Gardening has blossomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as Americans planted “victory” gardens during wars and depressions before, now many are planting seeds to grow their own food.
Doing so comes with real benefits, like stress relief, exercise and risk reductions for many diseases as a result of eating more vegetables. In a recent episode of TIME for Health Talks, Ron Finley, a Los Angeles–based urban gardener known as the “Gangsta Gardener,” and Questlove, a musician and food entrepreneur, talked about how gardening and the healthy foods it yields can also build community.
A decade ago, Finley transformed the unused city-owned strip of land in front of his South Central, Los Angeles house into an edible garden for his community. Now, it’s such a popular spot that people swing by to help him plant, and others eat his juicy figs right from the tree. The point is to bring people together and give everyone access to fresh, organic food. “If you grow together, you grow together,” he says. “That’s what communities do.”
Too many neighborhoods in the U.S. don’t have grocery stores or restaurants—let alone community gardens—that offer fresh, healthy and affordable food. “Where I grew up, there was no type of health options whatsoever,” says Questlove, who is from West Philadelphia. “I see this as a state of emergency. I almost feel like it’s invisible warfare on a community that doesn’t even know.”
Finley now teaches people all around the world—Questlove is among his pupils—to garden through his popular MasterClass and through the Ron Finley Project. “Soil is my protest to all of these injustices that we’re dealing with, have been dealing with since the inception of this country,” Finley says.
Here’s what Finley wants you to know if you’re new to gardening:
Newbies are not alone. “There are people…that have never touched soil in their life because it hasn’t been in their proximity,” Finley says. If kids can do it in kindergarten classrooms, so can you. “It’s soil, it’s water and it’s a seed and some air,” Finley says. “How difficult could it possibly be?”
You don’t need acres of land to start.
Lettuce, leafy greens and collard greens are all easy to grow without a lot of space, Finley says. You don’t even need a plot. “If it can hold some soil—if it’s a wooden crate, if it’s a shoebox—put some soil in it, put a seed in it, and start your garden.”
“Knowing how to grow food is a life skill,” Finley says. “It’s in our DNA and we should nurture that DNA. That’s something that nobody ever can take from you.” Far from a frivolous hobby, growing your own food can change your life—and the lives of those around you. “What I’m finding out now is it’s bringing back the humanity in people.”