RON FINLEY got sick and tired of seeing his neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles become a victim of fast food, liquor stores, and vacant lots. According to him, the neighbourhood has the equivalent of three Central Parks’ worth of unused land. He saw clearly that the environment was nurturing an unhealthy community, where many people — 1 in 2 kids — die of curable diseases like type 2 diabetes. In fact, he says that the drive-thru is killing more people than the drive-by.

Finley took the boulevard near his house and transformed it into a garden — the city says it’s his responsibility to maintain and this is how he chose to maintain it. This led to his group “guerilla gardening” other public spaces around the neighbourhood. The city received a complaint, and he was ordered to remove the gardens. He said no, then got a petition going at change.org that 900 people signed, and was eventually supported by city officials. Now he and his group — LA Green Grounds — are transforming unused lands into something sustainable, beautiful, useful, and healthy.

As he says, to change the community, the composition of the soil needs to change, and “we are the soil.” Ron is a man of action. If people want to talk with him, he challenges them to not meet in a room and sit and talk (he emphasizes the work ‘talk’), but if they really want to ‘talk,’ then meet him at a garden with a shovel.