Vanilla has the reputation for being, well, somewhat bland, but did you know that vanilla is quite a fascinating plant? Vanilla is actually an orchid that only blooms for one day. If the orchid is to produce a vanilla bean, it must very carefully hand pollenated on that one day of blooming. I learned these interesting facts while visiting the Hawaiian Vanilla Company for lunch and a tour.
Though learning about vanilla is interesting in itself, the owner Jim Reddekopp weaves a family love story into his presentation about vanilla and how he came to farm it. Jim and his wife Tracey were living on Oahu with their first two children when they decided that before they had more kids, they wanted to raise their children on a farm. Soon after, they decided to more to Hawaii Island’s verdant Hamakua Coast to start the US’s first (and I believe only) vanilla farm. Jim and Tracey now have five children that he jokes are on a work to eat program.
Jim Reddekopp does not hied his passion for his family and vanilla. The two are clearly intertwined. It was inspirational to hear how the Reddekopps grew their farm dream into a viable small business that currently employees nine people. How inspirational was it? Well, on the drive back to Waikoloa, Andy and I started daydreaming and brainstorming what sort of farm we could start in Hawaii.
We enjoyed a very tasty vanilla-infused, three-course lunch as part of the Hawaiian Vanilla Experience ($39/adult and $15/child ages 4 to 12) followed by a tour of the farm. Almost every part of the lunch incorporated vanilla in creative and unusual ways. For example, the roasted potatoes were seasoned in a vanilla southwest spice. I certainly learned by tasting that vanilla is not just for desserts.
After lunch, we took a tour of a vanilla farm “field”. There, we looked closer at the type of environment and tender loving care that vanilla farming requires.
The Hawaiian Vanilla Company is located in lovely old timber building that originally housed a coffee mill in the 1920s. It’s roughly half way between Hilo and Kona. We drove there from Waikoloa Beach Resort in about an hour. It’s quite a scenic drive, too. (See this map for directions.) If you’re in this area, you might want to consider also visiting Akaka Falls, Waipio Valley lookout and if time permits, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
Hawaiian Vanilla Company offers other tours and tastings in addition to this lunch tour we enjoyed. Tour reservations are strongly recommended. You can book by calling 1-877-771-1771.
Having lunch and farm touring at Hawaiian Vanilla Company was far more than a vanilla experience.
Mahalo to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company for hosting our tour.