"Gangsta Gardener" Comes To Pensacola

Mar 23, 2017

It’s officially spring and that means you might have thought about starting your garden. Or maybe you’ve never grown anything. Either way the University of West Florida invites you to meet Ron Finley, the activist “Gangsta Gardener,” when he is in town this week for a series of lectures and panels.

“Basically I’m going to talk about life and community and people and food and health and love, and you know, and air, how it all goes together. And beauty, and design and growing your own food and being a gangsta for mother nature,” he said.

Ron Finley quietly started a revolution in his front yard when he decided to start using his parkway, that green strip between the sidewalk and street, to grow food. The city of Los Angeles told him he needed a permit to use this neglected land as a garden and he eventually succeeded in having this law change. Angelenos are now free to use their parkways to grow food if they want.

But for Finley gardening in an abandoned space goes far beyond just having a few extra vegetables.

“To me, what I’ve done, is created beauty in communities where there wasn’t any.  You put these trees in, these plants in, they’re filtering the air, the soil is sequestering carbon, you’re letting other life forms exist. All of a sudden you put a certain plant in and there’s hummingbirds here. There wasn’t hummingbirds here, I never saw butterflies here, now everyday I’m kissed by hummingbirds so it transforms everything, not just the people but the air, the community, the people’s health the way people look at things.”

Dr. Greg Tomso, who is the associate director of the Kugelman honors program at UWF and serves as faculty advisor for the UWF community garden agrees that gardening goes beyond what you harvest.

“I do think it’s more relevant now than it has been in a long time. Obviously during World War II we had this notion of planting a victory garden, which was a very important way to bring people together to do their part for the war effort. Now circumstances are very different. We live in a world of plenty although people are still starving, people are still becoming unhealthy because of the food we eat. So it’s not necessarily that gardening is something new but it means something different in a world where food is making us sick.”

For both Tomso and Finley, the connection between access to food and diet-related maladies is part of what they want to raise awareness about.

“I have an area, a bunch of them all over the united states, I call them the trifecta of death because you have the liquore store/grocery store, you have the fast food right down the street and then you have the diabetes center and each one of those is going to lead you to the other one. So that’s the, you know, just driving around it’s like wow, ‘why are there five churches on one block but I have to drive ten miles to get an organic apple? And why is it so easy for me to get alchohol?’”

Finley encourages people to design a better community for themselves and to find ways to introduce plants and healthy foods into their neighborhoods by planting and growing themselves. In turn, this leads to stronger communities.

“It’s like I tell people, if you eat food you’re in the agriculture business and you should care about what you eat so that’s where all our journeys start at and the fact that if we really knew what soil is we would have more of a reverence for it. We turn to soil, period. We decompose for carbon when we go back into the soil, like a leaf does. I’m trying to show people how simplistic that is but also how miraculous and that is at the same time.”

Ron Finley will be presenting his thoughts on campus, including a walk through of the UWF Community Garden on Monday, as well as off-site talks at United Way, the downtown YMCA, and his centerpiece lecture at the Museum of Commerce Wednesday.

Whether you’re interested in gardening, health, or beautifying your community Dr. Tomso says there is a reason to come learn something new.

“I would say that everybody listening knows someone who is suffering from some form of food related illness, whether it’s obesity, whether it’s diabetes, whether it’s heart disease, whether it’s cancer of some kinds, we know that food is at the root of a lot of our problems. So even if you haven’t thought about gardening or don’t even really want to think about doing the labor of gardening, you want to come here Ron Finley speak because he’s going to provide a message that we all need to hear, it’s that constant reminder that we are living in a world where the food that we eat and the system that provides that food is creating an unsustainable future.”

Ron Finley puts it more succinctly, “Get a shovel, put a seed in the ground and plant some stuff.”

**One additional event not on the poster:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Noon - 1:00pm - Baptist Health Care Lunch and Learn

Location:  Bear Levin Studer YMCA, Gulf Power Demo Kitchen

Cost: Free

Call the YMCA at 850.438.4406 to make a reservation. Space is limited.