24 Jun Mackenzie Dierks
A Career in Sustainability Or a Sustainable Career
In a world where sustainable agriculture must be at the forefront of marketing, production, and business for farmers and ranchers, it takes individuals like Mackenzie Dierks to help them document, manage, strategize and protect their business. Mackenzie is a Senior Associate at K Coe Isom, an agriculture business advising firm historically focused on accounting and tax, whose mission also includes the sustainability of your business.
Growing in Agriculture
Sustainability brings a lot of new faces into agriculture, but Mackenzie Dierks is no stranger to the world of agriculture. Growing up, she spent her weekends driving two and a half hours to eastern Iowa, where her family’s century farm was located. Managed by her aunt and father, she is the only one of the “kids” who has an agriculture background.
“We didn’t have FFA,” Mackenzie says about growing up in Des Moines, the capitol of Iowa. “There was talk of being vets, but no real active 4-H either.”
Living this dual life as a city-kid through the week and a farm-kid on the weekend, set Mackenzie up with a unique perspective that has allowed her success in her current career.
An internship out of college showed Mackenzie a passion for communications, where she “really enjoyed communicating the story of agriculture and what it is, where it’s coming from and how it’s getting to you.”
An opportunity arose for her to work for a small company that was contracted for a sustainable ag program for Pepsi Co. Sitting in those meetings and seeing the structure of sustainable ag conversations, Mackenzie found herself leaning in to a career direction she hadn’t anticipated.
Working in Sustainability
A big picture person, Mackenzie is also able to “get into the weeds” on a project, creating the stepping blocks and stones to get to that big picture end-goal. Her speciality is in animal welfare and food security, helping her to continue the communication of agriculture from farmer to production to store.
“It took a while to realize I was doing exactly what I had hoped to be doing!”
Finding Success in Unfamiliar Territory
With the complex diversity of ag sustainability, it’s not unheard of for Mackenzie to be handed a project that she knows nothing about. The first thing that Mackenzie does is research – something that she says she does more of now than when she was in college. Throughout college, Mackenzie’s goal was to get finished, but she has thoroughly enjoyed the ongoing education and learning that goes with her job, from finding opportunities, researching and making the connections to the right people and helping people protect their livelihoods.
“I am not an expert in everything by any stretch of the word,” she says, but she has been able to meet some great people. Helping connect these people is one of her favorite things!
K Coe Isom’s Sustainable Team Structure
The structure of the sustainability team with K Coe Isom is different than other teams because of a few things: there isn’t a sustainability team in every office, but there are people coast-to-coast, and each of those sustainable team members have a different area of expertise. Expertise can be poultry, swine, dairy, greenhouse gases, animal welfare, etc.
Sustainability – The Three-Legged Stool
- Financial Sustainability
- Environmental Sustainability
There is some way that every single one of Mackenzie’s projects can fit on to each of the three legs of the sustainability stool. For example, food safety can often end up on the social side because you are not just concerned with the health and nutrition, but you are also focusing on the consumers’ concerns. You want to make sure that the food is safe.
Nicknamed the “Document Queen,” Mackenzie’s time spent working with an audit company doing International Organization of Standardization (IOS) auditing meant that she became the queen of documenting everything!
“If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen!”
Helping people document their data and its connection to sustainability is something that Mackenzie enjoys in her current role. With the family farm, document keeping practices have gotten better over the years but she still finds notes scribbled on the back of envelopes or taped in random places. Documentation helps with bringing in new employees and making sure that they are completing tasks consistently.
“I’m really good at following the rules,” she says with a laugh, adding that she’s a “terrible auditor! I just want to help people!”
“What gets measured can get managed.”
Animal Welfare in the News
Animal Welfare has been prevalent on the news and good document keeping and using those documents can help protect your business. Having protocol written down, standards and codes posted, and other organizational methods are pertinent to ensuring that every employee, top to bottom, is involved and buying in to the culture necessary for success.
“…You are always learning something and you are never done learning. If you are a good listener, you’ll never be done learning!” says Mackenzie. “My dad always told us to ‘pay attention, ask questions, and have fun!’”
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