How does an Iowa farm kid who insisted he would never pursue a career in agriculture end up founding a high-tech, direct-to-consumer indoor farm? Well, as the Beatles said, it’s a long and winding road. Growing up as an only child on his family’s farm near Blakesburg, Iowa, Clayton Mooney (’12 English) had his fill of physical farm labor by the time he left for college.

“I realized growing up on a traditional farm with row crops that there was always manual labor to be done,” Mooney said. “So, when I left the family farm, I thought I’d never do anything ag-related again.” He kept true to his word, for a while.

Mooney transferred to Iowa State in fall 2008 as a junior in business economics, which seemed like a solid, versatile major that would someday land him a steady job. But before long, the money he earned from his hobby-turned-passion, poker, steered him in a new direction. 

Counting cards by the campfire
Mooney’s poker career took root long before he ever stepped foot on Iowa State’s campus. A self-proclaimed cowboy, Mooney spent much of his childhood riding horses. Each year, he and his family saddled up their trusty steeds and rode across southern Iowa to attend rodeo shows. Most evenings on the trail were spent playing Blackjack around the campfire.

Gifted with a mathematically brilliant mind, Mooney had mastered counting cards during Blackjack matches by the time he was 9 years old. At 13, he turned his attention toward a new card game called Magic: The Gathering, a wizard-themed, trading-card game. He excelled in this game as well and competed in junior professional tournaments as a teenager before joining the regular pro tour by the time he was 20.

“I met a lot of friends who had made a living from playing Magic: The Gathering on pro tours but they transitioned over to poker because there was more money to be won, so I was drawn to that,” Mooney said.

A passion for poker
Mooney began playing mid-stakes online poker in his early 20s while at Iowa State. Juggling the game with academics, however, proved difficult.

“I have an obsessive personality and when I started studying the mathematics behind the game, I was playing seven days a week,” Mooney said. “I was skipping classes. I even skipped my accounting final because the night before I had won a big tournament that didn’t end until 3:30 a.m. So, I was not a good student.”

Read the entire article at Iowa State University