Food & Home


Turn Over a New Leaf—Inside and Out—
with the Gangsta Gardener

Even if you’re one of those people who has trouble keeping a cactus alive, Ron Finley can turn you (quickly) into a green thumb. “Gardening is one hell of a drug,” says the founder of the Ron Finley Project, a South Central Los Angeles–based organization that teaches food-desert communities (locally and around the world) how to grow their own food and take their health into their own hands. Finley calls himself the Gangsta Gardener. “When I was growing up, ‘gangsta’ meant ‘fly’ in respect to someone’s car or outfit or style. It became centered around being drunk and high and misogynist, and I wanted to change it back, away from the negative tinge,” says Finley, who has supercharged the gardening world. Today, when he’s not teaching people how to grow their own food, he’s giving TED Talks and leading a MasterClass series, writing a book, and developing a TV series—all on how we can easily nurture our own green spaces. “Soil is gangsta. Air is gangsta. Knowing how to grow your own food is gangsta. Kids in India send me pictures of themselves propagating plants, and they’re calling themselves little Gangsta Gardeners. It doesn’t get any more gangsta than that.”

  1. Finley grew up in a food desert in South Central and fell in love with healthy food with the help of his hippie-ish uncles, who shopped at health food stores, and his brother, who sold spirulina plankton powder. His activism—and the Ron Finley Project—started years later, in 2010, after Finley was cited by the City of Los Angeles for planting vegetables in his neighborhood’s curbside dirt patches. Finley started a petition to garden legally in the public spaces in his area—and won. “Growing plants is freedom,” he says. “We’re taught that money is the resource, but what if you taught your kid that a teensy-ass seed she can hold in her hand can give her a whole tree that bears a ton of fruit, and that all those fruits have seeds in them, too.”

  2. The Floral Society Edible Flower Seed Kit, goop, $51
    The Floral Society Edible Flower Seed Kit goop, $51
  3. He continues: “A thousand seeds from one seed. It sounds like magic, but it’s real. Growing shouldn’t be something exclusive for special people; it’s for all of us.” Finley’s “office” is an empty swimming pool that’s overrun with tropical taro plants, lemon trees, arugula, sugarcane (he’s enamored of how nutrient-rich the juice is), and banana trees with enormous leaves that cast a considerable shadow on a sunny day.

It’s easier than most people think to make things flourish, Finley says: “Just don’t let your shit die. Plant what you want and use your common sense. It’s simple. Being around plants is what we all need to get back to; at the very least, they make your space feel good.”


Dig, prune, and prosper

Finley’s favorite tool is something called a hori hori. “It digs, cuts, and measures in case you want to space out your seeds,” he says. “You also want heavy-duty gloves that grip (although you definitely want to be in the soil with your bare hands, too—really the best tool is your hands); one or two strong shovels; a garden spade, which is basically a tiny shovel; and a great pair of pruners to snip off your plant’s dried-up leaves to encourage new growth. When you prune certain plants, like basil, they come back forever.”

  1. Damage control for your hands.

    Womanswork Women’s Gardener’s Gloves, goop, $44
    Womanswork Women’s Gardeners Gloves goop, $44
  2. The slick blades slice through thick stems and overgrowth.

    Barebones Living Pruner and Sheath, goop, $38
    Barebones Living Pruner and Sheath goop, $38
  1. Rust-proof scissors for trimming herbs and precision work.

    Barebones Living Artisan Trimming Shears, goop, $26
    Barebones Living Artisan
    Trimming Shears
    goop, $26
  2. Brilliant for mixing and aerating potted soil.

    Barebones Living Cultivator, goop, $24
    Barebones Living Cultivator goop, $24
  3. Cuts weeds, loosens tough soil, and preps the earth for planting seeds.

    Barebones Living Square Hoe, goop, $22
    Barebones Living Square Hoe goop, $22


Don’t overthink

“People say things like, ‘Space your seeds out six inches apart,’ but whatever. I plant extremely close. Seeds are going to grow and take their space—it just happens,” laughs Finley. “Especially if you live in a city without a lot of room, you want your shit tight.”

  1. This fully automated vertical growing kit comes with thirty seed-filled capsules and LED lights that make growing at home preposterously easy.

    Gardyn Home Kit, goop, $649
    Gardyn Gardyn Home Kit goop, $649
  2. The perfect starter kit for salad lovers (you basically just add water to the seed quilts included).

    Hamama Microgreen Starter Kit + Bamboo Frame, goop, $79
    Hamama Microgreen Starter Kit + Bamboo Frame goop, $79


The easiest vegetables to grow
are delicious and impressive

“Lettuce is easy,” says Finley. “If you want to impress kids, radishes grow really fast. Superfoods like collard greens are great. I grow a lot of herbs—I have three kinds of mint, basil, and more.”

  1. For simmering vinegar-braised collards, herby chicken and cauliflower soup, and more.

    goop Home 10-Piece Cookware Set, goop, $300
    goop Home 10-Piece Cookware Set goop, $300
  2. For herbs and veggies, this comes with a built-in light source specially timed for each seed variety.

    SproutsIO, goop, $799
    SproutsIO SproutsIO goop, $799

“Let the plant tell you. If the soil feels dry, pour in some water,” says Finley. “Also, google that shit and read the seed package. Stop playing.” The health of the soil makes a big difference, too. “I encourage people to compost, compost, compost and to use mulch—which is anything organic, from leaves to wood chips to an old shredded-up cotton T-shirt—that you put on top of the soil to help it hold water.”

  1. Skultuna Nurture Watering Can, goop, $54
    SKULTUNA Watering Can goop, $54
  2.  Luxe Garden Hose Kit, goop, $307
    Garden Glory Luxe Garden Hose Kit goop, $307
  3. Bamboozle Bamboo Compost Bin, $50
    Bamboozle Bamboo Compost Bin goop, $50


Gardening is a lot like self-care

Focusing on nurturing a plant or a garden can help us become more generous with ourselves. Working outside in the dirt, under the warmth of the sun, feels so good—and protecting yourself with sunscreen and nourishing your hands in particular makes the whole experience that much more restorative.

  1. The Organic Pharmacy Cellular Protection Sun Cream SPF 30, goop, $69
    The Organic Pharmacy Cellular Protection
    Sun Cream SPF 30
    goop, $69
  2. Sangre de Fruta Garden of Earthly Delights Botanical Hand Soap, $48
    Sangre de Fruta Garden of Earthly
    Delights Botanical
    Hand Soap
    goop, $48
  1. More damage control for your hands, this rich cream deeply hydrates with nourishing plant butters to leave skin cushiony and supple.

  2. goop Beauty GOOPGENES Nourishing Hand Cream, goop, $25/$23 with subscription
    goop Beauty GOOPGENES Nourishing Hand Cream goop, $25/$23 with subscription


Bring the garden inside—always

“Plants can clean the air, and they also just make it feel healthier inside. Houseplants are a beautiful thing, something we all should invest in. They should teach it in school,” says Finley, who’s just as passionate about the psychological benefits of living among flowers. “My favorites are bearded iris, Casablancas, and bananas—they start off as flowers before they turn into racks of bananas. You know we even share DNA with bananas? I love watching them grow.”

  1. The Green Vase Hollyhock Plant, goop, $375
    The Green Vase Hollyhock Plant goop, $375
  2. goop x Social Studies White Matte Mini Vase, goop, $28
    goop x Social Studies White Matte Mini Vase goop, $28
  3. The Green Vase Floribunda Rose Plant, goop, $565
    The Green Vase Floribunda
    Rose Plant
    goop, $565
  4. Marloe Marloe Stevie Vase in Lava/Bone, goop, $340
    Marloe Marloe Stevie Vase goop, $340


Spritz yourself with
clean bug spray

“Bugs are a pain in the ass,” says Finley, who makes his own bug repellent from organic extracts. We love this chic lemongrass-clove-vanilla solution that’s a mosquito-repelling dream.

  1. Kinfield Golden Hour Bug Spray, goop, $22
    Kinfield Golden Hour Bug Spray goop, $22


Help end
food deserts

You can learn more about food deserts in this interview with Stacy Mitchell, a codirector of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell says that there are roughly 20 million Americans who live in food deserts and that a disproportionate amount have been created in small rural towns and low-income urban neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods with significant Black populations. To help support the Ron Finley Project’s work in food desert communities, you can make a donation here.