In early 2015, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of edible gardening on city parkways. The decision culminates years of advocacy work to bring fresh produce to those living in the food deserts of Los Angeles. In South Los Angeles, the combination of low-income and limited access to supermarkets threatens the health of the community. To provide a better picture, South LA has nearly half a million more residents than West LA, but there are significantly less outlets to find fresh fruits and vegetables. With limited access to healthy food, permitting parkway gardening will help prevent or mitigate the adverse health outcomes facing residents living in Los Angeles food deserts.
Prior to the city council’s decision, residents of LA were unable to landscape city parkways (the plot of land between the sidewalk and curb) unless they acquired a $400 permit. According to the city’s Residential Parkway Landscaping Guidelines, the only type of planting material that could be grown without a permit was turf (grass) –making any sort of edible gardening illegal. In 2010, South Los Angeles resident Ron Finley began growing fresh produce–free for his community to enjoy–on the parkway outside of his home, but was thwarted by city officials when they learned he did not have a permit. Despite the city’s actions, Finley continued to plant gardens throughout his community. He co-founded L.A. Green Grounds, an organization helping South LA community members plant edible gardens.
In 2013, Finley gave a TED talk about his experience living in a food desert and the impact that growing food has had on his community. Finley shared, “I have witnessed my garden become a tool for education, a tool for the transformation of my neighborhood…Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city.”
Ron Finley’s TED talk made a substantial impact on LA City Councilmen Herb Wesson. After listening to Finley’s story, Wesson brought the issue of parkway gardening to the city council advocating for the revision of the city’s parkway guidelines. He proposed they allow community members to create vegetable gardens on the city parkways without a permit. Two years later, the City Council has voted in favor of this proposal, allowing edible gardening on LA parkways.
“Now I’m not a renegade carrot (or) lettuce-planting criminal anymore,” says Finley. The new landscaping guidelines have yet to be implemented, but the decision brings optimism to people like Ron Finley who sees this as a tremendous feat.