Photo by David Hochman for The New York Times
INTERVIEW : RON FINLEY : GUERRILLA GARDENER
Ron Finley doesn’t live in a Los Angeles zip code where buzzwords likeorganic and heirloom rule the supermarket. So a couple years back he took matter into his own hands and planted a sidewalk garden to cut down on his grocery commute times, earning him a citation from the city. His subsequent efforts to fight City Hall earned him an audience, then a TED talk that instantly made him the public face of the farm-to-table movement in underserved areas. The city of LA has since backed off, leading to enormous potential in a city with up to 26 square miles of vacant lots. But nowadays he’s thinking on a global scale. We caught up with him to talk about the ups and downs of being an overnight vegetable king and where he goes from here.
Were you surprised by the instant celebrity that you had after the TED talk?
A little surprised, but you definitely got to be prepared or it could suck you under like an undertow or something. Fortunately, I have a motto, when we used to train we’d say, “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.”
Beyond winning a moratorium on the ban on parkway planting, is the city of LA more on board with what you’re doing now?
Totally on board. They want to create a shift in food access. My thing is LA should be one of the healthiest cities on the planet and the folks I was talking to feel the same way. LA is for innovators and that’s what we need to bring back, to where we are the innovators and we’re not checking for nobody because everybody is checking for us. What are they doing in LA? That’s what I want to bring. LA is the place where things happen big.