The ‘gangsta gardener’ who believes masculinity is about being a conscious citizen of the planet

Los Angeles-based ‘gangsta gardener’ and community leader Ron Finley is determined to redefine ‘gangsta’ as being about building thriving communities, not machismo

“Gardening is gangsta: Mother Nature is gangsta. Being educated, creative and self-sustaining is gangsta. That whole concept was about turning a negative into a positive. If you want to be gangsta about anything, make it about building your community, sharing knowledge.

Men are brought up being told that we’re supposed to be provider and protector. But, as far as I can see, a lot of our communities are basically designed to kill people, because you can’t find healthy or nutritious food in them. Why is it easier to get alcohol than an organic apple? Why, in certain communities here, is it easier to get a gun than it is to get an organic carrot? Cities are designed for commerce, not for people.

A lot of guys spend time in prison because of trying to get that whole American dream. ‘I want my wife, my girlfriend, to have this or that that I saw on TV: diamonds and fancy cars.’ Gardening changes people’s lives – it shows the alchemy and the art of Mother Nature. It gives you a reverence and respect for soil, tiny seeds, water. As boys, we were all told ‘money don’t grow on trees – go get a job’. But somebody should have told us: ‘if you want some money – plant some trees’.

If we want to change this, all over the world, we have to make growing and producing food sexy. It’s where I find my solace, my joy. The soil seduces you. You do the soil’s bidding.

Male role models are so important. There wasn’t really a man in my life that I could sit down with and really get some knowledge. I’ve never been drunk, never been high, smoked cigarettes, none of that. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life. I don’t know what to attribute that to, but I know at times I wished I did have somebody to say ‘go this way, take that route’. I have three sons, and I was determined to be that for them.

I don’t really separate being a man and being a human being – being a conscious citizen of this planet. We all want healthy food, clean water, and to be loved. I don’t see holding back emotion or affection as being a man. I’ve cried on stage. All that ‘real men don’t cry’ bullshit? Yeah we do. Real people cry.

All that ‘real men don’t cry’ bullshit? Yeah we do. Real people cry

At a young age, I realised a lot of systems were designed to keep us in line. Why should I get in a box to drive to work for an hour each way, to sit in a box, to get back in my box and drive back to go and live in my box? I started thinking: who benefits from that?

I’m proud that I get to travel around the world, from Sweden to Sussex, and inspire people to change their lives. I’m proud that people are building and reconstructing their lives and their communities, and that I had a hand in that. It’s amazing.

And I’m proud that I have been able to raise three magnificent, amazing sons who are happy and doing what they want to do, not what someone else wants them to do.”