Wed, Sep 7, 2022 3:26 PM

In full Blom


Tessa Jaine

We meet Helen Blom, a dairy and mussel farmer paving the way forward for her family, local business, and the greater community, helping the regions to flourish. 

Words: Megan Smith

Every now and again, you meet distinctly profound people. Their life stories, background and zest for life are infectious, and ending any conversation with them leaves you feeling inspired, with enough vigour to take on the day’s challenges and then some. Marlborough’s local and remarkable businesswoman Helen Blom, owner of Mills Bay Mussels, is one of these individuals. She left behind what she knew growing up in the Netherlands and built a remarkable family venture here in New Zealand.

Helen describes her childhood as idyllic. Growing up on a thriving family-owned dairy farm in a small, quiet Dutch town. She mentions that her passion for the rural sector and farming was partly due to being the child of a large family headed by a progressive mother and father. “The farm was originally owned by my grandparents, then handed down to my parents. My dad grew the farm, investing smartly. While my mom was always engaged with the community and national groups, achieving plenty and being a well-recognized champion for women. Being raised in this household garnered my passion for dairy and showed me that I could be or do anything I wanted. Life on the farm instilled lifelong values that encompass helping, learning, getting the job done, laughing and relishing the good company of friends and family.”

Helen wears clothing from Thomas's, styled by Michelle Bradley. Photo by David James

All grown up, bearing agricultural degrees, and ready to take on a new adventure, Helen, then aged 21 and her partner Art travelled to New Zealand in 1996, intending to work on a dairy farm in Ashburton for only a year. Helen says they planned to learn as much as they could and take the knowledge home and apply it to the family farm, but then fell in love with the country, its wide-open spaces, people, and connectedness to nature, so stayed. “When you are young, you have so many dreams. Back then, our success as a couple meant planning on raising six children and milking over 1000 cows. All I can say is that it changed dramatically after the arrival of our first child. We realized on our journey that aspiring to that life was hard and stressful and that meaningful relationships, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and learning were far more essential. We now have four children, Art Jnr, Nick, Emma, and Maegen, and 1500 cows.”

With their first dairy farm purchased in 2000 in Balfour, Southland and expanding into a second, coupled with raising a bustling family, it was time to chase the next adventure. The fearless, passionate drive for paving the way forward as a family is what inspired them to travel the world together as a family for a year. The family worked tremendously hard to ensure that all systems were in place and had a fantastic team that ensured their farms’ smooth running and operations while abroad. There was not a destination too exotic not to try. Their travels took them to Laos, China, Namibia, Poland, and many other countries. When returning from their global expedition, the couple reflected on all the growing and learning that was done as a family, which slowly began to shape their next adventure.

“One of the biggest challenges was choosing to move from Southland to the Marlborough Sounds, where in 2016 we purchased On the Track Lodge in Nydia Bay, in the Pelorus Sounds. It was off the grid, with no road access, we had no background in hospitality, and the kids had to commit to correspondence school. We had to learn the tides, drive a boat, learn to live remotely.” But, as you can tell, it didn’t stop this tightly knit clan from succeeding. It was while running the lodge that they also got into mussel farming. Seeing their resolve blossom into what is now Mills Bay Mussels, further encompassing a mussel-processing plant, tasting room and eatery in the greenshell-mussel capital of the world, Havelock.

As dynamic as she is, Helen redefines what it means to be successful and her interpretation thereof. “Success in my business means making a positive change to the people involved in the companies while building long-term relationships and enjoying sustainable growth. Accomplishment as a mother and partner is being able to spend quality time with my children and Art.”

The Blom family are an intrinsic part of Marlborough and Southland, carefully interlaced with the community and nature. Helen’s devotion to being mindful of everything her life encompasses has spilt over and abundantly affected all that know her. Helen says: “When I look at life, it means connecting, loving, inspiring, learning, growing, and adventure. I want people to know that success is within us all. It doesn’t need to be a huge or lofty goal. If you bring that awareness into your daily life, you will succeed in your own right!”

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