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

Ron Finley

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.

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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.”

Images: Theo Jemison

Read our feature Rewriting the Man Code: the new masculinity

This article is featured in issue 90 of Positive News magazine. Become a subscriber member to receive Positive News magazine delivered to your door, plus you’ll get access to exclusive member benefits.

  • Maximus Du Bois

    Gardening is gangsta! Good stuff =)

  • Cloud Shaman

    Not ” Boyz in the Hood”….Men in the Hood!

  • Right on!!!!! Come visit us in central Appalachia, Ron Finley. We’re on the rural end of the same situation and our communities share so many of the same conditions, including this toxic masculinity that tears families apart.

  • Zombi Bikini

    You’ve got your work cut out for you trying to break through such inner city hard-heartedness, but we know who wins when a tree gets going in a crack in the asphalt, given a chance. ;) Good stuff, man!

  • Connie Moreland

    I am glad to see that the relationship between us and them is being understood here. Now that’s a seed we really need to grow…!

  • NASTY-NATE_fish

    Men in the Garden b

  • Carolyne Shephard

    wow. I love this, very impressive and thoughtful. You are a real man. Thank you, Ron Finley, the world needs your definition of masculine..

  • NinetynineAttributes AndstIllc


  • Yes! Literal and figurative roots to be made! I salute you…

  • Sherrie Smith

    This is beautiful… gardening has been so important to me. I put my earbuds in with Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails and then I harvest myself some lettuce. :) Digging in the soil is good for all kinds of people.

  • Saadiq Bey

    I’d love to hear more about what’s happening in Appalachia. Society has negelected its responsibility to our poor white brother and sisters (I’m black). Black men and women come to mind when I hear gangster, trauma, poverty, and incarceration–it’s time we begin looking at how we can help whites heal too.

  • Unity Garden

    Hello Mr.Finley. I read your article and the whole time I am sitting here saying to myself “that’s what I’m saying”. I started a community garden in South Dallas four years ago, but I haven’t had any luck in getting the people in the neighborhood involved in building it. For four years I have tried. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. It was originally suppose to be for adults and families, then I tried getting the children involved but that didn’t work either.I have tried to get the city involved through many different programs but they want to use my energy on their issues but never really help out with the garden or send people to the garden. I was wondering if you have any ideas on what I could do to promote the garden to young people?

  • markjtuggle

    this brother touched my heart and inspired me to serve the community!

  • oliviamorris

    Sharing this with a whole bunch of people……thank you for this.

  • Jonah Lucero

    I know I’m not Mr. Finley but maybe try to contact high school community service clubs. Both sides will benefit. They will get hours and you will get volunteers to help you.

  • Seeker

    Ron Finlay,
    The world needs more people like you! I’ve forwarded this link to many people who were touched and inspired by your story.

  • Ella Furnea

    Beautiful and inspiring! Sending you all my best wishes and hopes!….It’s hard sone days to find anything positive to redeem us as a species…And then, here you come! Made my day a little bit brighter!?…Thank you and keep going Mr Ganster❤! X Ella

  • Avanza Vaile

    I love this! Could not possibly agree more!

  • Stephen Gammack

    “Toxic masculinity” I love that, so true Amy

  • Ami Spears

    I love how you speak, so eloquent and true. Thank you for your service to humanity.

  • Hannah Rose

    This article made my day. yes yes yes! thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Connor Croteau

    Go RON!

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