Read the whole thing. Mr. Finley is such a badass! I want to meet him and learn some gardening tips from him.
In a city where an elite few fuss over $13 plates of escarole wedges, too many others eat at 98-cent stores and drive-throughs or go hungry altogether. Mr. Finley estimates that the City of Los Angeles owns 26 square miles of vacant lots, an area equivalent to 20 Central Parks, with enough space for 724,838,400 tomato plants.
His radical fix is to take back that land and plant it, even if it’s the skinny strip between concrete and curb.
It was the barren 150-by-10-foot median outside Mr. Finley’s house that inspired his first act of crab grass defiance. In 2010, he planted a sidewalk garden to reduce grocery expenses and to avoid the 45-minute round-trip to Whole Foods.
“I wanted a carrot without toxic ingredients I didn’t know how to spell,” he said.
A few months later, neighbors were gawking in delight at the sight of pumpkins, peppers, sunflowers, kale and corn in an area better known for hubcap shops. Late one night, Mr. Finley, who is a single father, noticed a mother and daughter sneaking food from his garden. He conceived L.A. Green Grounds as a way to share the abundance with people like them.
“I want to plant entire blocks of vegetable beds,” he said, back in preacher mode. “I want to turn shipping containers into healthy cafes where customers can pick their salad and juice off the trees. I want our inner-city churches to become ministries of health instead of places that serve up fried, fattening foods. I want to clean up my yard, my street and my ’hood.”
The neighbors are certainly responding. In April, a local dialysis clinic pictured in his PowerPoint slide show at TED wrote to say it had more than 200 volunteers ready to serve Mr. Finley’s cause. “It’s definitely a start,” he said. “Although the kind of support this community needs might eventually put them out of business.”
If nothing else, Mr. Finley hopes to use his moment in the spotlight to give the next generation an alternative. “I wish,” he said, “somebody had told me, ‘don’t go down that street,’ or ‘find yourself a mentor,’ so that’s a role I’m trying to play.”
The future he envisions is full of shovels, not guns, and mint and marjoram instead of drugs.
“I saw a kid walking down the street listening to music when he came face to face with one of my giant Russian Mammoth sunflowers,” Mr. Finley said. “He said, ‘Yo, is that real?’ ”
“He thought it was a prop or something. That’s what I want on my streets. Flowers so big and magnificent, they’ll blow a kid’s mind.”