Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Alex Cohen & A Martínez

South LA guerrilla gardener Ron Finley presents at the TED conference

by Alex Cohen with Leo Duran | Take Two

Ron Finley presides over a neighborhood "salad bowl" with his street-side garden in Crenshaw. Leo Duran/KPCC

The Technology, Entertainment and Design conference (known as TED) kicks off in Long Beach today. It's the major leagues of public speaking, and in the past it's brought together big names like Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, and Bono on a wide range of topics. 

Being invited to speak is such a big deal that past speakers say they spent months honing their presentations. While many of the talkers come from all over the world, one is literally homegrown from right here in L.A.: Ron Finley.

Finley's a local gardening guru and cofounder of L.A. Green Grounds who in 2010 transformed the parkway outside his Crenshaw home into a garden flush with kale, lettuce, lavender, and more. But in 2011 he ran afoul of city officials who said his plants were "obstructions" and that he needed a $400 permit.

Finley, however, took the issue up with City Hall, and he's now working with officials to make what he's doing legal so that his neighbors can also replant their own grassy lawns into harvestable vegetables.

His story caught the attention of TED organizers, and they invited him to speak at a smaller conference in Vancouver last year about transforming South Los Angeles' front yards into edible gardens. He was such a hit that they also asked him to this week's flagship convention in Long Beach.

Take Two host Alex Cohen met up with Finley next to his garden, and he explained how he wants it to be a beacon for his South LA neighborhood.

"Getting healthy food in this area was non-existent," he says. "I want get people to take back their health. I want them to see how easy it is and how beautiful food can be."

While he's nervous about speaking this week in front of the thousands of TED attendees who could afford the $7,500 admission, he's confident his message will resonate with anyone, because, "Just like they want healthy food, we want healthy food."

To see Finley's garden, it's located at the corner of W Exposition Blvd and Chesapeake Ave.

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