The Gangsta Gardener and The Plant Chica

13 Apr The Gangsta Gardener and The Plant Chica

By Julio Esperias, Communications Manager

In South Los Angeles, we often see the lack of green infrastructure across our neighborhoods. Per the City of Los Angeles Forest Officer, only 21% of the city is shaded with trees, and most are located in affluent neighborhoods. South Los Angeles is surrounded by freeways, and filled with miles and miles of concrete and asphalt, with minimal tree canopies. As a result, our topography attracts and retains more heat, making summer heat waves unbearable for our children, elderly, people with chronic health conditions, and the houseless. These conditions contribute to heat-related deaths and illnesses such as stroke and respiratory ailments that primarily impact Black and Brown communities.

What are the 7 most important native plants in L.A.? We asked an expert (L.A. Times)

April 13th is Plant Appreciation Day! Celebrated annually and dedicated to recognizing the incredible diversity, beauty, and importance of plants in our daily lives. Plants play an important role in building blocks of life for our planet, as they provide essential oxygen, nutrients, and a variety of important resources. They sustain our natural environment and bring joy and inspiration to our lives with their captivating colors, shapes, and sizes.

Why L.A. needs more micro forests (and how to plant your own) (L.A. Times)

Today, CoCo recognizes two amazing community stalwarts changing the Plant and Gardening Game in South Los Angeles. 

The Gangsta Gardener

Ron Finley, the legendary urban gardener, locally and internationally known as the “Gangsta Gardener,” is a leader in the food justice movement right here in South LA and teaches a course on gardening. In 2011, when Ron Finley first grew a garden on a curbside dirt strip, he was cited, and then a warrant was issued for his arrest. Ron fought back, changed the laws, and started a “growing” movement. 

Ron Finley, “The Gangsta Gardener”

Ron travels the world, speaking to people about the importance of growing their own food and reminding them that they have the power to design their own lives. By turning food deserts into food forests, through the Ron Finley Project the Gangsta Gardener is transforming culture one garden at a time.

“If we grow together, WE grow together,” says Finley. “To heal our communities, let’s start from the ground up. Let’s start with the soil. We have the opportunity to build healthy, safe, and vibrant places for us to live and grow together.” 

Check out Ron Finley’s TedTalk, “A guerrilla gardener in South Central LA,” where he provides insights and discusses his journey to transform food deserts and his program to improve the quality of life for underserved communities, and he states, “If kids grow kale, kids eat kale; if they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes.”

The Plant Chica

Meet Sandra Mejia, co-founder of The Plant Chica, a community greenhouse located in Jefferson Park that serves as a community center that serves as a plant sanctuary in South Los Angeles. The Plant Chica provides a community space offering poetry open mics, painting activities, and children’s book readings to the BIPOC communities and allies. 

Sandra Mejia, The Plant Chica with her husband

The concept of The Plant Chica started as a “side hustle,” selling plants on street corners that would immediately sell out, and in 2018 moved to selling online, which launched the business to a new level. In 2019 Sandra made the decision to leave her job of 10 years as a medical assistant at UCLA to focus on The Plant Chica on a full-time basis. When the pandemic happened, The Plant Chica experienced growth as people started getting into plants which allowed her to open a brick-and-mortar business in her neighborhood. Sandra sees the importance of plants and gardening on “our mental health because we are putting so much love into something.”

The Plant Chica has developed partnerships with other organizations to curate impactful community events, including a collaboration with Veggie-Mijas where they are giving out mushroom kits for people to learn how to grow their own mushrooms. Also, community workshops on climate resilience and food accessibility, and food waste, including wellness days offering free yoga with The Black Women’s Yoga Collective

As Sandra puts it, “I could’ve gone anywhere, but I felt we didn’t have a lot of green spaces. It was a big reason why I didn’t want a boutique-style plant shop. I wanted more of a greenhouse feel because we lack green spaces in Black and Brown communities.”

Check out The Plant Chica’s calendar of events, including their upcoming Earth Day event, which will give out over 2,000 free indoor air-purifying house plants that naturally remove toxins from the air.

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