Hats Off: Steinke family grows fresh produce for Milton pantry

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Jim Dayton
Monday, June 19, 2017

MILTON—The Steinke family didn’t expect a visit to the Milton Food Pantry five years ago would lead to them tending the pantry’s garden.

Steve Steinke was just there to drop off onions.

It was closed when he arrived that day, so he left the onion plants outside. Steinke emailed the pantry to announce his delivery and explain how to care for them.

But the pantry didn’t have its regular gardeners that summer, the family learned in an email reply. Would Steve and his wife, Christine, be interested?

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Sure,” said Steve, slowly pronouncing the last word to show his early uncertainty.

Five years later, the family grows a variety of traditional produce such as tomatoes, onions, peppers and a handful of others in a small garden behind the pantry. It allows the pantry to offer fresh food beyond its typical nonperishables and canned items.

This summer, Milton FFA donated plants. A local Boy Scouts troop helped build new plant boxes, replacing old, dilapidated ones.

The outside help has eased the burden on the Steinkes. Steve, Christine and their children—10-year-old Emma and 8-year-old Aiden—are responsible for the vast majority of garden tasks.

The family’s dog, a 14-month-old golden retriever named Daisy, enjoys being involved, too. Her specialty is stepping on plants.

Carol Hulburt, a longtime pantry volunteer, was the person who invited the Steinkes via email to start gardening. In the years since, she’s always been impressed with the family’s work ethic, she said.

“They start from scratch. They plant, they harvest, they weed and do all that work,” Hulburt said. “They put in a lot of time doing that. It’s amazing. It’s all for the benefit of other people so they have fresh things.”

Both Steve and Christine had gardens when they were kids. Despite growing up with gardening, they never envisioned getting back into it as adults, Steve said.

But now it’s an opportunity for their kids to learn discipline and hard work. And Emma and Aiden understand they’re helping others in need, showing wisdom beyond their ages.

“The best part about doing this is knowing that you’re giving back to the community and that they’re getting what they need,” Emma said.

“Planting the plants and knowing that people who don’t have money can have food without paying for it,” Aiden said when asked what his favorite part was.

The family doesn’t have the financial means to throw money at different charities. But it does have time to give back to others, Steve said.

Steve and Christine said they aren’t looking for recognition and don’t believe they’re making a huge impact. Their comments came off not as humble brags but as examples of genuine modesty.

But Hulburt wanted the family to get some attention. She contacted The Gazette because she felt they were perfect candidates for a Hats Off story.

The pantry receives donations of fresh produce, but it wouldn’t have the volume it does without the Steinkes, she said.

“I have seen them sweat,” Hulburt said. “They put in so many hours of work in the garden for the benefit of other people. I think they’re doing an amazing service for the people of the area.

“I think they are going above and beyond what one person is required for his fellow man.”

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