About three years ago, South Los Angeles resident Ron Finley got fed up with having to drive more than half an hour to find a ripe, pesticide-free tomato. So he decided to plant a vegetable garden in the space between the sidewalk and street outside of his home, located in the working-class neighborhood where he grew up, surrounded by fast food restaurants, liquor stores and other not-so-healthy options.
When the City of Los Angeles told him to stop, based on the old laws that said just trees and lawn could be planted on those skinny strips of urban land, Finley, who is a fashion designer and Blaxploitation memorabilia collector by day, quickly rose to fame as southern California’s “guerilla gardener.” By founding a nonprofit called L.A. Green Grounds, whose monthly “dig-ins” feature hundreds of volunteers turning overlooked pieces of urban land into forests of food, Finley became the face of a public campaign against the city, which owns roughly 26 square miles of vacant lots that he believes could fit nearly one billion tomato plants. The city listened, and is now in the final stages of changing the rules to allow fruits and veggies to be planted along sidewalks.
“I’m pretty proud of that,” said Finley, who recently answered a few more questions for Smithsonian.com.