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Step-by-Step builds greenhouse to grow therapy aid

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OGDENSBURG — When the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s greenhouse program was eliminated more than 11 years ago, it left a hole for those who had spent hours working to make the program a success.

But that is about to change.

Ogdensburg’s Step-By-Step Inc. is working to re-establish a greenhouse program to engage clients in a therapeutic activity that also will give them job skills. The organization’s mission is to support the community’s mentally ill by helping them gain employment, safe housing and social skills to become self-sufficient.

Executive Director David A. Bayne said last week that the agency has built the frame of its first greenhouse and hopes to begin planting this winter.

“For the past two years we have had a plot in the Ogdensburg Community Garden, and folks really seemed to enjoy that,” he said. “There’s something about putting seeds in the ground, watching it grow, harvesting and then eating what you grow. There’s a therapeutic value to it.”

The first round of growing will be a test run, Mr. Bayne said. Staff will grow hardy vegetables that can withstand cold weather, including lettuce, kale, beets and carrots.

“We’re hoping we can find a crop that we can grow and produce nine to 10 months out of the year,” he said. “We’re trying to test and grow some things and find out which conditions they grow best in.”

The group is hoping to begin planting officially in the spring with the help of Step-by-Step members and volunteers from the community.

Next summer, Mr. Bayne said, will be when growers can reap the rewards of what they sow.

“We want to grow, pick and then come back and teach members how to make the meals from their vegetables, such as a salad, or learn how to stew tomatoes,” Mr. Bayne said. “We’re hoping the community will come out as well.”

But one of the biggest hurdles to establishing the program is not the planting or construction, but gathering funding.

The 20-foot-wide by 96-foot-long greenhouse has a frame and covering, but still needs heating and ventilation systems.

The greenhouse has water and power, and there are still additional costs to make those systems operational.

“We have had quite a bit of community support and help, but we’re at a standstill now,” Mr. Bayne said. “We need a few more things to get this project going.”

As part of a second phase, the group would like to build another greenhouse.

“Right now we are using raised beds and boxes,” Mr. Bayne said. “We would like to have a second greenhouse where we can actually plant in the ground.”

“The first few years will be a lot of experimenting and establishing a market,” Mr. Bayne said. “Then we hope to move to self-sufficiency. It would be nice to hope for that. But our main goal is to never lose the vocational and therapeutic value.”

IF YOU WANT TO HELP

n Step-By-Step is a certified nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible. Executive Director David A. Bayne said any and all donations are welcome, even if someone wants to volunteer his or her time to help in any capacity.

n Donations can be mailed to 103 Ford St., Suite 2 A-B, Ogdensburg, N.Y. 13669.

n For more information about the greenhouse project, call Mr. Bayne at 394-0597.

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