Staying Human: Dr. Steve Withrow grows connection through gardening

For nearly five decades, Dr. Steve Withrow has worn many hats; veterinary surgical oncologist, University Distinguished Professor, founding director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center, kids’ cancer camp counselor, and consultant for pets and people with cancer.

While he’s best known as an innovator in veterinary cancer care and an early leader in the field of comparative oncology, Withrow has a side passion for gardening.

garden gate“I started the garden in the late 80s to share with others – initially hospital staff, residents, techs. I wanted to provide fresh, healthy food for my family and friends.”

He quickly realized it was good for his mental well-being after a long stressful day at the cancer center. Working with the earth was peaceful and rewarding.

As the cancer center and job demands grew, he scaled back the size of the garden. “I couldn’t manage what I could when I was younger,” said Withrow.

When COVID hit, the 73-year-old sheltered at home, thinking about ways to make a difference. He recognized early in the crisis, as people were losing their jobs, that food banks would be facing extra demand. That’s when he committed to maximizing the potential of his 27,000-square-foot fruit tree orchard, berry patches, and vegetable garden.

Since the first shoots of asparagus poked up in the spring, Withrow has delivered about 15 pounds of fresh produce two times per week to the local food bank to help feed our community.

This series evolved out of conversations about looking for meaning while working remotely, juggling work and home life, and staying in touch with ourselves and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope these profiles remind us all of how we are staying human.

Video by Chase Baker, CVMBS photos by Kellen Bakovich