Nine-year-old Tina Thomas didn't have to smile for her pride to show. She just stood there radiant, holding her basket of flowers and vegetables. That was enough.
Gathered in the steamy green rooms of the national Botanic Gardens, she and about 100 other schoolchildren-turned-gardeners celebrated their summer harvest last Thursday.
They extolled the benefits of eating vegetables in a skit ("The Garden of Oz"), received awards for the largest crop and best-of-class and talked shop, in this case, gardens.
The nice part about growing a garden, said Fredora Green, 13, who played Dorothy, is that "you feel you're helping your parents out by taking vegetables home. You feel nice about helping your family out."
Tselane Debose, 10, who farmed a plot at the National Arboretum, said having a garden is "okay. It's when the sun gets too hot, then it's getting kind of hard." She grew tomatoes, cabbage, okra, onions, radishes, string beans, mustard greens and Swiss chard in her garden.
Cindy McCrea, 10, lamented that ants attacked her onions and other tiny creatures ate ger greens and collards.
Debose confided she once saw a lot of garden snakes. Her reaction: "Oh, I ran."
Kimberly Anderson, 12, and Michael Curtis, 11, received special mayor's awards given each year to the most dedicated gardener. Both also won trophies for producing more than 70 pounds of vegetables on their plots. Most gardens yield an average of 50 pounds.
"You've done a fantastic job," said Helen E. Bergland, wife of Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, during the presentation of the awards.
"I'm sure it was difficult keeping ahead of those weeds with as much rainfall and good weather as we've had for growing gardens."
The festivities marked the 17th harvest of a project called Washington Youth Gardens, run by the D.C. Department of Recreation with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program provides individual plots in three garden centers around the city, the largest being at the National Arboretum.About 350 public schoolchildren participate and raise crops of vegetables, flowers and decorative plants. In addition, communal gardens at more than 75 city recreation centers permit nearly 2,000 children to try their hand at planting seeds and pulling weeds during summer vacation.
Children from participating elementary and junior high schools volunteer to farm a 5- by 15-foot garden plot. They are given seeds, tools, fertilizer and lots of encouragement. The results are theirs to take home.
Andrew Lawrence picked up an award for growing 70 pounds of vegetables. Six youngsters were honored for producing 60 pounds of crops: Ramona Crawford, Derrick Jones, Verona McCormick, Jerome Pender, Eugene Riddick and Gregory Taylor.
Other awards: Benning Stoddard Recreation Center, best outdoor garden; River Terrace Recreation Center, best indoor garden; Hardy Recreation Center, outstanding gardening project.
Refreshments -- cider, cheese, tomatoes and apples -- capped off the celebration. There was definitely no market for junk food.