Usually the only things that grow along 14th Street NW are crime and drug sales.
But this summer eggplants, tomatoes, corn, squash and lettuce also are flourishing, thanks to the District government and some residents who decided to convert a trash-strewn vacant lot into an urban garden.
Last week the urban farmers invited D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and their City Council member, Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), to visit their "farm" at 14th and Belmont streets.
"Beneath the hoe on this fourteenth uncultured row, belmonted peppers do thrive and grow," said Doretha Williams, reciting a poem she had written for the garden's dedication ceremonies as she kept rhythm with a garden shovel.
Balloons were hung for the ceremonies. After the ceremonial cutting of the red ribbon that had been placed across the gate in the chain-link fence that surrounds the half-block-long garden, the farmers presented Barry and Smith with some of their choicest produce. "These projects together make our city a better city in which to live," Barry told about 65 gardeners, officials and onlookers at the dedication. "Fourteenth Street needs to be finished in its development -- we're on our way."
"We have not been able up to now to develop a cooperative program to clean those lots up," Smith said. He estimated that there were 20,000 vacant lots throughout the city and said he hoped many would be transformed into urban gardens.
Kojo Olohun-iyo, one of the 14th Street farmers, recalled, "It used to be just a vacant lot with a lot of bottles and old car parts. It was just an eyesore -- now it is a focal point of the commmnity.
"Because of the diversity of the community the garden is bringing some unity into the neighborhood," Olohun-iyo added. "People help each other -- maybe if I can't get out to mine for a week they'll water it or weed something. That's part of the unity that exists, the helping."
The Belmont Garden, which received a $100,000 grant from the city government, is a "demonstration" garden. Eight of the almost 100 plots are models, labeled with information about the crops and gardening techniques used.
The Belmont Garden lot has been under development as a garden for about a year, and planting began in April. The gardeners receive technical assistance through the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of the District of Columbia.
"This was done on 14th Street so that people could see it and hopefully emulate it," said William B. Easley, who is the program leader for urban horticulture and natural resources for the Cooperative Extension Service. "This project is designed to expand gardening in Washington, D.C."
"I just love gardening," said Monica Stewart, who spends two to three hours a day caring for the variety of vegetables growing on her plot at Belmont Street. "It all tastes good, because we planted it."
Isaac Long, who retired recently, spends about 1 1/2 hours a day seven days a week tending his plot. "I wanted to get involved in something where I could use my hands and be outdoors," he said.
"It's the focal point for so much good," said Olohun-iyo. "I hope it has a ripple effect."