Wilcox Farms is officially in its fifth generation as a family-owned business. In February 2019, Donnie Wilcox became the latest in a long line leading back to Judson and Elizabeth Wilcox, who started the farm in 1909.
After graduating from the University of Washington in 2014, Donnie spent five years at Amazon.com in multiple departments including marketing for electronics and product development for dairy products. It was the only job he’s ever had outside of the family business — and it’s likely to stay that way. He’s currently in the midst of a six-month training period where he’s learning about various aspects of the business from operations to logistics to keeping the hens healthy and happy.
After his training, he’ll become the Food Service Sales Manager and handle large accounts such as universities, hospitals, and corporate cafeterias. In this conversation, he shares his thoughts on returning home, lessons learned in the business world, and what it means to be part of a purpose-driven legacy.
How did your job working with dairy products at Amazon.com help prepare you for returning to Wilcox Farms?
It showed me how business works, and how the world works. It gave me practical experience with pricing, negotiation, and management, all of which I can use here.
Did you expect to return to the farm at some point?
Yes, that was my plan. Though this was a bit earlier than I expected. But I told my family I was interested, so they knew. So when a sales position needed to be filled, my cousin Brent asked if I was interested since they were basically looking for someone with my experience and background. It made sense for me to join now since the need was there.
Why did you want to return to the farm?
Growing up on a farm gives you a strong sense of place. I loved growing up here and always wanted to come back and live. And working for the farm is a great opportunity to learn more than I could working at other places. I also like knowing I’m settling in a place I want to be, especially since I have a two-year old now. Plus, the specific job I’ll be doing is a good fit personally, and the farm in general is in a great place, so it seemed like the best time to join.
Did you work on the farm growing up?
Yes. I worked every summer between the ages of 6 and 19. I wouldn’t describe all of the jobs I did as fun, but I learned a lot and it was great to earn money as a kid.
What interests you most about the egg business?
Now that I’m learning more about the business, I see it’s more complex and interesting than I ever realized. It’s more than just selling eggs. Today, there are many different products, from liquid to hard boiled, and a wide range of customers and opportunities. So we need to keep innovating and looking at new technology and processes to stay competitive. For example, our mobile pasture units help us produce the healthiest eggs possible by allowing the hens to roam freely, eat a balanced diet, and generally live better lives. It’s good for the hens and for our customers.
Do have any advice for younger family members or others looking to join a similar family farming operation?
I’m a few years older than my closest cousins and siblings, so I’d tell them not to feel the need to decide now about working at the farm. The best thing is to get an education and work somewhere else for a while, then see if this life is right for them.
Whatever they decide, I think they’ll see the value of being part of a purpose-driven company like ours that operates sustainably, protects the land, and takes the long-term view. It’s a legacy we can be proud of.