August 2019
Keeping an Eye on the Future By Tim Hodson

These seven men and women, part of GPN's 40 Under 40, should be on your radar — if they aren’t already!

Every May for the last eight years, Lawn & Garden Retailer’s sister publication, GPN, has published its annual list of 40 young men and women who are really making a difference in the horticulture industry. GPN’s 40 Under 40 program represents the entire spectrum of horticulture — growers, retailers, business owners, entrepreneurs, marketers, breeders, educators, scientists, salespeople and so many more that make up the fascinating fabric of our industry.

They are all trailblazers under the age of 40 who personify superior leadership, creativity, innovative thinking, excellence and compassion in and outside the horticulture field!

Anna Cooper

Company: Heeman’s

Job Title: Production Manager


Anna Coopeer 40 under 40 Fresh Perspectives
  • Streamlined the company’s fall and winter greens production lines. Due to exceptionally strong sales growth in this area, production needed to triple in three years.
  • Already a 23-year industry veteran, Anna’s experience has provided her with the knowledge to confidently implement ideas and equipment upgrades to increase efficiency while enhancing product output and quality in the company’s production area.


The married mother of three daughters is always on the go. In addition to her busy work schedule, she finds time to volunteer at her daughters’ school and also helps run the family’s beef and cash crop farm.

Fun Facts

Her top menu choice is a good homemade hamburger.


James Youngers

Company: Wallace’s Garden Center

Job Title: Head Grower


Youngers 40 under 40 Fresh Perspectives
  • Responsible for all aspects of maintaining two shrub houses, seven perennial houses and approximately 50,000 square feet of annual production space.
  • Also responsible for a 2-acre apple orchard (600 trees) and maintains his own beehives on the property. He researched and created a pruning and spray program that keeps the orchard in top condition.


James rode his bicycle across the state of Iowa. In addition to cycling, other hobbies include trail running and beekeeping.

Fun Facts

“My favorite book is ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall. I read it every spring to give me motivation after a long, cold Iowa winter.”


Laura LeBoutillier

Company: Garden Answer

Job Title: Gardening Social Media Personality


40 under 40 Fresh Perspectives
  • In 2014, along with husband Aaron, created Garden Answer, a series of inspirational, garden-themed videos. Today, Garden Answer has 400,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 2.5 million Facebook followers.
  • Created Adopt-a-Pot program for the local community where large concrete pots were placed on each block of the downtown area for businesses/individuals to “adopt” each year for a set fee.


Laura tries to play the piano every day. She took classical piano lessons for 17 years and has been playing the piano since she was 4.

Fun Facts

Laura doesn’t really like speaking in front of people. “It probably seems like it would be natural for me since I get in front of a camera all the time, but it’s a very different thing.”


Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez

Company: Back to the Roots

Job Title: Co-founders/Co-CEOs


Arora and Velez 40 Under 40 Fresh Perspectives
Arora and Velez
  • Launched the first tabletop aquaponic system to educate families about ecosystems and growing food in new ways.
  • Helped families and classrooms create over 1 million new organic gardens this year!


“We want to build a brand and live a life that leaves the world a bit better than we found it — and we know we can only do that by integrating our team, our community, ourselves (our own health), our families, our environment into everything we do and all decisions!”

Fun Facts

Both of their fathers spent years in Germany after immigrating from Colombia (Alex’s dad) and India (Nikihl’s dad). “When they first met at our college graduation, they both hit it off right away speaking German. Sometimes things are just meant to be.”


Ryan Overdevest

Company: Overdevest Nurseries

Job Title: Chief Financial Officer


  • Developed new process to streamline the company’s weekly plant evaluation
    Overdevest 40 Under 40 Fresh Perspectives

    process by eliminating double data entry and using wireless tablets.

  • Uses his business background to enhance operations and has instituted cost-saving measures at the nursery paying careful attention to freight and labor costs while increasing productivity.


Ryan was a First Team Academic All-American in high school and college soccer. During his senior year of college, he received an award named after famous alum and comedian Jon Stewart for having the most positive influence on the team’s attitude.

Fun Facts

During his senior year at The College of William & Mary, Ryan “very briefly” met Queen Elizabeth II during the college’s 2007 Charter Day celebration.


Tiger Palafox

Company: Mission Hills Nursery

Job Title: Vice President


  • Helped the garden center diversify by adding a landscape installation and
    Tiger Palafox 40 Under 40 Fresh Perspectives

    maintenance division. This has helped create a solid baseline of sales, increased revenue and raised visibility to potential customers.

  • Oversees day-to-day operations of garden center, landscape installation business and maintenance crews for 100+ properties to ensure they are running efficiently and effectively.


Thanks to his wife and two children, Tiger always tries to maintain the right balance of home and work life. Growing up in the industry, this has always been one of his top priorities for his family.

Fun Facts

Tiger can’t live without his surfboard. “It allows me to get out and completely remove myself from any stresses and clear my head when I need to.”

Tim Hodson

Tim Hodson is the editorial director of GPN and Big Grower. He can be reached at [email protected]


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