Planting the seeds in south central L.A.'s food desert

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES- There's not a lot of space in big cities for gardens. But one man in Los Angeles has found a way. Meet an urban gardener with attitude.

Ron Finley is an unusual activist. Troubled by the lack of healthy food in south central Los Angeles, the former fashion designer and lifelong resident decided to get his hands dirty.

"You know we depend on these fast food joints to feed us," he said. "There is really no place you can sit down to eat a healthy meal."

Finley felt that the only people who could improve access to better food in south central were the people living there -- people like him. So he planted a curbside garden.

"I get to demonstrate," he said, "I get to show people how to harvest food."

Finley was operating under the radar until recently, when he spoke at a national conference. His speech has gone viral with close to one million views.

"Just like 26.5 million other Americans," he said in the speech, "I live in a food desert, south central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by. Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys. People are dying from curable diseases in south central Los Angeles."

According to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, the populations with the highest rates of diabetes are minorities: Latinos with 13.5 percent and blacks with 12.4 percent.

Finley says he has two objectives: saving lives by eating better and saving lives by gardening.

"It's guns versus shovels to me," said Finley. "This is how you change the composition of the soil is with a shovel. That's how we change our communities."

Finley's idea took root in Terence Satler. Once an aspiring football player, the 20-year-old is now in culinary school, studying to become a chef.

"The most extensive knowledge I've acquired so far has been through Ron's garden," said Satler, "because he has things you would never see. Especially in my 'hood, when you say the 'hood, you have things like this growing here."

"This to me this is the new gangster," said Finley. "If you ain't a gardener, you ain't gangster."

And as long as there is fast food in south central, Ron Finley wants his neighbors to bring their shovels and plant.

  • Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson

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