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Ogdensburg’s Step by Step greenhouse program healing hearts and minds

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OGDENSBURG - Ogdensburg’s Step-By-Step, Inc., greenhouse program is healing hearts and minds while allowing clients with mental health diagnoses a chance to dig in the dirt and enjoy the fresh air.

Executive Director David A. Bayne said the organization’s Steps -2-Grow Greenhouse and Garden aims to take the place of a greenhouse program that was cut from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s programming over a decade ago.

After years of red tape and several attempts to get state funding, the greenhouse program is now up and running thanks to donations of land and money from several community members. Today, gardeners are now reaping what they sow - from radishes and carrots to corn and tomatoes.

Mr. Bayne said two town of Oswegatchie farmers who wish to remain anonymous have donated land at 148 Hutchinson Road to house the greenhouse, a 1.5 acre garden and equipment to get the grounds ready to accommodate it.

Barbara B. Ward, a member of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Board of Visitors, said she remembers the psychiatric center’s greenhouse program well. Her son, Brian, benefited greatly from it until it closed in 2002, she said.

“He was so proud of what he did day in and day out, and he was devastated when it closed,” Ms. Ward said. “Twelve years later, this is better than anyone could have ever imagined.”

She said now that he is working at the greenhouse sometimes two or three days a week her son once again feels a sense of pride and purpose.

“He’s up at 7 a.m., takes a shower and plans his day,” she said. “He talks about it all the way home. He feels good about it and himself. When you are growing things, you are nurturing, caring and you get to see the end result of what you have done. It is a good feeling for anyone to have.”

Step-by-Step client Donna Corey said she missed her small garden when she moved into her apartment. Now she enjoys coming to the greenhouse to share her knowledge with fellow clients.

“We’re learning how to plant and grow our own food for Step-by-Step and how to keep the weeds out,” Ms. Corey said. “We’re going to get to can, which I used to do, and I will get a chance to show people how to do it. We used to plant strawberries. I missed it so much.”

Step-by-Step hopes to expand by building a second greenhouse before the fall to grow cold-weather crops and create some more raised beds to grow garlic, herbs and perennials.

“We are always looking for donations of seeds and perennial donations,” Mr. Bayne said.

Step-by-Step plans to sell its produce at farmer’s markets in Ogdensburg and Canton, Mr. Bayne said.

Mr. Bayne said the long-term goal of Step-By-Step’s greenhouse program is to become a client-owned cooperative. He hopes to make it inviting for the community to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.

“When you have a vision, you never know how it is going to turn out,” Mr. Bayne said. “There are so many therapeutic pieces to this program, way more than we ever thought. Even if we never sell a vegetable or a piece of fruit, I would just be happy if people would come out and see just how wonderful this project has meant to the people who are a part of it.”

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

Step-By-Step is a certified nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible.

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

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