Inside the Beltway, near New Hampshire Avenue, the suburbs long ago caught up with sisters Helen Powell and Mary Bladen. Now, they live in the shadow of the Presidential Towers high-rise complex and two miles north of the open-air drug markets of Langley Park.

But with their six acres and their fresh produce stand, they act as though they still live in the country.

"My sister and I are about the two oldest on Riggs Road," said Powell, 84, while showing off the farm a few days ago.

"Willie Peter is old," her 82-year-old sister reminded her. Peter, who lives one house down, also is 82.

"Oh my, honey, we've been farming since I was a kid, 6 years old," Powell said. "My sister and I were born in a small house behind the {Adelphia} mill" on the Northwest Branch about half a mile south on Riggs Road.

Theirs is a tiny remnant of farmland that, in their lifetime, extended all the way to the District line along Riggs, Sargent, Chillum and Ager roads. It has happened throughout the region, as the suburbs crept outward, so that close-in agricultural land has become not just a rarity but a curiosity.

Inside the Beltway, there are no more than a handful of working farms left. There are none in Montgomery or Fairfax counties. In Prince George's, the Wilson farm survives near Landover Mall, and tobacco grows on a small piece of ground on Ritchie Marlboro Road.

Development leapfrogged the sisters in the 1950s and 1960s. And while developers repeatedly have knocked on their doors, Powell says: "They don't bother me no more. I tell 'em to get out to the road, I ain't selling . . . .

"The city's caught up with us, with all the buildings around here," she said. "It's all different. They're about to run us out. This is the only small spot left in here . . . . {There's} nothing more, nothing more."

Together, the sisters have six acres, with one acre for their small brick houses and outbuildings and five for farming. About half of that is planted with cabbage, broccoli, squash, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. The rest of the field will be planted by mid-August.

Powell stopped driving on the highway six years ago, but she still drives her tractor now and then. Her sister owns a 1967 Ford Galaxie with 41,903 miles, but bursitis has curtailed her driving.

Demetre Koutras Jr., 23, a pre-medical student majoring in chemistry at Towson State University, works with them full time in the summer and part time the rest of the year. In return, they allow him to sell hard-shell crabs from their produce stand. But the payoff also comes in other, intangible ways.

"They're teaching me how to farm," he said. "Helen's taught me how to cultivate, rototill, plant, fertilize. I'm learning about life itself from them, how to live a simple, honest life. Mary and Helen are survivors. As much as their knees hurt, they're out there every day doing something."

The sisters use canes and walkers to get around. With Koutras driving their truck, they ride on the tailgate to inspect the crops. The other day, when the truck bogged down in the mud, Powell got out and pushed.

Tuesday, they rode in the Galaxie. Koutras stopped periodically to see if the ground was dry enough to plant. "Pull up a weed," Powell instructed him. "Let me see. It's too muddy. The tractor would just hang up." The sisters were glad to learn that wilted pepper plants were perking up.

The sisters' land once was part of a larger farm that went bankrupt. They and their husbands bought the tracts and built their houses in the 1930s.

Bladen's husband, Parker, died years ago. The sisters have been on their own since Powell's husband, Rexford, died in 1984 at the age of 94.

For 22 years, "without missing a day," Powell proudly recalled, she delivered eggs to families in Silver Spring, "on the edge of Washington City," and in Hyattsville. "That stopped in the 60s."

But the planting, the harvesting and the selling goes on.

"Yesterday was very slow," Powell said Tuesday. "You never can tell. The only time you really get busy is when you get tomatoes." In another three weeks, Koutras predicted, "that stand will be packed."

Meanwhile, longtime customers still come by.

A car pulls into their driveway. "How are you?" asks Eva Degnan, a customer for 17 years who lives on New Hampshire Avenue.

"Well, I'm still here," Powell says.

"What've you been having?"

"Not much of anything, tell you the truth," Powell says. "We opened Saturday with some squash and corn," she adds, showing her customer two small squash she had just harvested. "You want them? Take them," she says, handing them over without charge.

The land has treated her well, Powell said. It has given her a livelihood and provided for her needs. What does she plan to do when she retires?

"I guess I'll be dead then," she said.