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The Garden That Brings Green and More

Parkway Garden | These are edible vegetables planted in parkway gardens by Farmscape's organizer Dan Allen.

Urban Gardener | South L.A. resident Ron Finley started growing vegetables in the parkway area in front of his house in 2008.

View Larger Map Ron Finley's Parkway Garden | Ron Finley's garden is located next to the Expo Line.

Nature | A bee is staying on a flower in Ron Finley's garden.

Vegetables | The vegetables in Ron Finley's garden provide a healthy food source.

Beautification | The garden beautifies the community.

Ron Finley's Parkway Garden
South Los Angeles resident Ron Finley started growing vegetables in his parkway area in front of his house in 2008, which not only has brought greens to the community but also connected the community by bringing the neighbors together.
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The Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is one of the largest inner-city parks and regional open spaces in the Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles. The community surrounding this urban park shares how they've seen it grow since its opening in 1984.
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The Conservatory is a well-known family owned coffee shop in Culver City. The owner wanted to create a space for people to come in and enjoy the best quality cup of coffee or grab one on the go.

By Fiona Aoyang Wang

“It could not get any fresher,” said Ron Finley, an urban gardener based in South Los Angeles, while he was eating a ripe fig that he just got from his fig tree in the parkway garden in front of his house.

It’s not hard to find neglected sidewalk parkways in Los Angeles, especially in the South L.A. neighborhood. They are sometimes overgrown and cluttered with trash. However, things changed in 2008 when Finley started to grow vegetables outside of his house.

He planted a variety of vegetables and fruits in his garden including broccoli, peas, beans, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, red bell peppers, beats, leaf amaranth, carrots and even bananas.

“I change the crops every season,” said Finley. “That’s the beauty of nature.”

With his initial intention to utilize the land in front of his house, Finley did not expect that his little action would bring such a huge influence both within and outside his neighborhood. Several blocks away from Finley’s house, two other gardens emerged soon after Finley’s garden. Los Feliz resident Abbie Zands also extended his garden from his backyard to the front parkway. Certain groups were built to help residents who want to grow vegetables in front of their houses. They also teach the people essential knowledge to grow their own garden.

Finley was very happy to see all the changes inspired by his garden.

However, as these urban garden activists celebrating the nature by creating more parkway gardens, the City Council brought up some concerns about the urban gardens and tried to stop people from planting vegetables in the parkway areas. Also, the right of using the land in front of homeowners has been ambiguous for so long.

In 2011, Finley was cited by the City Council and told that he had no right to grow food on the strip of land in front of his house since the city has the ultimate right of using the land. However, instead of uprooting the vegetables in his garden as he was required to do by the City Council, Finley decided to fight the City Hall, and councilman Herb Wesson vowed to take Finley’s side. Wesson then introduced a motion to allow parkway gardens, provided they met certain requirements with regard to public safety, emergency vehicle access and clearance for car doors.

But Wesson’s motion was still not approved by the City Hall. At the same time, another two urban garden activists Angel Teger and Abbie Zands got notices in their mails from the Bureau of Street Services ordering them to move their vegetables in the parkways. They found it was hard to believe what happened to them given all the support they had gotten from their neighbors. As both Zands and Finley mentioned, the gardens connect the community besides beautifying the environment with greens. And both kids and adults in their neighborhood or even just passing by the gardens would stop by to watch the plants, see how they grow and share the harvest.

With their beliefs in urban gardens that will bring a bright future to the city, all the urban garden advocates along with a couple of city councilmen and some organizations got together and have been keeping fighting for their right of growing vegetables in their parkways in the past two years. They tried to spread the words out, at the same time they also made some changes in their gardens to eliminate the concerns the city has as much as possible.

The most important concern the parkway gardens raised is public safety. “The food they planted got into contact with anything, like dogs, cars and whatever” said Anisha Hingorani, the network coordinator of Los Angeles Food Policy Council. It is hard to keep the vegetables that the residents grow on the street in a clean environment.

However, Finley argued that compared with these concerns, the safety of food people get from the supermarket, which are processed by many different machines with a lot of unknown chemicals added, deserve more attentions and regulations. And Los Feliz resident Zands used raised vegetable beds in his parkway garden to avoid the unnecessary contact of dogs, cars and other things with his vegetables, which guaranteed the safety of the plants he grew in his parkway to a large extent.

With all the efforts the advocates have put into, the city suspended the rules against sidewalk vegetables in August, which was a big victory to Finley, Zands, and many other people. Now with certain restrictions on the sizes of the vegetables, homeowners can grow any vegetables they want in the strip of land in front of their houses.

U.S. Garden

Farmscape | Farmscape is the largest urban garden venture in Los Angeles.

Dan Allen | Dan Allen is the organizer of Farmscape as well as an urban garden activist.

Pick Up Herbs | Dan Allen is picking up herbs in the urban garden in front of his office.