Robb Baumann and Lance Heaton, Mountain Valley Seed Company
Salt Lake City, Utah
Nothing about Robb Baumann’s path to the seed business in conventional. It all started on a ski trip. Robb and his friend Lance Heaton had a long-standing annual tradition of meeting in Utah, where the two had met in college nearly twenty years prior, to ski and reconnect. Robb was on the ski lift with his wife when she remarked, “You are so different when you’re here.” Right then and there, he made a decision. On his return to their Florida home he began to disassemble his ties to the aerospace industry. Eighteen months later he and his family settled in Utah.
Lance, who had remained in Utah, had bought and ran several different businesses over the years, including a garden store and a rock quarry. He needed no convincing. The two had been dreaming of running an enterprise together since college days, and it was now or never. Following Robb’s move they began to explore various options. It took nearly a year. “My primary job was skiing,” recalls Robb.
One day, Lance got a lead. Demetrios Agathangelides, a tenant of his neighbor, had started a local seed company in 1974. He was getting older, and was beginning to worry about the future of the business he loved. Lance knocked on the door, introduced himself and, immediately smitten, called Robb. “I might have found something,” he said, cautious but excited. Demetrios was initially skeptical, but as the two would-be buyers worked by his side day after day, bagging and shipping seed, they won him over. In 2010, Robb and Lance became co-owners of Mountain Valley Seed Company.
True Leaf Market came about five years later when Mountain Valley Seed Co. merged with another small local company that specialized in sprouting and wheatgrass seeds. Realizing that the two businesses complemented each other in multiple ways, Robb and Lance and the brother/sister team of Parker Garlitz and Kat Jones that had started the other company combined their skills and their product lines. The end result was trueleafmarket.com, a website that offers Mountain Valley Seed’s specialty—seeds uniquely suited for climates with short growing seasons—as well as a large variety of sprouting and microgreen seeds, sprouting supplies, microgreen trays and mats, juicers that range from simple and inexpensive to top of the line, and much more.
“You can’t run a company without good people,” states Robb, now a seasoned seedsman. “Creating a good work environment is a priority.” To that end Robb and Lance have converted all of their principal employees—about 40 in all—to full time status. “We find other projects for them in the slow times,” Robb explains. They’ve also established a scholarship fund in Demetrios’ name, awarding $1000 to two deserving Ag students every year. A team including several employees, and sometimes Demetrios himself, reviews the submitted essays in time for the money to reach the winners before the school term begins.
Without a doubt, the most entertaining way Mountain Valley Seeds has made a name for itself is with its annual Pumpkin Regatta. “We spend a lot of time tending to our pumpkin in Lance’s backyard,” said Robb. “Our record in 561 pounds. Dismal!” But perfect, it turns out, for hollowing out and propelling 100 yards with a kayak paddle. Their most recent regatta drew a dozen racers and a crowd of over 5000 cheering spectators to the shores of Oquirrh Lake. A Kids’ Race is followed by a Relay Race and finally, the Growers’ Race. The purpose, says Robb, is simply “to encourage people to live life.”
Both Robb and Lance are avid gardeners, which is what attracted them to the business in the first place. Their entire families—Robb has two children, Lance has six—are skilled skiers, and both families enjoy hiking and camping as well. In fact, one of their best selling sprouting mixes, the “Grand Canyon Kick Mix,” was developed while preparing for a Grand Canyon hiking trip. Robb explains the sprouting-while-hiking process like this: “You start the sprouts 3 days prior to the hike, then put them into hemp sprout bags and clip the bags on the back of a pack. Every time you stop for water, you add some to the hemp sprout bags. In 3 or 4 days, you have fresh healthy sprouts for trail eating.” Gardening, hiking, skiing, and fresh, healthy sprouts: Robb Baumann and Lance Heaton have found a prescription for a life well lived!