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Housing Project Turns Empty Lot Into Vegetable Patch

March 29, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Unlikely green thumbs are sprouting at an inner-city housing project where a vegetable garden is fast becoming a model of determination and hope in a depressed area.

It all started last November when a team of 38 residents of the Nickerson Gardens housing project decided to turn an ugly, vacant lot into a haven of leafy foliage and vegetables.

The garden in the city’s South-Central area already has produced enough carrots, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to supply residents and just about anyone else who cares to sample the home-grown food.

Word has spread to transients and gang members alike that the food is available for the taking, just as long as takers ask first.

″It took awhile for it to sink in, but all the kids and the gang members are letting the garden be,″ said gardener Tauheedah Karim, 32.

″It shows you that if you believe in something and you work at it, it can be done,″ said Wilma Jean Powns, 46, co-captain of the gardeners, as she stood among her sprouting cabbages in one of the garden’s 20 boxed plots.

Ms. Powns and her neighbors got help from the End World Hunger organization and Budget Rent-a-Car, which have sponsored urban gardens in other cities. The groups supplied seeds, training and some supplies, while agriculture advisers from the University of California trucked in rich soil and fertilizer.

″This comes from love. Long as we keep at it, this garden’s going to be here a long, long time,″ Ms. Powns said.

Neighbors keep a watch from their homes and shoo away trespassers.

Even local school kids are getting into the act. A class from the housing project’s Head Start program shows up several times a week to help the gardeners water, taking turns using a faucet to fill plastic jugs.

The jugs are doing double duty, said Ms. Powns. When dogs began rooting through the plants last winter, she said she put to use an old trick that her grandmother taught her about vegetable gardening. She filled the jugs with water and ammonia and left them out for the scavengers.

″We had a few dogs running around sneezing like crazy,″ she said with a laugh. ″Dogs ain’t a problem anymore.″

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