SOUTH LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Southland man has reshaped the city’s disinclination against public “guerrilla gardening.”

Ron Finley of South Los Angeles said he struggled to find fresh produce in Southern California.

Growing up, he had to drive almost one hour just to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits.

In 2010, Finley planted vegetables in a dirt strip located next to his home and worked to quietly make necessary changes to benefit the city.

His dream was to create urban gardens, called HQ, that would serve well-balanced, fresh produce within South Central Los Angeles.

“I wanted people to walk by, and (say) ‘Wow, what’s that, what’s that?’ ” Finley said. “You pass by and there’s lemongrass, there’s rosemary and lavender.”

Finley sought unused spaces, like vacant lots and neglected dirt areas near to roadways, for residents to gather, learn about nutrition and plant thriving gardens filled with kale, corn, peppers, sunflowers and pumpkins.

Using an ancient irrigation technique, Finley is able to grow the plants while only having to water once each week.

The gardening even produced a number of nicknames for Finley by locals, including “The Gangster Gardener” and “Urban Guerrilla Gardener.”

However, a problem arose when the City of Los Angeles, which owns the areas where Finley planted, learned of his gardens. Finley declined to pay for a $400 permit to use the land.

Authorities subsequently cited him for gardening without a permit.

In response, Finley created a petition with the help of other local activists to demand the right to grow food within his neighborhood garden.

City officials then backed off from preventing their gardening efforts.

“It’s legal to do this now,” Finley said. “Now I’m not a renegade carrot (or) lettuce-planting criminal anymore.”

Finley continues to share his story through TED talks and hopes to continue to allow for children to grow up with healthy food options.

“You build your community. You don’t tear it down, and that’s what this is about, is building. This is about changing culture, because that’s what needs to happen around here.”

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