A newsmaker you should know: He has a dirty job and loves it

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Some people think Mont Handley is crazy because he quit a good job to, as he says, "play in the dirt."

The former national sales director for Visit Pittsburgh recently left his job to work full time at his own company, PittMoss.

Originally from Gary, Ind., Mr. Handley came here for a job interview, fell in love with the city and stayed.

Mr. Handley thought he would use his interview with Visit Pittsburgh in 2005 as a practice interview, but he discovered that he liked the city and that was a good thing: The job he got was to sell the image of Pittsburgh.

As much as he loved that job, however, he wanted to pursue a dream he had held for two decades. And, Pittsburgh seemed to be the perfect place to do that.

"Pittsburgh is a great place to build a company," he said. "And it worked out good for the name."

Mr. Handley, 49, who lives in Green Tree, launched PittMoss in March. The company creates a replacement for natural peat moss, using recycled newspaper and organic additives, for commercial and home gardeners.

Production is at the Johnston the Florist greenhouses in North Huntingdon. He has several business partners.

According to Mr. Handley, the harvesting of peat moss damages the environment. His product protects peat moss while also helping to protect the environment by using newspaper that would normally go to a landfill. The firm recently installed a new conveyer to increase production.

"Nearly 98 percent of the sphagnum peat moss consumed in the U.S. each year is harvested from Canadian peat bogs. Although peat lands are only 3 percent of the earth's surface, they sequester nearly 30 percent of stored carbon. They are disappearing at an alarming rate," Mr. Handley said.

It is Mr. Handley's hope that PittMoss will replace the use of harvested peat moss, which, in turn, will help the environment. It is a cause that has been embraced in other countries much more so than the U.S.

"In the U.K., there has been a big movement to find peat-free alternatives; there is a movement to ban commercial peat moss by 2020," he said.

Mr. Handley started growing plants at a young age. When he was 12, he saved money he earned working at his family's ice cream stand and bought a small greenhouse.

"It was a surprise to my parents -- so much they made me sell it, still in its original boxes, at a garage sale," he recalled.

Although he majored in history at Purdue University, his first job out of college was managing multiple locations of a retail nursery in the suburbs of Chicago.

That is when he saw how much peat moss was consumed in the U.S. and came up with the idea for his company.

In his spare time, he started doing independent research at Purdue, enlisting the aid of some professors who helped him receive grant money for his experiments to come up with a peat alternative.

The funding stopped as the economy struggled, and Mr. Handley moved into the tourism industry. Then came the move to Pittsburgh.

The name of his new company comes from, obviously, his new hometown.

"I thought PittMoss was a nice play on words and paying honor to Pittsburgh," he said.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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