Saturday, August 17, 2013

My visit with Ron Finley (part 1)

I first heard about fashion designer Ron Finley through an article in the LA Times back in 2011 that described his fight with City Hall over his parkway vegetable garden. You can see some of the progression of his work over on the LA Green Grounds site, as well as on the petition at

Well, I thought, this is really interesting.

You see, I grew up in the LA area (Pasadena, to be precise), and since my dad worked in LA and my aunt and uncle lived in Compton, we were in LA itself all the time growing up.

So when I saw Ron's TED talk, I knew I had to write him to offer encouragement -- and he invited me out to visit. A few minor things like tornadoes and two sons graduating high school delayed me a bit, but finally I drove out to meet with him in June.

If you've ever been in LA, the first thing that strikes you about the place is how gray it is. The sun always shines, and the weather is great, but the sky is gray, the buildings are gray, the signs are gray with years of smog on them. Driving down Crenshaw from the 10, I saw the assortment of grayish shop signs in every language imaginable, fast food joints, heavy traffic, and smog that you see on every other main street in LA.

Then I turned onto Exposition and I could tell where Ron's house was the minute I turned onto his street.

On a street full of older homes with postage stamp lawns, along Ron's home was a botanical garden.

I made my way through the gate and knocked on the door. His assistant ushered me into a small room packed full of his impressive collection of international movie posters, some almost as tall as I am.

Ron is a soft-spoken man with a big smile who greets you with a hug. He showed me all around, picking off dead leaves and snacking on herbs and carrots as we went.

I asked him about his TED talk and how he got there.

After the LA Times article, Films For Action made a short film about his work, and after that he was asked to speak TED Vancouver about his garden and the organization he's founded to help others install edible gardens.

"At the time, I didn't know it was their first contest for the big one," Ron said. 

So what was the "big" TED conference like?

"It was nirvana," Ron said. "Everyone was so positive -- a whole conference full of people who wanted you to do well."

"I had only used Power Point once before," he said about his talk that day, "I felt like it was another person speaking." 

Since then, he's had many requests to do the speech again, and he feels as if his new-found popularity is "a blessing and a curse."

"I can't get to my garden as much as I'd like to these days," he says, "but it's good to see people planting."

In part 2: Ron's gardens, inside and out

While you're waiting:  Visit Ron's website

No comments:

Post a Comment