mobilizing people to stand up for good food. Through speaking at Natural Products Expos and Esca Bona, he has inspired hundreds of manufacturers, nonprofits, suppliers and retailers to understand the importance of increasing access to fresh food. Over 700,000 people have viewed his TED talk on YouTube. He has proselytized about the power a garden can have on communities, and has motivated people the globe over to start urban gardens in their cities.
In short, Finley’s work has helped the natural products industry understand the importance of democratizing healthy food. When brands learned he needed help, they rallied.
John Foraker, president of Annie’s, was particularly gung-ho about saving the garden, personally donating $50,000 to Finley in order to save the garden. Foraker also spurred Annie’s, Covet PR and industry friends like Care2’s Justin Perkins, Robyn O’Brien, Max Goldberg, Ashley Koff and more to spread the message.
"At Annie’s, we’ve always admired Ron’s bold message of individual empowerment, encouraging the people in his community and everywhere to get out there, ‘plant some shit,’ grow some food and take control of their own health," Foraker says. "Ron’s project works to directly address and raise awareness of the pervasive problem of food deserts in communities across the U.S. and the world. Educating people and encouraging them to make better food choices for their own health and well-being is also an important part of the equation."
It worked. Nell Newman, the founder of Newman’s Own Organics, personally contributed $21,000 to the cause, according to the New York Times. On Finley’s GoFundMe page, both Califia Farms and Annie’s are listed as donating $50,000. Presence Marketing, Siggi’s Yogurt and sweetgreen Inc. each donated $10,000. Good Culture, Suja Juice and Horizon Organic each donated $5,000. Almost 3,000 other brands and individuals who believe in Finley’s mission contributed funds, too. Over three months, supporters raised $524,490 to buy the garden. The Ron Finley Project officially became the "100 percent title holder of its South Central Los Angeles headquarters and garden where the very first seeds of this global movement were planted in 2010," Foraker wrote in a recent blog.
Additionally, to ensure the continued success of The Ron Finley Project, Foraker announced that Annie’s will contribute $20,000 to the organization each year for three years to "help him drive his mission and message far and wide."
Many believe that Finley’s garden was so important to save because the garden symbolizes social activism, regaining control of what we eat and perseverance—the spirit of the natural products industry.
In a recent Facebook Live video, Ron Finley takes viewers on a tour of his garden, pointing out notable plants such as artichokes, almonds, plums, chard and apricots. The din of traffic is heard nearby. He plucks an orange blossom from an orange tree and holds it to the camera, describing its scent. He stands in the middle of the garden and looks at what sprouted from an illegally planted vegetable seven years ago. "This to me represents an opportunity for people to see another way to live," Finley says. "[This is] what our neighborhoods could look like."