Guerrilla gardening with Ron Finley

TEDActivators and friends get their hands dirty. Photograph by Nick Weinberg

At the end of Ron Finley’s TEDTalk on transforming South Los Angeles’ food deserts into food forests, he invites everyone to participate: “If you want to meet with me, come to the garden with your shovel so we can plant some shit.” Last weekend, inspired by Ron’s call to action, 20 TEDActivators, their friends and volunteers from Heavy T’s Grow Show gathered to get their hands dirty. Even Mariana Prieto’s French Bulldog Cholula showed up to lend a paw (yes, she’s named after the hot sauce).

The event came together in a day. TED staff and Los Angeles native Nick Weinberg reached out to TEDActive attendees because he was fired up by Ron’s vision for creating a healthy food culture through gardening. Nick said, “I wanted to help and I knew many other TED attendees did as well. We wanted to do something. Because this is what TEDActive is all about. Bringing action to ideas.”

Their project was to plant a garden in the yard of The R Cloud House, an artist-in-residence house located across from the L.A. Watts Towers — a perfect location for an art lesson. Graffiti art, in fact. That’s how Ron describes gardening. He says, “I’m an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. Just like a graffiti artist, where they beautify walls, me, I beautify lawns, parkways. I use the garden, the soil, like it’s a piece of cloth, and the plants and the trees, that’s my embellishment for that cloth. You’d be surprised what the soil could do if you let it be your canvas.”

Ron drove up in a blue pickup truck full of bags of soil donated by Mud Baron from Muir Ranch, wearing a t-shirt with a slogan that echoed the vibe in the air: “Stop bitching. Start a revolution.”

The group got started. Everyone unloaded the bags off the truck and shoveled the soil into garden beds. Ron’s nephew Ashoka, an urban agriculture educator, taught lessons on how to arrange plants and how to determine which plants should go next to each other.  They watered the dirt and arranged corn, tomatos, strawberries, dill, thyme, basil, mint and swiss chard into neat rows. Meanwhile, Ray Cirino, a friend of Ron’s, assembled a towering metal dragon named Sparky — a pizza oven in disguise. Large Marge Sustainables and Ray teamed up to provide unique recipe pizzas, like bimbimbap pizza for the hungry volunteers.

By the end of the day, the empty lot had become a delectable masterpiece.

Thanks to all who came out (not all are pictured here): Krupali Tejura, Alli Magidsohn, Kate Bristow, Eric Espinosa, Mariana Prieto, Mark Tomaszewicz, Anna Verghese, Jason Tuttle, Mari Tuttle, Sandra Kulli, Joanna Spilker, Jill Sobule, Christina Thompson, Sean Gannet, Felicia Kamriani, Yale Fox and Troy Ogilvie.

The day in photographs:

If you want to volunteer or organize your own dig-in, a gardening event for family and friends, check out Ron Finley’s L.A. Green Grounds.

Follow Ron Finley on Twitter @urbanfoodforest or email him through his website.

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