Ron Finley

The other day, I had the pleasure of meeting (okay, ambushing) Mr. Ron Finley in front of his verdant curbside vegetable garden in South LA.

I had heard about his garden from a journalist friend in LA, who knew I was on the lookout for interesting curbside gardens for an upcoming book project.

She sent me a link to an LA Times article. Of course I had to check it out.

We drove around the neighborhood for a while before homing in on his street. Once we spotted the highly recognizable, photogenic, blue stucco building, we were pretty sure we’d arrived. We pulled up to the two men standing in the parking strip picking vegetables… I opened the window and asked, "Hello there, are you Mr. Finley?" "No," Ron Finley answered. "But he is," he said, pointing at his buddy, who was laughing by this time. Cover blown! Apparently, Ron Finley’s become something of a celebrity of late, with numerous newspaper articles coming out about his battle to grow vegetables in his streetside garden and the City’s efforts to fine him. Thanks to neighbors’ efforts and a petition, Ron’s streetside vegetable garden is now sanctioned by the City.

I soon discovered that, among his many interests and skills (including fashion design, collecting blaxploitation posters and community activism), Ron Finley is a real and very earthy, do-it-yourself gardener. He digs and sheet-mulches; he experiments; he sticks things in the ground to see how they do; he swaps plants; he stands around on the sidewalk with neighbors chatting about the plot; he shares his produce. Not just an activist, he really gets dirty, too. (As he put it, he’s perfectly comfortable channeling his own inner "middle aged white woman".) His courtyard garden, within the walls, is brimming with pots full of baby plants that are stacked in rows and piles… Pomegranates, bananas, squash, taro (given to him by an elderly Japanese neighbor) and other edibles vie for space with succulents and flowers. And he keeps a serious compost heap.

His 10×150′ curbside garden is artfully maintained and kept well within bounds, in spite of its lush productivity. His buddy, who confessed to knowing nothing about gardening, was busy "shopping" – picking out ripe tomatoes and basil, and definitely doing everything in his power to convince Ron to part with a gorgeous, nearly-ripe watermelon. (Not a chance: it wasn’t ready yet.)

Here in Portland, we’re so ahead of the game: it seems there’s at least one curbside vegetable garden on nearly every street in the city. But technically… many of these gardens are not legal.

Do you grow vegetables streetside? If so, why there? What problems have you encountered? What do you love about gardening for food in your parking strip? And do you let your neighbors go "shopping" in your streetside vegetable garden?

Read more about Ron Finley, his garden, and the organization – LA Green Grounds – that he founded to help other Angelenos grow food in their streetside gardens:

Sundance Channel article

Change.org article