Polk County Farm Bureau Going Strong, Serving the Agricultural Community
The theme of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in 2022 was “Rooted in Resilience”, and Polk County Farm Bureau’s 3,800-plus members are just that.
“Farmers are by nature and by necessity, resilient and tenacious people,” said Polk County Farm Bureau Executive Director Carole McKenzie. “You have to be, when you have so many variables like weather, pests, disease and regulatory hurdles to overcome just to get your product to market, and then hope for a market price where you maybe break even, and meanwhile planning to do it all again for the next season.”
The Polk County Farm Bureau (PCFB) is part of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation (FFBF), which boasted more than 132,500 members in 2021-2022. In 2022, Polk County Farm Bureau celebrated its 80th anniversary.
McKenzie, who oversees operational functions and all program implementation efforts, said the best part of her job is the people. “As a general rule, agriculture producers are servants to others, and as food producers, serving others is certainly in their foremost job description. I also enjoy experiencing their direct connection to the land. It’s inspiring to hear about their love of the land that they work every day, and in their voices when they are connecting to the larger community. When we do Ag Tours, those are the best days. That is when you see the light bulb turn on, and connections made. It’s those moments that you know you are in the right place, doing good things.”
McKenzie hopes she’s been able to be a good resource for members and answer their questions and provide needed information and representation. “We are a grassroots organization. The Farm Bureau depends on its members to direct the future of agricultural production. We need the voice of the producers to lead all of us, whether we’re consumers, lawmakers or communities. One thing we all have in common is, ‘If you ate today, thank a farmer.’ ”
Another high priority, she said, is “representing our members as their eyes, ears, and voice in legislative and regulatory forums. The world moves very quickly these days and without the Farm Bureau monitoring issues that can immediately do harm to a farmer or ranchers’ bottom line, they could be vulnerable, and may not be aware of the issue until it’s too late or very difficult to overcome.”
The Florida Farm Bureau has program areas in which Polk County Farm Bureau is consistently recognized at state Excellence Awards presentations:
- Agricultural Education & Promotion
- Legislative Outreach & Policy Development
- Public Relations
- Leadership Development
- Organizational Management
The Current State
Costs are a big problem for farmers, McKenzie said. “Depending on what specific commodities are being produced, as each has their own unique struggles, keeping costs down so that you can at least break even is always a challenge, and that is especially true now with the high costs we are all facing in almost every area of purchase.”
But there is certainly positive news: The bureau just moved to a new office at the Bartow Community Healthcare Foundation Building at 1350 E. Main Street.
“We feel a little bit closer to downtown Bartow and better tied to local community outreach initiatives. The decision to sell the former building was a sound financial decision that had been discussed for many years due to the PCFB Bartow building’s age and ongoing maintenance costs,” McKenzie said. The goal was to manage expenses and move programs forward. “PCFB’s board is well tuned to the legacy of this organization, and it’s now even more financially well positioned to continue to serve members and programs going forward.”
Board President Leigh Ann Wynn said the organization works hard. “I am so proud to be a part of this group of farmers and ranchers, and all the men and women associated with the agriculture industry through Farm Bureau. The work that is being done on the county, state and national level on our behalf is impressive.”
PCFB members are stakeholders in the Polk County Board of County Commissioners, city of Fort Meade and Central Florida Youth in Agriculture organization’s initiative to obtain $8 million in funding, land and a plan to build a new agricultural center. The center would include a practice arena, livestock stalls, a campground and two covered areas.
PCFB is also continuing its multi-year “Cultivating Rural-Urban Connections” Ag Tour/Webinar project with the Polk UF/IFAS Extension Service and multiple other community partners. The webinars will showcase the UF/IFAS research centers’ work in several fields, including:
- Agriculture Production Technology
- Environmental and Land Stewardship
- Market Supply and Demand
- Supply chain logistics
- Infrastructure and technology innovations and connections
- Talent and workforce attraction and retention
Continuing the leadership of the organization is a priority. “Polk County Farm Bureau has a tremendous model in place for continuing the leadership of the organization through our Young Farmer & Rancher program,” Wynn said. “Our goal is to continue working to support their progress and to help them tell their stories to the community.”
Newsperson of the Year
Nelson Kirkland, chair of the PCFB’s Public Relations Committee and publisher of its membership magazine, Central Florida Ag News, received the FFBF’s Newsperson of the Year award. A blueberry farmer himself, Kirkland partners with the Farm Bureau “to provide members and the general public with timely overviews of PCFB events, local, state and federal agriculture issues, and to promote Farm Bureau membership benefits,” according to an award of excellence application.
“The publication and its website distribute news and features that include AgriTech, AgriEdu, AgNews, AgriBiz, AgriGov, AgriYouth and AgLiving to nearly 52,000 readers and 1,300 locations across Central Florida,” it said. “Through collaboration with PCFB and a long list of industry contributors, readers get cutting-edge information on industry issues, such as production practices, labor issues, marketing trends, political activities, events, agricultural education and more.”
Kirkland believes in the work of the PCFB. “The Farm Bureau advocates on behalf of farm families on the local, state and national level. They represent farmers and rural communities. That representation helps farmers and ranchers to provide a domestic food source for our population, which is incredibly important.”
The PCFB runs many outreach programs in the community, involving female farmers and young farmers, hoping to introduce people to farming or keep them involved in a family business. Polk Young Farmer & Rancher and Women’s Committee members participated in events whenever possible to present agriculture advocacy information to the general public.
It also co-hosts the annual Central Florida Ag Deputy Luncheon with the Polk Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Unit. “Each year this event offers members the opportunity to speak one-on-one with agriculture deputies regarding agriculture crimes and protecting their business and property.”
All in all, McKenzie said, “I can’t think of any other community that I could possibly be prouder to serve than the Polk County agriculture community.”