Breadcrumbs

Danni’s preparing to ‘avo go’ at gold

18 June 2018

University of Waikato alumna Danni van der Heijden.

Whether it’s on the roller derby circuit for Moana Roller Derby’s A-team or stilt walking and juggling with Circus in a Flash, Danni van der Heijden can lay claim to some mad skills. But the University of Waikato alumna used a different skill set when she was named 2018 Bay of Plenty Young Fruit Grower in February.

With a key role in avocado services at Trevelyan’s Pack and Coolhouse in Te Puke, and holding a Bachelor of Science (BSc), Danni was well-rehearsed in how to run a successful orchard.

“Avocados are my area of strength,” says Danni. “But with the variety of practical challenges in the competition, I called in some help for the things I had less experience in.”

One of her growers coached her on the finer points of handling a tractor while a colleague lent her a chainsaw to dis- and reassemble. The preparation held Danni in good stead. Winning five individual challenge awards and the speech competition secured her the overall title – only the second female to take the top spot. Now she’s gearing up to represent the Bay at the Young Grower of the Year in August in Napier. Last year’s regionals winner Erin Atkinson, who Danni came runner-up to in 2017 and went on to win the Young Grower title, has met with Danni to offer advice and support for the national competition.

“The challenges will include fruit and vegetables so it will be a real test for me,” says Danni, “But one I’m looking forward to.”

Danni’s also taking on a new career challenge this week. She will join avocado exporter AVOCO in a newly created role as Technical Representative. Undertaking research projects and trials on-orchard and post-harvest will be her main remit and she’s looking forward to travelling abroad to research overseas markets too.

As a child, despite loving her vegetable garden in the family’s backyard of Mangere Bridge in Auckland, Danni had no idea she’d become a young leader of the horticulture industry. She was the first in her family to attend university and chose Waikato for its reputation in the sciences and picturesque Hamilton campus with everything close to hand.

While Danni admits she always enjoyed figuring things out and making new discoveries, at first she was unsure what science to pursue. Eventually she settled on Biology and Chemistry majors supported by Physics and Maths. The dedicated student scooped numerous awards including the Science Admission Fees Scholarship, Chemistry Prize, Physics Prize, Brian Perry Charitable Trust and the Variety Gold Heart scholarships. Danni says she remains “incredibly grateful” for the financial assistance and support through her study years and says the degree prepared her well.

“The BSc gave me an extensive background knowledge of the industry and taught me how to learn,” she enthuses.

Post-graduation Danni had a stint in the Netherlands, where her family originated from, before returning to Auckland where she took up some casual work with Watercare. When she landed a job with NZ Avocado as a Research Associate, she relocated to Tauranga and enjoyed the lifestyle and variety of work that horticulture offered. Danni started work with Trevelyan’s nearly two years ago and will miss her tight-knit team, but is excited to join AVOCO where she’s keen to make a positive difference in the New Zealand avocado industry.

“Now that I’m part of the horticulture industry I don’t see myself leaving. The reality is even better than the expectation,” she says.

Related stories

Science and 1080

In her latest blog post, Dr Alison Campbell urges scientists and conservation workers to continue…

Erin the Engineer rocking the world of robotics

Alumna Erin Sims is taking on a traditionally male dominated industry.

The seeds of inspiration

University of Waikato researchers have been awarded funding to investigate new ways of reducing earthquake…

Major Endeavours for researchers

University of Waikato academics have been awarded funding for a broad range of major research…

Geologist, mum, volunteer, author – four seasons of career

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science followed by a Master of Science in the…

Waikato alumni doing their bit

Three University of Waikato graduates are the driving force behind an innovative project to provide…

Creating a legacy through language

Rotorua Hillary Scholar Arapeta Paea is determined to retrieve and nurture the language lost to…

Top business students buzzing with innovative ideas

Business school students from around the world converged on Tauranga last week for the inaugural…

New opportunities for East Coast students

Studying at the University of Waikato has just become a lot more accessible for students…

Nevada web

Scholarships for a better environment

Seven students have been awarded WRC, Waikato Tainui - Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu scholarships.

Waikato students awarded for enviro-tech innovation

A group of Waikato students came second in the national MYOB IT Challenge last weekend…

What's holding women back?

A group of geoscientists, including Karin Bryan from the University of Waikato, have taken the…