Ron Finley, co-founder of the nonprofit L.A. Green Grounds, visited the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Monday night to speak to students about his rise in nonprofit organizations and how his movement could change living in South Central Los Angeles.
In 2010, Finley looked around his neighborhood, which was filled with liquor stores, fast food and vacant lots. He described it as a “food desert” on TED Talks.
“South Central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by,” Finley said on the TED Talk. “Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys. For instance, the obesity rate in my neighborhood is five times higher than, say, Beverly Hills.’”
One of Finley’s missions in his nonprofit is to help break the obesity cycle for future generations.
“ [The children’s] palate has been raised by those types of food,” Finley said. “You are what you eat, it has been proven. If you get these foods in your body in an early age, that is what you are going to eat.”
Finley explained how the improvement of nutrition in South Central could change the future with his nonprofit on TED Talks.
“If kids grow kale, kids eat kale,” Finley said in the talk. “If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes. But when none of this is presented to them, if they’re not shown how food affects the mind and the body, they blindly eat whatever the hell you put in front of their mouth.”
He continued to explain how that even in a part of town that lacks fresh produce, it is not impossible to eat healthy.
Adjunct professor Gary Wexler, who first noticed the urban gardener on TED Talks, hosted Finley in his class. Wexler previously met with Finley at the Goldhirsh Foundation and is now helping Finley expand his nonprofit organization.
Impressed by his mission and determination, Wexler invited Finley to speak to his nonprofit marketing class to empower them to work with nonprofits.
“Ron Finley is taking a risk,” Wexler said. “He is putting himself out there in a way that social entrepreneurs are putting themselves out there. He is a wave of the future. He’s different because he is willing to take a risk.”
Finley acknowledged several challenges in creating an urban garden. He explains that it is not easy to have everyone understand and support his mission. In addition to getting people involved, he understands that not everyone has time to cook.
His revolution goes further, however, than just establishing an urban garden.
“It is about allowing people [to have] healthy food in neighborhoods — in food deserts,” Finley said. “It’s about getting kids who have been involved in gangs and giving them something to do and change things that they do and the way that they live.”
During the Q&A session, a student asked Finley where the inspiration for his nonprofit came from.
“You have looked at someone who has never been high, drunk off coffee and never smoked,” Finley said. “I never wanted to be drunk. I never needed to be an altered state. If I was with somebody last night, I can remember what I did. I know that I was different.”
Finley revealed to the class that he started the garden to get kids out of jail. He believes that schools are similar to a prison system and children need to be taught how to think instead of what to think.
“And I want to change that. As a matter of fact, I am changing it,” Finley said.