Stepping through the wire fence, the rows of tomatoes, corn and flowers look like any ordinary garden. But to more than 500 low-income and at-risk youths, it's a place of refuge.

The garden, lovingly named the Greatful Tomato Garden, sits on the corner of 800 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City. Youths plant, tend and harvest fresh produce for themselves and others in need."When I feel down and blue, it makes me feel happy to work in the garden," said youth worker Brandy Budd. "I had to do some community service for school, and I didn't want to come. But after coming more and more, I totally love it."

Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) runs the project and held its annual Tomato Sandwich Party on Saturday. "It's really a thank-you party," said Nini Rich, project director. Contributions from local foundations, corporations, churches and individuals made it possible for WCG to purchase the land and preserve the Grateful Tomato Garden permanently.

Hands covered with mayonnaise, Amy Spendlove squeezed one more tomato between two slices of bread and handed the drippy sandwich to an eager customer. Amy has been with the project since 1993. "The thing that brings me back is the kids," Spendlove said. "People from all walks of life come here. Kids come here and feel good about themselves no matter what else is wrong in their life."

Randy Hart waited in line for a tomato sandwich. "It's just a little dinky spot, but the effect is a lot larger than the garden. It's fabulous," Hart said.

More than 1,400 inner-city and at-risk youths have participated in the gardening program since 1993. There has never been any violent behavior. Rich believes the project works because the kids are treated with respect. "They love to work and learn, you have to frame it the right way," Rich said.

Part of the garden is tended by community gardeners such as Russian and Bosnian refugees who grow vegetables for their families. WCG provides water, seeds, tools and education on gardening.

"Gardens and children are an incredible combination," said Rich. "We just let them do it, we're not concerned with the output or quality of the garden - just the kids."