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The 'Gansgsta Garden' Is Saved From Eviction

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Back in April we reported that Ron Finley, the "Gangsta Gardener," was fighting to save his South L.A. garden from eviction.

It wasn't just any garden. Started in 2010, it was part of the Ron Finley Project, an effort to engage with the community and, as Finley noted in a 2013 TED Talk, to stop the neighborhood from being a "food desert." As stated on the project's website, the garden was "[inspired] by the idea of turning unused space such as parkways and vacant lots into fruitful endeavors" and serves as a "gathering place" and "a community hub, where people learn about nutrition and join together to plant, work and unwind."

That was all put in jeopardy in November when DLI Properties LLC bought the land on which the garden is part of. According to a GoFundMe page, the firm gave Finley only two options: he'd have to pony up $550,000 to purchase the property that his garden sits on, or face eviction.

We are happy to report that Finley will, indeed, get to keep the garden. As reported at LA Weekly, the Ron Finley Project (a non-profit) raised more than $550,000 to buy the space. It made an offer on the property a couple weeks ago, and closed escrow on Monday. The sale is part of a settlement agreement in a wrongful foreclosure lawsuit; Finley's former landlord said that Wells Fargo had wrongly advised her to apply for a loan modification, then sold the property to DLI at a foreclosure auction after she'd failed to meet payments.

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Speaking to LAist, Finley said that the outpouring of donations on a GoFundMe page reaffirmed his beliefs in his mission. "This definitely shows how a certain part of our society values gardens," said Finley over the phone. "You're constantly fighting to make it happen. And it's great to see that the people who say they're going to help, they're putting their energy and money where their mouth is."

"I've never done something where I'm just asking money from people, per se," Finley added. "But yes sometimes you do need a little assistance, you do need a little help. And we were able to make it happen. Bette Midler was one of the first to kick in some help."

The donations came from all walks of life. But one major source of donations was the organic food industry itself. John Foraker, the president of Annie’s Homegrown, was among the major contributors—he and his wife donated $50,000 of their own money, while the Annie's brand donated another $50,000. When asked about what he admired about the garden, Foraker wrote to LAist saying that, "Educating kids and communities about real food and where it comes from, and encouraging them to get their hands dirty in a garden of their own, is one of the most powerful ways to promote a lifetime of healthy habits, even beyond food choices."

This influx of money doesn't just guarantee the garden's existence, it also provides resources for Finley to expand his ideas. "I told people 'Sh--, look at what we did with no funding. Imagine if we could build the infrastructure we really need to make everything happen,'" said Finley. "We're going to accelerate what we're doing—a lot more engagement, a lot more programming." He points to Da FUNction, the annual event that's returning on June 24, as one of the efforts that his project has spawned. On the Facebook page for 2016's event, the planners said that the goal is to "spread knowledge and awareness of alternative options and healthy lifestyle choices." The party included food trucks (of course), activities, and "interactive stations where the artists can work one on one with members of the community and providing a place for all to learn."

As you may have deduced by now, Finley is a man who looks at the larger picture. When asked about the garden, his focus keeps returning to the symbolic meaning of the (seemingly) aberrant oasis. "What it represents is freedom. Freedom from dictatorship," said Finley. "Our food is being dictated to us. Therefore our health is being dictated. People want you in the box they designed for you. But this is about finding the systems that serve you."

Da FUNction will happen on June 24 at Vermont Square at 1201 W. 48th St. Los Angeles. Click here for more info, as well as volunteering opportunities. The garden is by the intersection of Chesapeake Ave and W Exposition Boulevard in South L.A.

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