A graduate of Hampshire College and the Harvard University School of Education, McDonnell worked at Ford Finance and in organizational consulting until a stint assisting his brother-in-law, the Vermont-based glassblower Simon Pearce, ignited a passion for entrepreneurship.
In 1987 he purchased a small smokehouse in Flemington, New Jersey and set about transforming it into a pioneering leader in antibiotic-free meat production. Stephen has been a major proponent of sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of livestock. His primary focus is on the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture and its impact on public health. He has served on the boards of Stonyfield Farms and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.
In 2008-2009 he assembled a team of chocolate experts to assist a farmers coop in the Ecuadorian rainforest in developing a chocolate bar and bringing it to market in order to protect a Quechua community and rainforest habitat. Under his leadership Applegate helped produce the documentary films Lunch Line and Resistance, which outlined the history of the National School Lunch Program and the crisis of antibiotic resistance linked to factory farming. In 2017, after suffering a major stroke, McDonnell joined forces with the World Monuments Fund to rebuild an earthquake- damaged Buddhist temple in Paro, Bhutan, and then climbed the mountain to celebrate its completion. He currently serves on the boards of AtLast, a plant-based alternative to conventional bacon, and two glass companies, Glassy Baby and Simon Pearce.
He is building a Suikinkutsu, a Japanese water harp sound garden, at his home in Erwinna, Pennsylvania. He is married to ArtYard’s executive director, Jill Kearney, and together they have three kind and capable children.
Portrait by Laura Billingham