Sporting long curly hair, a sleeve of tattoos, and running shoes, Clayton Mooney doesn’t look like your typical Iowa farmer. He isn’t. For one, Mooney’s farm is surrounded by a parking lot. His crops — lettuces, and microgreens — grow inside an old Fazoli’s building in Ames, Iowa. Drive-through customers consume salad and smoothies assembled hours after harvest from ingredients grown indoors at Clayton Farms.
Growing up in Blakesburg, Iowa, with 40 acres of row crops and horses, Mooney didn’t feel pressure to return to the farm after college. His path back to Iowa agriculture has been a global experience teaching him, “There are a million different ways to do something.”
His original plan included studies in business economics and a law degree, but he rerouted to a poker career in Ireland. Lessons in sample size, the pressure of making decisions, and how quickly money can come and go were learned over the hands of cards rather than textbooks.
Later, he reenrolled at Iowa State University with a different mind-set. “You’re not paying tuition for a skill set. You’re paying tuition for a network,” he says. He aligned himself with a number of incubators and accelerators. Mooney found community in the College of Agriculture’s entrepreneurial organizations for students that steered him back toward his roots.
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