Every member of the Volleman family brings something special to the table. The kitchen table, to be exact. Located on their dairy farm in Gustine, Texas, it’s where they have their unofficial board meetings over lunch, discussing the family business — Wildcat Dairy – and how they plan to keep it going strong for generations to come.
It starts with Annette Volleman’s cooking. Every lunch is a delicious, multi-course affair, starting with soup and ending with a slice of one of her famous cakes. (We hear the strawberry cheesecake is a real stand out.)
“My mom's just always been there,” second oldest son David says. “She's like the rock, the centerpiece of the family, I guess. There's always food there. She loves feeding people.”
These lunches nourish their bodies, but they also nourish their connections to each other – and to the farm that serves not just as their home and their business, but as their calling.
As head of household Frank Volleman notes, “We are a family farm. Every member of the family is dedicated to the job, to the cows, to the land, to the natural resources that we work with.”
In fact, those natural resources might as well be members of the family — and rightly so. Without them, there would be no Wildcat Dairy. That’s why their stewardship of the land is an always-on endeavor, with tried and true best practices providing the foundation for the latest innovations in sustainability.
It’s a cyclical process, as David explains: “It starts with sunlight and water and you have a plant that grows. So that plant grows, and then what do you do with a whole corn plant or grass plant? So we feed that to cows. We take the manure from the cows, put it back on the field so that's replacing the nutrients. And it's more than just nutrients when you have manure, it also helps soil composition.”
He continues, “One of the big things that we plan on doing, or we're looking into right now is a biodigester, where we would collect the methane off of our manure and turn it into renewable natural gas, which could then be used to power vehicles or light homes.”
But it’s not technology for technology’s sake — it’s all part of the bigger mission. David connects the dots when he says, “We want what we have today to still be here for the next generation and the generation after that.”
It’s a beautiful thing — and something the Vollemans want the world to see. Knowing there are often misperceptions about the dairy industry, it would be understandable if they wanted to keep things close to the vest. But there’s a higher purpose that the Vollemans are eager to serve.
“We have to get out of that comfort zone, and we have to tell everybody, all the people that drink our milk and the people that live in the cities as well, that don't get out on farms, what our story is and what we do,” David says.
Frank is fully supportive of the sentiment — and his sons: “I’ve got to give credit to the next generation. They're very open, very transparent. And I think that's what we need to be as a dairy. We, as an industry, we don't have anything to hide. I mean, this is what we do, come look.”
“At the end of the day,” Frank explains, “it's about family and sticking together. And I think so far that we've achieved that. So Anna and myself, we're very proud that the boys have chosen that career and hope that we've created these opportunities for them. And we're pretty certain that they're going to take it to the next level.”