Ron Finley: Guerrilla Gardener

Ron Finley is a co-founder of Los Angeles Green Grounds, a group that plants gardens in South Central Los Angeles, which he refers to as the home of the drive-by and the home of the drive-thru. The initiative is a way to provide nourishing food to those who may not have access to healthy, nutritious food.

Death by drive-thru is a common thing in South Central Los Angeles, according to Finley. / Photo courtesy of Jim B. on yelp.com.

“I got tired of driving 45 minutes to get an apple that wasn’t injected with insecticide,” Finley says in his 2013 TED talk. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

The talk is a look inside the efforts of the self-described “guerilla gardener” to transform his community and keep his neighbors from death by drive-thru (food).

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Racism and Hunger

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a discussion panel on campus hosted by the Texas Tech Political Science Department. During the discussion, several on- and 0ff-campus experts talked about the reasons behind food insecurity and the tools needed to combat this issue.

Income disparity is one of the leading causes of lack of access to food choices. / Photo by me

One of the things mentioned was how income inequality (and really, inequality in all aspects of life) can impact not just a person’s own ability to afford food, but also, how it can impact their ability to actually access affordable, nutritious food. Businesses like grocery stores don’t build in low-income areas because they make more money in high-income areas. Instead, many rely on fast food that contributes to the health issues faced by those in poverty.

For a nation to effectively fight hunger, it must first focus on the issues that form the foundation of this issues. This article by Everyday Feminism expands on the idea that hunger is just one facet in the fight against inequality.

Hunger and the Economy: The true cost of food insecurity is a lot higher than we realize

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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: The cost is high, but investing in solutions can improve nutritional outcomes long-term. Research shows investing $1.2 billion annually for five years would generate annual benefits of US$15.3 billion, a benefit-to-cost ratio of almost 13-to-1, and would result in better health, fewer deaths and increased future earnings (State of Food and Agriculture, 2013).

So far, we’ve looked at the mental and physical health effects that come with chronic hunger. We’ve also looked at just how hungry our Texas neighborhoods are. But what about the effects food insecurity has on our economy?

There have been several studies and reports published that analyze the economic effect of hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity and any other name people use when talking about people who do not have access to consistent, affordable and nutritious food. In a column on TribTalk, the Perryman Group, an economic and financial analysis firm based in Waco, discusses the economic burden in Texas and says, “Hunger is, in fact, a pocketbook issue that hurts every corner of our economy. These costs multiply as they work their way through the economy and are borne by society through excessive and avoidable outlays for health care and education and diminished output.”

The cost of hunger isn’t just the cost of food. People who are food insecure have an increased incidence and severity of disease, which increases healthcare costs. Their health and education suffer, reducing productivity and lifetime earnings. As long as there is food insecurity, the costs will continue to grow.

In 2014 alone, the Perryman group estimates that food insecurity cost $44.2 billion in expenditures, $21.3 billion in gross product and almost 239,500 jobs in 2014.

That’s a big chunk of change.