Gangster Gardening

– by Andy Wade –

Some of the 2010 harvest

Gangster Gardening. That’s what South Central LA resident, Ron Finley, said was needed to transform his neighborhood. Perhaps it’s also the attitude we need to take on as we look for creative ways to build sustainable-living communities.

Like so many urban centers, there’s a lack of fresh, healthy foods and an overabundance of chemically laced bags of junk parading as food. Then there are local laws that prohibit the very changes necessary for neighborhood transformation. That’s were gangster gardening comes in.

Gangster gardening confronts these two obstacles head on.

“To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil.”

As Finley spoke these words it was obvious he was talking about more than dirt. Sure, the composition of the dirt needs to be changed in order to grow real, healthy food.

The composition of the soil of community also needs to changed – from despair to hope, from accepting arcane laws to directly challenging and changing them so the community can flourish.

And the composition of the soil of individual hearts needs to be changed, from urban isolation to a deep sense of community connection for the common good.

Living in the concrete jungle called Hong Kong for twelve years, I can grasp at least part of what Finley is getting at. It’s what communities like Springwater in the Lents district of Portland, Oregon is up to. It’s about slowing down, being with neighbors, building good communities together.

Every community could learn a lesson from this. Change starts when we slow down enough to see what’s going on around us. Like a garden that’s constantly being tilled, our hearts can’t grow a thing when their constantly being stirred up, connected 24/7 with little to no time for rest and reflection.

Once our hearts begin to rest, we begin to see clearly. We see that this incessant busyness is killing us. It’s killing our neighbors, and it’s destroying community. The Parish Collective is doing a great job helping church communities to take a more reflective look at who they are, and what they could become, for their local area.

I’m encouraged and inspired when I listen to stories of community transformation at gatherings like The Inhabit Conference. My assumptions of what is and what could be crumble when I meet up with people who have not only dared to dream, but dared to live into the imagination of God. And those crumbled assumptions become fertile soil were new mustard seeds of hope and change can burst forth.

“If kids grow kale, kids eat kale!”

These simple words from Finley could really be a parable of living faithfully in the garden of God. We don’t just need good ideas and inspiration, what we need is to begin to live differently. Although Finley is saying that kids will eat healthy food if they participate in growing it, we could also say that communities that grow hope will begin to reap hope. When even a small group of people begin to grow and live community in places of fear and isolation, others will begin to taste and see – it is very good indeed!

Watch the TED Talks video below. Maybe it’s exactly what you need to be doing where you live right now? Or maybe it will inspire you to stop, look, listen, and discover the amazing possibilities God is already cultivating in the soil of your neighborhood.

And don’t forget to comment below – let us know what you’re already up to, what your dreaming, what is stirring in your heart and in the place that you live. Your stories inspire us – and they inspire others to live more fully into the change that is possible today!