The Regenerative Economy: What Does the Future Hold?

August 31, 2016 | Randi Kenney | HCI
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I recently had the unforgettable opportunity to spend the weekend at Polyface Farms, a place where there is no cell phone service and I did not call or text anyone for three full days. The picturesque rolling pastures are open for visitors nearly every day, but this weekend was special. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface, and his family were hosting a special event in support of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, so I was privileged to experience a farm tour, Q&A sessions with thought leaders and even an Ancestral Health Brunch with talks from some of my favorite leaders in the ancestral health movement.

I was a little star-struck in the company of Joel Salatin, Robb Wolf and Dallas Hartwig. But I digress.

What does this little farming adventure have to do with HR? I didn’t think it would have anything to do with my day-to-day, as my food-related interests don’t really filter into my work all that often (except, perhaps, during the lunch hour. And breakfast hour. And second breakfast hour…) But imagine my surprise to hear so many farmers, new and old, talking about the future of the economy and what Millennials have in store for us.

Talent acquisition professionals the world over are talking about Millennials. Who are they? What do they want? What is the deal with PokemonGO? What could I possibly have learned about them on a farm in rural Virginia where even a GPS doesn’t work?

After our farm tour (and delicious lunch of pastured chicken and pork, peaches and apples from a local orchard, fresh vegetables… you get the idea), Joel Salatin and his son Daniel sat down on bales of hay with other attendees to just talk about what’s happening in our world. As a non-farmer, I was surprised to suddenly hear the conversation turn to a discussion about Millennials and how they are shaking things up. I thought to myself, “Well this topic sounds familiar!”

Joel believes we have moved beyond the information economy to the regenerative economy. People are actively seeking a return to a “cleaner” way of life, whether that means eating organic, using solar energy or driving an electric car. Joel has built his farm on the principle of regenerating the earth. The principles he uses to characterize his farm are the exact same principles that Millennials seek in their workplaces. Despite being raised on digital devices, Millennials are finding immense satisfaction as interns and apprentices on Joel’s farm and on regenerative farms nationwide. How could this possibly be?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and breakfast at Polyface is one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The key values that drive culture at Polyface are the same values that Millennials seek in their workplaces, regardless of the industry. Let’s take a look.

Polyface Guiding Principle

Millennial Workplace Ideal

TRANSPARENCY: Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible.

Millennials want to feel as though their work has a greater meaning and purpose. They want to be proud of their company’s reputation.

INDIVIDUALITY: Plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.

Millennials want to be themselves. They take pride in their individuality and desire the freedom to express their own strengths to get the work done, without being micromanaged.

COMMUNITY: We do not ship food. We should all seek food closer to home, in our foodshed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens.

Millennials care about people—their coworkers, their leaders, their customers. They want to establish meaningful connections with groups that encourage collaboration, innovation and create a culture of mutual support.

As you’re crafting your value proposition, your company culture and your candidate and employee experiences, ask yourself. Are you creating a culture people would want to participate in, even if they were walking through a dewy pasture dodging cow pies at 6:00am? If not, what’s holding you back?