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Confluence of food and faith

Confluence of food and faith

Alayna Yates June 20, 2024

When Stephen Mackell ’13 came to UD looking for a Catholic education and a suitable academic program, he had an idea of what to expect from his college experience. What he didn’t know was how his time at UD would lead him to grow his faith and food to feed his community as he discovered his vocation as a farmer. 

Upon his campus arrival, the double major in philosophy and economics quickly embraced new roles within Campus Ministry. Mackell served as a member of the University of Dayton Summer Appalachia Program after his first year and joined the Mission of Mary Cooperative, a catalyst for sustainable urban development in Dayton, the summer before his senior year.

Mackell kneels in a greenhouse holding vegetablesMission of Mary grew out of UD alumni who had recently formed a lay Marianist community in east Dayton and were starting an urban farming initiative in their community. After visiting other cities and modeling their garden off of other Midwest urban gardens, the mission figured out how to grow food on a formerly vacant lot and distribute their food to their community. 

Mackell said Mission of Mary was just getting started when he joined his senior year: “We didn’t even have a name for it back then.”

Working on the farm instantly became a new passion for Mackell. 

“[It] plugged me into urban agriculture, food initiatives, food justice and all those sorts of things,” he said. “It opened up a whole new world for me, and that’s what I wanted to continue after graduation.”

Applying what he’d learned about sustainability with Mission of Mary, Mackell founded Compost Dayton his senior year. The company’s goal was to use at-home composting to produce rich soil for their urban farming. While Mackell said he enjoyed bringing this company to life, he found himself being drawn more to the food production side of the business.

So, what did he do next? Mackell sold his company to a friend and embarked on his next dreams: own a farm and start a family. 

“It was always a hope of mine to have my own farm and serve our community hyper locally and focus on getting a good organic product to families right around where the farm was,” Mackell said. “To continue to educate and champion this sort of agriculture and get more and more people interested in it is my next goal.”

Mackell married his UD sweetheart, Taylor Beyerle ’13, who he met during their first year. Mackell said the two make the perfect pair — he is a farmer and she is a teacher. They now raise their four kids — with a fifth on the way — in their home in Xenia, Ohio, with a view of their farm out the back door. 

“It’s been awesome to see the kids involved.”

“They were involved when I was at Mission of Mary, although they were quite little, but now as we’ve been here for three years now, they’ve watched the whole farm grow in the backyard,” Mackell said.

The sun sets behind several greenhouses on the farm.Mackell served Mission of Mary for nine years before starting his business, Green Table Gardens, a garden-to-door delivery service of the fresh produce he grows, as well as garden coaching to help any person looking to start or scale their garden to meet their needs.

“I still think it’s so magical that you can put a seed into soil and you can watch it grow and produce food. We could feed our community with this great product, this great nutrition, and it comes from something that you are able to co-create with your own hands and with nature,” he said. “That’s still the most magical part for me.”

As he carries out the day-to-day operations of his business, Mackell said he has never forgotten the values of Catholic social teaching he learned at UD, and that he and his wife look for ways to carry the Marianist charism into the work they do each day.

“I really grasped onto that and that notion that you can build community where you are,” Mackell said. “We continue to look for ways to be plugged in, bloom community and live out those values. Taking it into this interesting space of small scale farming, it just makes you look for those connections more and more.”

Rooted in love