"Gangsta Gardener" Ron Finley fights to save urban farm from eviction

Gangsta Gardener
Gangsta Gardener 02:46

Last Updated Apr 11, 2017 2:50 PM EDT

LOS ANGELES -- A self-proclaimed “Gangsta Gardener” of south Los Angeles is fighting to save his own urban-farm from eviction.

Ron Finley doesn’t sugar coat his inner city upbringing, even in this viral TED talk, which has been seen by nearly three million people.

“This is South Central: Liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots,” Finley said. “Funny thing is, the drive thru is killing people faster than the drive by.”

A guerilla gardener in South Central LA | Ron Finley by TED on YouTube

And that’s what drives Finley: To change his community. Fruits and vegetables line the sidewalk of his urban garden. Once an abandoned community pool, he is now swimming in pomegranates, oranges, curly kale and even bananas.

A look at Ron Finley’s urban garden which was threatened by eviction. CBS Evening News

And it’s his grass-roots work has inspired green-thumbs around the world.

“Most people expect ugly you know … dressers and mattresses and chairs on the parkway,” Finley told CBS News. “But, that’s why I did this. I want to end that.”

Ron Finley speaks with CBS News. CBS Evening News

Finley’s “Gangsta Gardener” persona has inspired similar initiatives through the Ron Finley Project.

“This soil is gangster. Being educated is gangster. Being self-sustaining is gangster,” Finley said. “Not robbing and smoking dope, and getting high.”

Finley calls this the trifecta of death.

Ron Finley shows CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal around south Los Angeles. CBS Evening News

In Los Angeles’ South Side the obesity rate is 34 percent. That’s more than 10 percent higher than the county rate.

“Why do I have to fight to get healthy food?” Finley pondered. As he reaches for a beer can, he asked why people can easily get alcohol, but can’t get an organic apple?

“I can’t get a banana … I can’t get some healthy food in my neighborhood?” Finley pondered.

Nell Newman, founder of Newman’s Own Organics, and John Foraker, president of Annie’s, speaks with CBS News. CBS Evening News

Finley now has a new fight: Real estate investment firm, Strategic Acquisitions, bought the property late last year.

Unless Finley came up with $500,000 to buy it back, he’d be evicted.

The community rallied for him -- even creating a GoFundMe page -- that caught the attention of natural food giants Nell Newman, founder of Newman’s Own Organics, and John Foraker, president of Annie’s.

Real Food: Vertical farming 05:11

“We had to come support him and fight no matter what to save it,” Foraker told CBS News.

The team created a Care2 petition to bring in more donations.

“It’s an opportunity for the natural foods industry to give back to support those areas that are food deserts that don’t have any,” Newman said. “They don’t have fruits and vegetables.”

The GoFundMe page has now surpassed its original $500,000 goal -- and Finley’s legal team is working to close the deal.

CBS News asked Finley thinks the owners of the land will honor what they’ve said?

“Let’s hope so,” he said. “They got a lot of money, but we’ve got a lot of people, we got a lot of souls. It would be beautiful if they did the right thing.”

Ron Finley, the “Gangsta Gardener” of Los Angeles, looks around his garden. CBS Evening News
  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.