A Los Angeles man who planted a community garden, and subsequently received a citation from the city ordering its removal, has received the good news that his garden will be permitted to stay. Ron Finley, a fashion designer by trade, ignited his passion for urban gardening when he enrolled in a UC Cooperative Extension gardening class through the Natural History Museum, taught by Florence Nishida.
Finley looked at the grassy parkway between the curb and his home, near the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Los Angeles, and envisioned something different, something more functional than the water-hogging lawn. He’d planted banana trees in the space before (and removed them after receiving a citation from the city), but he was an amateur gardener with little experience growing crops. In the fall of 2010, he, his neighbors and Nishida cleared the space and planted seeds, wondering if anything would stick. Later that fall, the strip was peppered with seedlings, and by early spring, the crops were ready to harvest.
The garden has already fostered a strong sense of community – Finley’s give-and-take approach allows neighbors and community members to assist in tending the garden in exchange for free, locally-grown produce. He started a nonprofit group called L.A. Green Grounds, which posts eco-friendly tips and healthy recipes on its website. In order to help novice gardeners transform their own backyards into urban farms, the group reaches out to community members by hosting “dig-ins”, in which residents recruit friends and neighbors to help with labor, and L.A. Green Grounds provides gardening advice and help with planting.
Finley’s hard-earned success hit a roadblock in the spring of 2011, when, following a complaint by a fellow L.A. resident, he was cited by the L.A. Department of Public Works for constructing a garden on city-owned property without a permit. Finley was told that he had to pay $400 for a gardening permit that restricted him from growing non-drought-resistant plants and plants above 3 feet tall. He collected over 500 petition signatures from neighbors and strangers and was granted a hearing, which was later postponed indefinitely by city councilman Herb Wesson, who expressed his support for the garden.
Now, though, the garden continues to thrive, thanks to the efforts of Finley and his community. Committed to sustainability, Finley collects and stores rainwater to irrigate his garden in the summer months. In an NBC Los Angeles interview, Finley described his straightforward approach to community gardening, saying that he chose to revamp the parkway because, “why water grass when you could be feeding people and growing fresh food?” The parkway is 10 feet wide and 150 feet long, providing ample space for fruits and vegetables.
South Los Angeles suffers from poverty, crime and health issues like poor nutrition, diabetes and obesity. The area has been determined an urban food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning that an overwhelming number of its residents do not have consistent or affordable access to healthy, fresh foods. The country’s economic state hasn’t improved the problem, either, and some of Finley’s neighbors struggle to afford healthy food.
The neighborhood’s high-traffic location on Exposition Boulevard exposes the garden to intrigued passersby, who ask residents about their garden and are invited to take shares of crops home. The future Expo Line of the L.A. Metro system will run past the neighborhood, bringing even more people to admire the garden.
His garden is a positive message to children and adults regarding the importance of nutrition, as well as the ease, accessibility and rewards of urban farming and sustainable living. Finley hopes his community garden will inspire others to take similar steps, and dreams of an L.A. in which neighborhood foodsharing is second-nature, with each street growing a different crop and distributing the bounty among neighbors.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/lagreengrounds/6060324083/in/photostream