• Volume 18 Number 2
    Spring 2009

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17.
Jeanne Vana, BS ’81
 Waialua, Hawaii  •  Profiled: Summer 98

Hawaiian farm owner

When life hands you lemons, the adage goes, you make lemonade. It’s ironic that lemons may be the only thing Jeanne Vana isn’t growing on her little slice of paradise on the north shore of the island of Oahu. Jeanne Vana

When Dole Foods closed the last remaining sugar plantation on the island over a decade ago, Vana was among the 400 furloughed employees who retained an office and a small plot of ground on the north shore.

“I was entitled to farmland and established my own farm enterprise,” Vana reports.

“I collaborated with former Purdue MBA entomologist, John McHugh of Crop Care Hawaii. We conducted on-farm research through grants and created demonstration projects on the farm for the production of diversified crops without the use of heavy equipment and chemicals as Hawaii agriculture transitioned from large-scale farming to small farms.”

Vana became a boutique grower of vine-ripe tomatoes, specialty cut flowers, and other colorful, heirloom crops. But her biggest seller remains hand-picked, ripe tomatoes, which she sells to some of Hawaii’s top restaurants and uses to make what she calls “The Best Pizza Ever.”

She’s even capitalized on the nearby world-famous waves to help market the tomatoes.

“I adopted the brand name Big Wave Tomatoes and went with the idea of ebb and flow with a slogan that “just like all the elements must come together for big wave surf conditions on the north shore, so must all the growing elements for Big Wave flavors.”

She’s even taken to the road, selling pizza, produce and Hawaiian Shave Ice with tropical fruits from trees she established during her Dole days.

Her Purdue career actually started at Vincennes University, where she earned a two-year degree in floriculture before transferring to Purdue, where, she says, “I applied myself to reach my full potential.”

That her meanderings have landed her on what may be the most beautiful place on the planet should come as no surprise, even though her career path is something she never expected.

Born in Middletown, N.Y., Vana grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and the Philippines before her family settled in Carmel, Ind.

“The last thing I ever wanted to do was fruit or vegetable production,” Vana admits. “I never worked in the home backyard vegetable garden.”

The voice of experience: Be true to your roots. You’ll never know what you may fall back onto. College is a good place to be during tough economic times. Separate yourself from the pack. Take time out to think and dream of where you see yourself. Be willing to adapt to change — that’s the only thing that’s constant.   —  Jeanne Vana