Issue 05 / Creativity

Thinking Outside The Vacant Lot

Gangsta gardener Ron Finley talks to us about the inspiration behind his quest for real food, what prompts him to think creatively and pursue solutions through action.

Helen Williams, Community Love Director at Holstee.

Ron Finley is in his garden. He hasn't even picked up the phone yet, though somehow I am sure of it, can imagine him standing there among the thriving plant life, shovel in hand. When he does answer my call, and confirm that my imaginings were wholly correct (“I’m in my garden,” he said, “watching the butterflies and bees and dragonflies.”), our conversation begins by him telling me more about his growing mission, the Ron Finley Project, which includes a motion to educate his community about their food, what it means to grow their own, as well as a moving plan to construct an urban garden in South Central Los Angeles.

This part of the City of Angels, deemed as worse than a food desert (“I call them food prisons,” he explained passionately), is where Finley grew up. And though Finley’s TEDtalk sparked a movement he never anticipated, he is clear on his original intentions for growing his own food. While he believes in the change that can be made if larger groups and cities decide to reclaim their health, he is clear on where the work has to begin: “Your community is your community and it’s your responsibility,” he stated plainly. “I’m not the guy on the white horse that’s coming to save you: you are. Nobody’s coming to save you. You’ve got to do it yourself. And one of the ways I say you can do that is [to] grow your own food. … Why not invest in your own health and create a good system while you’re at it?”

Finley explained that he was tired of have to “put on galoshes and an overcoat to go get healthy food.” And while his actions have inspired a movement, he humbly explains that he never anticipated such an enthusiastic response to his personal demand for change: “Who’s going to storm the castle? Who’s going to make the change? It seems like I stepped up. But I did not. I had no intention that this would spawn into what it has.” He mentions families and groups around the world who have thanked him, have started their own gardens and credit him for the inspiration.  “I’m honored that I’m put in this position, I’m not saying that. It definitely comes with a lot of weight. There are definitely people who come with a lot of support. Letters where their lives have been changed, sending me pictures. It’s rewarding."

When we’re thrown into a complicated problem, we’re given the opportunity to use our creativity to come up with a solution. In Finley’s particular case, he realizes the amount of work that’s left to be done. “There has to be a culture shift. The work I’m doing, that’s one of the hardest parts of it, changing a culture that’s been ingrained. Is it possible? Yeah, it’s possible. Is it hard work? Hell yeah, it’s hard work.” He talks about what it will mean to reevaluate our priorities and redetermine what’s really necessary in life: what matters more, he wants to know, having the latest Air Jordans or protecting ourselves from diabetes and other preventable disease? With a culture of such mismatched priorities, you have to wonder.

Now that I learned where Finley found his original motivation, I had to know: what keeps him going? What keeps his ability to think creatively alive? What stops him from feeling defeated? “To me," Finley says, "everyone is an artist. Everybody on the planet is an artist. We’re here to inspire each other and to be inspired.” As for what keeps him inspired, Finley finds his incentive in each new day. “Every day I wake up, I’m inspired by air. Most people aren’t conscious of the fact that air is the most important thing in their life.” It’s refreshing to talk to someone whose awareness of life’s value, from the chance to breathe to the right to real food, is so apparent.

Aside from the opportunity to embrace life, Finley is also (and aptly) inspired by the beauty of nature: “Nature to me,” Finley states passionately, “is the most inspiring entity on the planet. When you look at what Nature does, when you look at the colors that Nature produces. If you look at an artichoke and you see these hints of purple and the different shades of green, the vast varieties. The sequence in the seed patterns, the leaves. When you look at the colors on a hummingbird. I mean have you really looked at a hummingbird up close and noticed the color palette?” (I have, but I sense that Finley would encourage me to look again.)  “It’s beautiful. Who can do better?”

So now that we know where Finley’s passion lies, which seems to all be deeply rooted in uncovering the truth and making sure the rest of us are paying attention, I asked for his advice: how can we do the same? In our own creative endeavors and quest for bigger, lasting solutions, Finley says this: “Just make something happen,” which he then follows with, “If you see something you don’t like, change it,” and I can’t help but feel a sense of fate at work. “Design your own life,” he implores us. “Create, pave your road, drive them and walk them they way you want to see them walked. People think that they can’t do that, that they’re helpless. You’re breathing, you’re not helpless. Do something.”

Finley’s final thought for us is on creativity in the literal sense of growth: “Why don’t you just put that seed in the ground? Everything starts from a seed. Everything. An idea is a seed, planted in your mind. Just do something.” From the guy who started a gangsta gardening revolution, I’d expect nothing less.

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Ron Finley is a designer, gardener and collector. Learn more about his ongoing projects and how to get involved here

Images from ronfinley.com.

 

Helen Williams is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She's strives, every day, to be less sorry

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