“Gangsta Gardener” Speaks at UWF Experience Downtown Lecture Series

Pensacola – Question everything, especially where the food on your table comes from.

That was one of the messages that Ron Finley, known as the “Gangsta Gardener,” told the crowd Wednesday at the Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series. The UWF College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities presents the lecture series held at the Museum of Commerce.

“We need to care where our food comes from, and that’s one of the reasons I started growing my own food,” Finley said. “Because I got tired of being in my community and seeing all the people on medications and people sick.”

Finley planted organic vegetables in front of his home in South Central Los Angeles in 2010 and since then has helped usher in a revolution for community gardening. His mission has grown beyond his Los Angeles home and focuses as much on changing culture as it does on growing organic food.

“His strong vision for community gardening has blossomed into a personal quest to change how we eat and even how we think,” said Dr. Jocelyn Evans, associate dean of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities.

Finley asked the crowd if they know where their food comes from. The answers varied. That is one of the reasons he said he started his own garden.

“People don’t know what food looks like in its real space, where it grows, and that troubled me,” Finley said.

Getting young people to work in a garden not only shows them how to grow their own food, it teaches them valuable lessons, Finley said.

“They learn love, they learn respect. They learn where life comes from. They learn how to care for things. They learn to share. All of these things are in a garden,” he said. “I literally get to see the trajectory of someone’s life change, just by me showing them how to plant a seed.”

Finley’s lecture capped off a week-long visit to the Pensacola area sponsored by the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. He spoke to UWF students and faculty as well as the University’s community partners. His visit was made possible by supporters of the UWF Downtown Lecture Series and PACE funds.

“He’s talked to science classes, visited community gardens, met with public health advocates, visited with health care practitioners and visited elementary schools,” Evans said. “In each of these settings he’s challenged us to be better.”

Finley said when he created his garden, he envisioned a bucolic setting where hummingbirds appeared and butterflies would land on his shoulder. That dream became a reality, he said. It also brought people together and created conversations.

“I tell people, we need to inspire each other to think differently, to see differently. We need to respect inspiration,” Finley said. That’s why I started growing food on the street in South Central Los Angeles and it was free for the taking. And it worked.”

The UWF Student Community Garden also sponsored a screening of Finley’s award-winning documentary “Can You Dig This” on Monday at Carmike Cinemas Bayou 15 in Pensacola. Finely collaborated with musician and songwriter John Legend to produce the documentary.