“Being a gardener is gangsta,” says Ron Finley. Which is just the kind of comment you would expect from a man who calls himself the Gangsta Gardener. How is it “gangsta”, exactly? “Having knowledge of how systems work and being able to support yourself,” he says. “That’s gangsta.” Fair.

Finley is one of the featured speakers at this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival presented by Bank of Melbourne, which runs March 16 to 25. The green-thumbed LA native will speak twice during the 10-day celebration, sharing his wisdom on sustainability and forming local networks gained from his role in setting up community gardens in his hometown of South Central LA.

It’s an area Finley describes as a ‘food prison’. From planting his first garden on a nature strip in 2010, to becoming a champion for gardens as communities and a key to sustainable eating, Finley now sees his role as both provider and educator. “I’m not a chef,” he says. “I’m not some guy that started some restaurant. But I deal with food in a major way. I grow it. I like to think of what I do as changing the culture. It’s about educating people to change their lives and realise they can design the way they want to live.”

He says transparency about what’s on people’s plates is relatively new. “People want to know, ‘Where the hell did this food come from?’” he says. “So a chef needs to be able to say, ‘We got the broccoli from this farm, the asparagus here, and our lamb came from such and such 50 miles away.”

In Melbourne, Finley will speak at the Theatre of Ideas community session on Saturday March 17 at Fed Square alongside fellow food activists Stephen Harris and Monique Fiso. He'll also co-host and create a menu alongside Morgan McGlone (Belle’s Hot Chicken, Flinders Inn) on Tuesday March 20, at the new Collins Street Natural History Bar & Grill.

“We’re in a society now where we take food for granted,” says Finley. “We think it’s just going to be there for us. All you have to do is push a button on an app and it’s delivered to your door. So we haven’t been taught to value food. We’ve been taught to value gold, diamonds. But we need to bring back sitting down at the table and having a meal to celebrate the harvest.”

Finely’s argument for sustainability is more than just knowing what’s on your plate – it’s linked to sustainability. “Everything on this planet should be sustainable,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a catch-word – everything you do should be sustainable. If you take, you should give, period.”

His solution? “Plant some shit,” he says. “That way you know where it comes from. You know what went into it. Mother Nature is the greatest artist there is. You don’t get more gangsta than Mother Nature.”

Check out these other sustainability- and community-minded events during Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Dinner at Our House – Series
Fri March 16 to Sun March 25
Hotel Lindrum, Melbourne

Cook The Bay
Mon March 19
The Boatshed, Williamstown

Sustainable Seafood, Sake & The Gourmet Farmer
Wed March 21
Kumo Izakaya, Brunswick East

A Communal Table Catered by the Local Community
Wed March 21
Hotel Jesus, Collingwood

Gruyere Gathering
Fri March 23
Gruyere Reserve, Gruyere

Scrumptious St Albans
Thu March 22 & Fri March 23
St Albans Market, St Albans

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival presented by Bank of Melbourne.