Community rallies as urban garden in South LA faces eviction

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Tucked away on the corner of Exposition Boulevard and Chesapeake Avenue in South Los Angeles is the "Gangsta Garden," sprawling across two city lots with patches of soil lush with vegetables and fruits. Helmed by gardening guru Ron Finley, the project has since 2010 provided the local community with nourishment and a food oasis — which is now under threat of eviction.

The strip of land in question recently came under new ownership. Last November, the new owner, Strategic Acquisitions Inc., ordered the shutdown of Finley's operation unless he could purchase the property for $500,000.

Community members were quick to show support, starting a GoFundMe page that has raised over $450,000 in donations since it was launched about two months ago. Donors like Bette Midler, almond milk and juice maker Califia Farms and other big names in the natural foods industry have helped create traction for the campaign.

Additional efforts to preserve the garden include a petition started by the co-founder of Newman’s Own Organics, Nell Newman, and president of Annie’s Homegrown, John Foraker. The petition, which has gained over 26,000 signatures, implores L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Strategic Acquisitions to cease the eviction process and accept the funds raised so far as a down payment on the property. 

The "Gansta Garden" in South Central L.A., helmed by renegade gardener, Ron Finley.
The "Gansta Garden" in South Central L.A., helmed by renegade gardener, Ron Finley. Courtesy of The Ron Finley Project

"What this represents to the community is an inspiration that they can see that they have the opportunity to change their community themselves rather than waiting for someone to change it," Finley told KPCC. "It’s so much bigger than this garden."

This isn't Finley's first fight for community gardening. Shortly after he started planting a variety of edible vegetables, he made a name for himself as the renegade of local urban gardening, which sparked some clashes with city officials, who said he needed proper permits.

The issue was taken up with City Hall, and Finley worked with the city to make urban gardening legal in Los Angeles back in 2013, planting a seed that hasn't stopped growing. He later went on to co-found L.A. Green Grounds, which aims to foster the practice of harvestable home gardens. Now, his work continues with the Ron Finley Project, which takes the idea of accessible produce to another level with the hopes of creating jobs for residents and more. 

Children don pots of plants in Ron Finley's urban garden in South Central L.A.
Children don pots of plants in Ron Finley's urban garden in South Central L.A. Courtesy of The Ron Finley Project

Finley said he knows of urban gardens facing similar challenges — shutdowns, sparked either by underfunding or eviction — in other cities, including Houston, Atlanta and Washington D.C.

Though Strategic Acquisitions never issued a specific deadline for vacating the South L.A. property, the threat has loomed over the community.

Finley said previous attempts to contact the mayor and the district's city council member were not returned. But he said the fundraising campaign has spurred hopes of a triumphant outcome that might allow everyone to "get back to the work that we set out to do."

"I just want to say we’re so thankful that the world’s communities are coming out and supporting us," Finley said. "It’s big. Sometimes the space that you’re in, it seems like you’re in it by yourself, it seems like you’re in this fight by yourself, and we’re just trying to make things a little more equitable across the board.”

KPCC's attempts to reach the property owner have so far been unsuccessful.

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