By Julie Wiessner
Coming back from 35 years of drug and alcohol use isn’t easy, but that is exactly what Tony Steele has done. He has been at the Bread of Life Mission in Holbrook for more than a year and is now responsible for the mission’s newly planted garden.
Steele and his main assistant, George Nagle, can be seen throughout the day checking, watering, weeding and turning the three compost bins that are adjacent to the garden.
He has gardened before, in the 1970s at a communal garden in San Francisco. “I was responsible for a 10’x10’ area of mostly strawberries and zucchinis. It was a hippie thing, an early green movement. Everyone would get together to smash aluminum cans,” relayed Steele.
When he was around 19 years old, Steel worked at Primo’s Restaurant in Morin County, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. “I ran the bar, did all of the cooking, the hiring and firing, and ordering,” he recalls.
As many have done, Steele moved around a bit. “I did live in Atlanta, Ga., for a while, but just couldn’t get use to it there, so I moved back west,” he said.
He has also appraised houses in Bullhead City and was employed as a home care worker in Reno, Nev. Three years ago, Steele attended culinary school.
One day while he was living in Bullhead City, Steele decided he was finished with drugs and alcohol. He checked around and found, “I couldn’t get the help I needed there. Someone suggested to seek treatment at Community Bridges in Winslow. I went there and completed their program.”
Still, he felt he needed more help to continue on the path he had chosen to start that day in Bullhead. “Community Bridges suggested I go to The Bread of Life Mission in Holbrook,” he said.
“I started as a guest and then entered into an intern/recovery program learning how to work at the mission. The program is a one-year commitment and I am almost finished with it. I plan to be hired as a staff member soon,” he noted.
When the possibility of a garden was first mentioned, Mission Executive Director Cherise Merrick said, “If this (garden) is going to work, I need to have someone committed to make it work.”
That’s when Steele stepped up to the plate and took on the new responsibility. He noted, “I feel I am doing great here; soon I will be part of the staff.”
But that’s not all Steele has to say about the turn-around in his life: “I am thankful for all of the people that have helped me get to this point in my life. I like it much better (here). In a small town, it’s a better way to stay out of bad circles.
“This is a Christian based place. I tried other ways to get out of that lifestyle, but they didn’t work.”
The garden was Twyla Taylor’s idea. Taylor noted, “Jolene Myers, a teacher at Park School, took the idea to the next level.”
Myers found Kathleen Danielson of Snowflake who had a rototiller and brought a worker with her to get the ground broken up.
Max Gardner was instrumental in acquiring the seeds and the drip water system through the Humanitarian Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also consults with Tony on a weekly basis.
Brad and Hannah Rishel have also participated as advisors.
Bradco donated the pallets that have been tied to the chain link fence of the old children’s playground, forming a wind block around the outside perimeter of the garden.
The Navajo County Fairgrounds provided the manure, completing the list of necessary ingredients required for a successful garden.
With Steele’s commitment to overseeing the garden for the mission, they are looking forward to crops that will be used by those who stay there. Right now that list includes four different kinds each of tomatoes and onions, three different kinds of potatoes, squash, garlic and lettuce.
The garden is three-quarters planted, but Steele noted, “We plan to plant watermelon, cantaloupe and possibly green peppers soon to fill up the remaining quarter of garden space.”
“Tony has helped to get things going,” said Merrick. “Plans at the mission are for guests to spend time helping out in the garden, whether they stay for only one night or longer.”
Steele is also excited about the possibility of an expanded garden space for next year’s crops. He said, “There are 40 acres on this property, that makes for more opportunity to plant.”
By Julie Wiessner