SOUTH FORSYTH -- Jeremy Lefkovits jokingly calls himself and wife M’Lee “corporate refugees.”
The couple, who own an organic sprout-growing operation in south Forsyth, definitely didn’t start their careers as farmers.
He spent years as a global investment banker, while she worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for a major drug company.
“It was a totally different world,” Jeremy Lefkovits said. “I was traveling about three weeks out of every month and not getting to see our kids grow up.”
About five years ago, the family’s life was turned upside down when Jeremy’s mother, Andi Lefkovits, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. During the time of her illness, she decided to embrace a new lifestyle that included eating a raw diet based primarily on unique types of vegetables.
M’Lee Lefkovits said she spent some time with her at the Hippocrates Health Institute in south Florida. While there, she took on the raw diet her mother-in-law had embraced. At first she found it difficult, but later learned to appreciate the health benefits.
“It was actually pretty amazing all the different dishes they [at the Hippocrates Health Institute] were able to put together with just these certain types of vegetables,” she said. “… They made things that tasted like cheese, things that taste like meat. We had tacos, we had lasagna, ice cream with frozen bananas.
“I really did feel a whole lot different and [had] so much more energy. So when I got back home, not only was I looking for certain products for her but for us too.”
Sadly, on Christmas Day 2009, Andi lost her battle to cancer. But her commitment to eating more nutritionally sound food had inspired the family to be better when it came to nutrition.
“I couldn’t really go from doughnut-eating mom to saying no meat, no sugar, no anything,” M’Lee Lefkovits said. “But I did think if we could take out some of the things that are not as nutritious and just put in a little bit of the things that have a bit more bang for their buck, wouldn’t we be better off?”
Among those steps was eating sprouts, which was one of the foods she had discovered at the institute. She decided to start growing them in the family’s basement to ensure the freshest and most nutritionally sound food for her family.
When friends saw her children, Carina, now 9, and Owen, 5, eating sunflower and pea sprouts, they asked if she could grow some for them. “That’s how it all started,” she said.
About two years ago, the family moved to south Forsyth. They then acquired a 5-acre site about two miles from their home on which they built a 3,600 square-foot building for the sprout operation. The Lefkovits jokingly call the structure “a yellow submarine” because it is such a tight space.
“When we built the facility we were expecting two or three employees and we’re at eight now,” he said.
When they first started at the Forsyth location, the family took their products to farmers around metro Atlanta. “We named the business Andi’s Way, of course after my mother,” Jeremy Lefkovits said.
They developed a following at the various farmers’ markets and word soon spread about the crops’ quality. They were soon picked up by Whole Food stores.
“We’re in the Southeast region for Whole Foods, which includes Georgia of course, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and they’re adding a store in Mississippi,” M’Lee Lefkovits said.
Her husband added that they are in select company. “In the Southeast, there’s only a handful and we’re one of two organic ones in the South, so it’s a real niche thing,” he said.
They grow wheatgrass, which is used mostly for juicing, as well as sunflower greens, which can be as a substitute for lettuce. There are also pea greens, which have more of a sweet flavor.
“Our hope is that at some point we’ll be able to expand our product line,” M’Lee Lefkovits said.
In the meantime, the couple is still getting accustomed to the business’ success. Jeremy Lefkovits said his wife “is the science behind the operation,” taking time, mostly by trial and error, to figure things out. She stays at the greenhouse, overseeing the day-to-day operations.
She said he handles the marketing and sales side, making deliveries to local Whole Food stores and promoting the products. While there have been some challenges in the career shift, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m definitely the happiest I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to be home with my family and be able to honor my mother’s memory every day. It’s also wonderful to know that we are creating a product that truly helps people to live a better life.”
He added that anyone who thinks they can’t make a serious change in their life situation should rethink that stance.
“No matter what industry you’re in, you can figure things out and learn,” he said. “We’re proof of that.”