By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett Tu Salud | April 12, 2015
Ron Finely gave a TED Talk a couple of years ago that spread around social media like, well, weeds. Finely is an urban gardener, local food forest advocate and one of those “regular” people who do extraordinary things because they are committed to a cause.
In his TED Talk, he describes his hometown. “South Central Los Angeles — Home of the drive by, and the drive through.” He continues, “Funny thing is more people are dying from the drive through, than the drive by.” He goes on to point out that in South Central LA people are dying from curable diseases and conditions like obesity, diabetes, kidney failure and heart disease.
His description of a place over-run with fast food restaurants, “wheelchairs being sold like used cars, dialysis centers popping up on every corner like Starbucks” vacant lots, car dependency — sounds very familiar. Similar to Finely’s neighborhood, the Rio Grande Valley’s statistics are even more alarming when it comes to obesity, disability and death from very preventable, curable diseases.
Finely’s response to the realities around him was to start growing food in his own yard. Actually, he started by planting in that little strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street, which belongs to the city, but is supposed to be maintained by residents. He and some neighbors then began planting trees in his yard and more vegetables in vacant lots. It quickly grew to become a food forest including a fruit orchard. His volunteer group met with some resistance when the city gave him a citation for gardening in the public space. But with a bit of press coverage and 900 signatures on a petition, they fought it and won. And why shouldn’t they? South Central LA has many vacant and unsightly lots, as we do in the Valley. What better way to use that land for something positive and productive. Finely’s prophetic voice has touched millions of people. He “preaches” that growing food is like printing money. “One dollar worth of green beans will give you $75 worth of produce.”
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