Joe Carr, president and co-founder of Land to Market member brand Serenity Kids, explains the inspiring parallels between consciously raising children and regenerative agriculture—and how both give back to us in so many beautiful ways.
Raising Regenerative Kids
My grandparents were farmers, so I grew up witnessing their incredible connection with their land and animals, the hard work, and the serene lifestyle. After our daughter Della was born (the same day we launched our first Serenity Kids products), I discovered how they stewarded their land was a powerful model for how I want to raise my child.
We knew sourcing was key when we set out to make the most nutritious baby food possible. I wanted to support farmers like my grandparents and provide babies with the most nutritious and ethical meat. As an avid environmentalist, I also wanted to positively impact the planet. Enter regenerative agriculture! In addition to creating the most nutritious food, providing a harmonious lifestyle for the animal, sequestering carbon, and offering a thriving business for farmers, regenerative agriculture can also be a model for how we parent our children.
Just as I want to source our ingredients at Serenity Kids from farms that work to leave the land and Earth a better place, I want to raise my child in a way that makes her and the world better. Here’s how we take cues from regenerative farming to raise our daughter Della. I call it raising a regenerative kid.
What we feed them
A central aspect of regenerative agriculture is to allow animals to eat their natural diet, what nature intended them to eat. For example, cows are meant to eat grass and other ground plants, but to maximize output and profit, they’re often fed grains.
Cows' bodies aren’t designed to digest grains optimally, so that it can be detrimental to the health of their bodies, the quality of food they produce, and the planet. If we let them eat grass, they are healthier, their meat has more nutrition, and they can positively impact the planet. If we let animals eat what nature intended for them, their meat will have the nutrition nature intended for us. Studies have shown that grass-fed beef has more protein and omega-3 fats, plus many vitamins and minerals.
Just as an animal's diet affects the quality of their meat and impact, a child’s diet deeply impacts their health and life. So, how we feed our kids matters a lot. Part of raising a regenerative kid is feeding them healthy, balanced food that their bodies were intended to eat, ideally from regenerative sources. We can look to our ancestors to see what our bodies were intended to eat. Our ancestral diet was generally balanced in protein, fat, and whole-food carbs from animals, plants, nuts, and seeds. Processed foods were not popular until the Second World War, so our bodies evolved without them for hundreds of thousands of years. Our bodies were not designed to digest grains, sugars, additives, chemicals, and other man-made ingredients. Children especially need high-quality animal products, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates to get the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
The bottom line? You wouldn’t put apple juice in your car's gas tank and expect it to run properly, so we can’t expect the same of our animals and our children. So much of this is what inspires the mission behind our work and the quality of our products. Serenity Kids products contain healthy, balanced foods produced on regenerative farms.
Another regenerative agriculture concept is the scientific fact that animals' natural instincts (when not interrupted) lead them to achieve balance and benefit their environment. This means letting animals express their natural tendencies to benefit themselves and the Earth is important.
For example, chickens tend to scratch the ground for insects and worms. This innate behavior helps to mix in the soil and manure which helps to increase organic matter and improve soil health.
But it suppresses their natural tendencies when chickens are taken out of their natural habitats and forced to live in cages and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). This not only creates less happy and healthy animals, but it also harms the quality of their meat and the environment.
It turns out kids aren’t much different from animals in this way. I believe a child's natural tendency is to play, run, explore, try and fail, be creative, be curious, challenge boundaries, and express their full range of emotions. However, rigid rules in some school and home environments often suppress these natural tendencies. It isn’t uncommon for kids to be told to sit still, be quiet, play it safe, do as they’re told, and stop crying.
We embrace the natural tendencies of our daughter by giving her space to be her full energetic, creative self. We encourage her to express her full range of emotions, even when they are hard for us to handle. We let her take reasonable risks so she can learn from her own mistakes. We answer her endless questions. We listen when she has an idea, no matter how bizarre. We repeatedly take the time to explain the boundaries we set. We ensure all other caregivers understand this approach and have been blessed to find schools that share these values. Put simply, let kids be kids; they’re more likely to become balanced adults that improve the world.
Regenerative systems are based on pasture. This allows animals plenty of opportunities to move around and interact with other animals and the environment. And when they do, they thrive, and the land thrives.
There are still fences, so a farmer can keep track of their animals and graze them on the right pastures at the right time. So it’s not total chaos, but the animals experience a lot of freedom.
Similarly, children thrive when they have plenty of space to be outside, in nature, climb trees, run, crawl, get dirty, and take risks. I love to engage in safe rough play with my daughter, and I have since she was only six months old. It encourages extreme movement and healthy risk-taking. We also go on regular hikes and camping a few times a year.
Raising a pasture-raised kid also means giving them as much autonomy as possible within safe boundaries. It’s a parent’s job to set boundaries and keep our kids safe, but it’s also our job to teach them how to set their own boundaries and keep themselves safe. This requires that we regularly explain the boundary and only set ones that matter and aren’t an undue restriction on their freedom.
Soil microbial growth is one of the biggest indicators of a healthy ecosystem on a regenerative farm. When raising regenerative kids, the “soil” we want to cultivate is the family unit. A healthy family ecosystem means providing each other with unconditional love, acceptance, patience, and safety. It also means providing the space for everyone in the family to express their emotions, make mistakes, and still be loved.
Soil thrives with nourishment from compost, water, and care. Similarly, we can nourish our family soil with spiritual practices, holiday traditions, daily rituals, family dinners, and more. And remember, extended family, friends, and community all can influence our ecosystem, so we’re intentional about who we invite into our lives.
The Farmer’s Responsibility
The attitude of regenerative farmers like my grandparents was one of surrender. They didn’t believe they owned or controlled their land. Instead, regenerative farmers consider themselves stewards of their land. They feel privileged to serve the land and give it what it needs, and in return, the land gives them healthy food, fresh air, recreation, income, and more. Regenerative farmers accept that they cannot control the land or things that affect it, like weather, but they can play a role in influencing the land.
As parents, we can apply this same attitude. As farmers, we cannot control the environment; we can’t control our children. We can model the behavior and habits we hope they emulate—eating well, moving our bodies, engaging in self-care, expressing our emotions, and being kind. We can give them tools to manage complex situations and boundaries to keep them safe. Ultimately, we can’t control what they do or how they think or feel. The best we can do is be mindful of our behavior, create the best circumstances for them, and respond when support is needed. We are stewards, not owners.
A farm managed with care and consideration can invoke a sense of peace and serenity like I witnessed on my grandparent’s farm. We all felt that serenity just by being present there. Even as my grandparents faced struggles and worked hard, they found joy. There is joy in hard work when it is fulfilling, and you overcome challenges.
I channel the peace and serenity that farming invokes, even in the presence of challenge and uncertainty, into how I parent. I call it Serenity Parenting. Serenity Parenting involves moment-by-moment surrender—surrendering to what you can’t control and embracing the things you can. In this regard, I am called so often to the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I strive to parent from this place of surrender where we respond to what our child needs, model good behavior, set boundaries, and accept that there are things we can’t change. Like farming, parenting is hard work, but it is also an incredibly fulfilling and joyful experience. Regenerative farmers feel nourished by their farms, and we, too, can feel nourished by our kids.
In raising animals and in raising children, we have a choice to make. We can farm in a way that destroys the land, we can farm in a way that leaves the land as we found it, or we can farm in a way that makes the land and the Earth better. We can parent in a way that harms our kids, maintains the status quo, or makes our kids better and helps them improve us and the world. I want to give my daughter the best shot at being the best version of herself, as well as having an impact on the world. And I know, in return, she will leave me better, too.