The Gangster Gardener
So I recently watched this video about a gardener who was planting food around South Central LA. His name Ron Finley and he saw an opportunity that is well worth listening to. Check out the video below before continuing.
Whats it all about?
If you watched it you know that this is urban gardening. So what is urban gardening you say?
Urban agriculture, urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around urban areas.
Ron Finley goes into a lot of detail here in this talk about diet and how the lack of healthy food options inspired him to start this. Since this talk the project has been named the Ron Finley Project and although Ron covers a lot in his talk but after looking into this a bit more I realized how impactful and how vast the benefits of urban gardening can be.
Ron himself is a true social entrepreneur showing all the traits of one but the two traits really stood out to me were his perseverance and his vision.
This project originally started in 2010 when Ron planted food outside his house but it wasn’t as smooth a start as he would have liked.
And then somebody complained. The city came down on me, and basically gave me a citation saying that I had to remove my garden, which this citation was turning into a warrant. And I’m like, “Come on, really? A warrant for planting food on a piece of land that you could care less about?”
Perseverance is vital in any social enterprise and it really doesn’t matter what the idea is there will always be obstacles in place that must be overcome. Its the persistence in achieving the vision that will separate the successful projects from the not so successful.
Social Entrepreneurship is tough but that’s not news. What often differentiates success and failure in a social enterprise is the strength of the vision. On their website we see that the vision is incredibly clear.
Ron is realizing his vision for community gardening and rejuvenation. Let’s grow this seed of urban gangsta gardening into a school of nourishment and change. Help spread his dream of edible gardens, one city at a time.
It’s time for Americans to learn to transform food deserts to food forests. Help them learn to regenerate their lands into creative business models. Let’s make Ron’s philosophy mushroom across the country, and the world.
Notice how he calls it community gardening. That’s because urban gardening is incredibly social, and it needs to be in order to succeed. That is one of the huge benefits of a project like this but I’ll speak a bit more on that later. There’s also a big emphasis on nutrition and nourishment which no doubt comes from the lack of healthy options in their locality. He also mentions on his website that “ Ron envisions a world where gardening is gangsta, where cool kids know their nutrition…” . Education on nutrition is obviously a big motivator here for both young and old. He also mentions business models which I assume has to do with teaching people business skills through the process on top of other skills.
As you can see there is a lot going on in the vision but it doesn’t end there, that is just what the vision wants to cover. Its incredibly important to define a vision early on when creating a social enterprise because that is essentially your map to success and you will judge the success of your project based on how well out aligns with the vision.
Benefits of Urban Gardening
So what’s all this about? What tangible benefits can a city/town/community see if they were to work on developing a community garden? These are just a few and I have no doubt that these benefits would have a domino effect throughout the community which could easily create more benefits.
First thing to cover here is that in order for an urban garden to succeed you need community. That in my opinion is a huge requirement because that’s when the real benefits are seen. These types of gardens bring communities big or small together getting people working together.
These types of gardens are a catalyst for communities to bond, converse and start helping each other inside and outside the garden. Its like any type of team activity, we could do the same thing with building a house for example. If we were to go to say a small community and got everyone involved in building a house and everyone in the community got involved, I guarantee that the relationships within the community would be a lot stronger after that house is built compared to before.
Much of the research I have gone over all comes to relatively the same conclusion and one of the main conclusions is that relationships are strengthened. So with that we know that the community itself will be strengthened because a community is just a large relationship.
You might be thinking I’m just going to talk about the obvious nutritional benefits to having an urban garden, I’m not, we spoke about it above and its fairly obvious. Easier access to healthier food means healthier people, simples!
What I want to cover is more into both the physical and mental benefits of an urban garden. This is where we get into a bit of research.
So first lets define what health is. According to the world health organisation :
In a study called Growing urban health: Community gardening in South-East Toronto they found that the gardeners found that the regular gardening kept them both physically and mentally active. The physical health benefits would be down to just being more active which is becoming increasingly more important. Gardening obviously isn’t as physically intensive as one hundred meter sprints but for people who may not get any activity other than this that is a vital clog in their overall health regime.
The same study also found that the mental benefits were positive. One reason was because that the gardeners found the connection and time they spent in nature relaxing. Even in big populated cities they found the urban gardens as a retreat almost like an oasis in what can sometimes be a stressful environment.
Another aspect it mentions is how the gardens can break social isolation. This is important because even if we take an example like rural Ireland, isolation is a huge issue and whether we like it or not loneliness and isolation are up there with some of the worst illnesses that we can endure. Urban gardens even if only visited with a group once a week can have a huge impact on someones life and that is probably one of the biggest benefits that these gardens have.
Urban gardens could potentially employ people full time in the long term. More than likely its going to be difficult to keep a volunteer group maintaining a garden year round and maybe after a long while of knowing its working it needs a manager. Granted the numbers may not be huge but it worth noting and its also worth exploring possible ways to adjust the business model to give opportunity for more employment.
As Ron Finley says in the video “When kids grow Kale, kids eat kale”. With most foods being extremely accessible its often easy to forget how they arrived so perfectly placed in the basket at the supermarket. Gardening and growing food are skills that have become lost in time and they are actually incredibly valuable skills that ideally everyone should know. Urban gardens give the opportunity to learn these skills in the best way which is learning by doing, trialing and testing without the big investment of making your own garden.
As Ron points out in his research as well there is another huge educational benefit which comes in the form of nutritional education. Educating communities in nutrition, food and learning about how what we eat can have a huge impact on us can only be beneficial.
Urban gardens give communities the opportunity to learn and get educated on nutrition, food and gardening for people of all ages.
Could it work in Ireland
This ones obvious…yes, and it already does in many communities around Ireland. If you search community gardens in your area you are sure to find them. The thing is there is no one model that is used across the board, it really is whatever works. ReGenVeg was a project in Cork for a while that came from the Enactus Society in UCC that mixed this idea with the idea of reducing elderly exclusion. This is just one variation but the options really are limitless.
One question that surrounds every social enterprise is sustainability, how do you keep an urban garden going financially and how do you keep communities engaged. When it comes to the finances one option I saw and that was the idea of ReGenVeg’s sustainability was the idea of keeping a portion of crops to sell to local restaurants that would sign up to the program. The money paid to get the veg by restaurants would then be put back into the garden. Another option could be selling a portion of crops at farmers markets.
When it comes to keeping communities engaged its about varying whats learned and getting people invested in particular areas of the crops. The reason I said portion of the crops above is because obviously the rest of the crops should be distributed to volunteers and people in the communities.
Regardless of how it works there are tons of opportunities so google community gardens/urban gardens in your area and if there are none…you know what to do!