Assoc. Dean Vorkink’s heirloom tomatoes
Keith Vorkink is an expert in many areas—finance, investments, and tomatoes.
The world of academia is a stark contrast to his gardening hobby, but the Marriott School of Management associate dean has found satisfaction and success growing heirloom tomatoes. Vorkink says that gardening is a nice complement to his work on campus—when he isn’t cultivating his tomato plants, he is cultivating the minds of the next generation of business leaders.
“Growing tomatoes is a way I can see tangibly what I’ve done,” Vorkink says.
Although Vorkink can’t see the physical fruits of his labor as easily outside of the garden, he’s still racked up an impressive résumé. It includes developing the Marriott School’s pre-PhD program, publishing numerous works in financial journals, and teaching at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. But caring for his tomatoes is far from an added stress.
“I don’t mind the time that I spend in the garden,” Vorkink says. “It’s usually when I get home from work. It’s sort of a distraction from everything else.”
Growing up in Alaska, Vorkink had some experience gardening with his family, but it was later in life that he found his taste for home-grown produce.
“In New York while I was in graduate school, roadside fruit stands were popular,” Vorkink says. “The difference between store-bought tomatoes and home grown tomatoes was big. They tasted a lot better than the fruit and vegetables my wife and I bought at the grocery store.”
When Vorkink accepted a job at BYU, his family made the move to Mapleton, Utah, and chose a house with room for a large garden. He was hooked on the first batch of heirloom tomatoes he ordered from California but decided that getting the seeds from out of state was too expensive. So he began to do what professors do well: research.
Heirloom tomatoes are organic tomatoes grown from seeds preserved from the previous year. There are different sizes and flavors, ranging from citrusy yellow tomatoes to dark, smoky ones. Vorkink learned how to harvest his own seeds and now plants his annual crop using the prior year’s yield.
When Vorkink’s son got the entrepreneurial itch, they decided to put the tomato seedlings to market.
“I knew we had seventy-five or eighty that we could sell,” Vorkink says. “So we tried it, and it worked, and now he’s responsible for peddling the tomato starts.”
Now in their eleventh year of tomato producing, Vorkink and his son sell the plants for the first few weeks of May. With any luck, their customer’s tomato plants will grow into the robust eight-foot-tall plants the Vorkinks curate.
Despite sharing many of the starts and tomatoes with friends and neighbors, the family still gets to enjoy their harvest by indulging in a variety of delicious tomato dishes during peak season.
“We have a caprese salad probably four or five nights a week,” Vorkink says. Pizza, pasta sauce, bruschetta, salsa, and pico de gallo are also menu regulars. “We have a fun time in the summer,” he adds, smiling.