Polk County Farm Bureau Executive Director Carole McKenzie Talks About Her Work Behind the Scenes
If you’re familiar with the Polk County Farm Bureau, then you know the great work it does. A lot of that work wouldn’t get done if it weren’t for the dedication of one woman in particular. Central Florida Ag News spoke with Executive Director Carole McKenzie to learn more about the woman behind the scene.
CFAN: Can you tell us a little about your background and what led you to a career in the agriculture field and your current position at Polk County Farm Bureau?
McKenzie: Sure! In a former life as a legal assistant, I was exposed to quite a few land-use cases. Also, my family had citrus and cattle interests. I knew that I really enjoyed the person-to-person contacts with legal clients, and felt I wanted more of that, so I went back to college and earned a degree in Public Relations and Business at Florida Southern College in 2003. While there, I interned at Florida Citrus Mutual and was ultimately hired there as Manager of Public Affairs. I’ve since worked for Citrus Industry Magazine and also for Clear Springs as VP of Government Affairs prior to coming to Farm Bureau. At Clear Springs, I enjoyed exposure to both agriculture production and large parcel land-use experiences, and I feel like that fits well into the Farm Bureau mission of protecting producers’ abilities to farm and private property rights.
CFAN: What does your typical day look like as executive director?
McKenzie: I think most ED’s, regardless of what organization they serve, would say that there is no such thing as a “typical” day, and that is why I really enjoy the role. One day it might be general operational matters like drafting a budget or getting a tree trimmed, and the next day I’m working on a significant advocacy campaign or hosting a legislative event. It’s challenging for me to sit still for very long, so I like the diversity of my daily tasks.
CFAN: Okay, so what does your best day look like? What activities do you enjoy the most?
McKenzie: Hosting ag tours, without question! If I am on a farm or ranch, those are the very best days. I also really enjoy collaborative projects. When we do ag tours, we usually partner with the Polk Extension Office, and the projects we work on with them are always fun and educational. We typically invite candidates, elected officials and regulatory staff on those tours, and I love watching their faces as they learn about what it takes on a daily basis to be an agriculture product producer.
CFAN: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work at Polk County Farm Bureau?
McKenzie: Well first, early on, the supply chain interruptions were huge to our farmers and ranchers trying to get their product to consumers, and that was a helpless feeling initially. But Farm Bureau members worked extremely hard on that and other early immediate issues. Also, at the time, we were halfway through our annual 10-day Agri-Fest educational program and had to cancel the second week, so that was disappointing. As time has passed though, I think we’re just really anxious to physically get back together with our members and our programming partners. We’ve learned a great deal and have a big project we’re working on to share some of what we’ve learned. Plus, we’re dipping our toes back in on holding in-person events having held the Ag Deputy Luncheon in April and now looking forward to our Legislative Wrap-Up event June 3.
CFAN: What do you see as the biggest benefit of being a Farm Bureau member?
McKenzie: I would say representation in the right places. Farmers and Ranchers face so many challenges every single day just trying to produce their product and get it to market at a price that will allow them to do it all again the next day or the next season. Having an organization that prevents them from being regulated out of business allows them to do what they do best and that’s provide us with food and fiber. As an organization that is truly grassroots, our members are the start of any formal position or policy process, so it really is about what helps them be able to provide their products to consumers.