Theo de Koning is a 5th generation, Dutch mussel farmer working in Bar Harbor, Maine. He and his wife, Fiona, moved from the Netherlands in 2004 with their two boys to expand their mussel operation. “My husband, Theo, inherited a share of his family’s mussel farm business. He believes, that when a generation is offered a gift like that, it is their job to expand and improve upon it.” The de Koning’s looked to expand the farm in the Netherlands, but with the popularity of mussel farming, there was not much opportunity for growth. They decided to look outside of the Netherlands in Germany, Ireland, and England. In 2004, they came across an established wild harvest company in Bar Harbor that was looking to expand into mussels. It was a perfect opportunity
“Mussel farming is our passion. It is our way of life. It’s generational and it enables us to live in a beautiful, pristine places. People love our mussels. We are proud of what we provide people.”
In 2008, the wild harvest company went bankrupt, and Fiona and Theo took over the mussel operation that included handling the marketing and distribution. Theo works out on the water farming and processing and Fiona runs the business. “It was nerve wrecking,” says Fiona, about learning this side of the business. “We only want to sell fresh mussels, so we don’t believe in air freight. Everything we sell is sent out in refrigerated trucks to be kept fresh.” Now six years later, their mussels are sold all along the eastern seaboard and as far west as Ohio.
Hollander & de Koning Mussels are the only “Dutch-Style” mussels in North America, meaning they are bottom cultivated creating a fuller richer flavor than rope-grown. Theo developed a specialized shallow-draft harvesting vessel, typical of the Netherlands, which removes mussels from the sea floor without damage. The processing happens right on the boat where the mussels are washed, graded for size, debearded, and purged of any sand.
Last spring Fiona and Theo’s oldest son, Alexander, graduated as chemical engineer from UMO. “He has a technology brain and a lot of opportunity, but when he started, it became clear to him, that he wanted to stay on the coast and join the family business. With his degree the help he has brought to the farm is incredible. We are so lucky to have him.”
Theo and Fiona and the boys eat mussels once to twice a week. “We believe that you should only buy from farmers who eat their own product!”