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Published: Wednesday, 5/12/2004

Whitehouse: Plants, crafts for sale at Bittersweet Farms

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bittersweet Farms greenhouses are overflowing with hanging blossoms, sprouting vegetables, and tomato plants ripe for the buying.

The clients and the staff at Bittersweet Farms west of Whitehouse started growing the plants from seeds in January and nurtured them through the gradually warming months to prepare for the Spring Sale, one of the agency's four major fund-raisers of the year.

Bittersweet Farms, which provides supported living homes and activities for adults with autism, will welcome the public to the sale from 10 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The sale usually draws several hundred people.

"A lot of people support our mission by coming and buying their plants here," executive director Vicki Obee-Hilty said.

The sale will feature plants and a variety of crafts created by Bittersweet Farms clients, including wreaths of dried flowers, woven blankets, and embroidered pillows.

Making crafts and raising plants help people with autism relate to the world around them and gain a sense of purpose, Ms. Obee-Hilty said. People with autism are often intelligent, but they have trouble communicating and interacting with others.

"People with autism tend to be very withdrawn," Ms. Obee-Hilty said. "Meaningful tasks engage the residents. They especially get involved with things that have a clear beginning, middle, and end."

Michael Davis, 37, has lived at Bittersweet Farms for 12 years. He frequently works at the sale carrying plants to customers' cars. Mr. Davis, who is quick to offer a wave or a handshake, regularly does a variety of chores around the farm.

"My favorite is mowing the grass," he said. "I like to work outside."

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects between

two and six out of every 1,000 people, according to the Autism Society of America. Experts are not sure what causes autism, but most agree that it results from abnormal structure or functioning of the brain.

People with autism have a wide range of capabilities. Some are very verbal and friendly, whereas others do not speak at all and may be uncomfortable with physical contact. Bittersweet Farms tries to find tasks for all of its 25 residents and 20 clients living off-site, regardless of their abilities.

Chores around the farm include growing vegetables for sale and for the residents' meals, feeding ducks living on a pond on the property, and keeping indoor facilities clean.

"We just try to give our clients a good quality of life," Karen Louy, fund-raising director, said. "They know they're doing something worthwhile."

It's not all work at Bittersweet Farms. Clients go for daily walks in the woods and sometimes take outings to movie theaters or the Toledo Zoo. Some of the trips are paid for by proceeds from the Spring Sale and other fund-raisers. Last year's sale collected about $13,000.

Bittersweet Farms, which has 120 employees, receives most of its funding from the state.

"Our fund-raisers help us do extra things, like taking the guys bowling or participating in Special Olympics," Mrs. Louy said. "Those activities are always a lot of fun."

Contact Rachel Zinn at:

rzinn@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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