Sept. 14, 2021

How to Create a Conscious Capital Company with Kent Gregoire Ep. 35


Kent Gregoire is a serial entrepreneur. He launched his first manufacturing company at age 14. Since then, he has founded and led more than a dozen organizations. Throughout his entrepreneurial journey, Kent has also provided advisory, training, and coaching services to executive level management under the Symphony Advantage brand. Finally, he is an angel investor in purpose-driven companies as well as a sought-after speaker in the U.S. and beyond. Part of what makes Kent unique is his ‘why’, which consists of unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit for good. In fact, he’s one of seven certified conscious capitalism consultants in the world. Kent is also a husband, a part-time farmer in Vermont and, as of late, a the van-life enthusiast!

Where to Find Kent Gregoire

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Kent: Purpose driven S and P 500 companies outperform their traditional peers by four times. That is historically shown to be accurate. That's beyond with competitive advantage. That's a game changer. How real legacy is created. Welcome to fascinating entrepreneurs. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur?

[00:00:25] Natasha: How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit this and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and fascinating entrepreneurs. If you'd like to know how to scale and grow your business and make more.

Sign up on my website, natashamiller.co to get on the wait list for my entrepreneurial masters course

today we hear from Kent Gregoire was one of the very few certified conscious capitalists right now about how companies can really impact the world by focusing on the triple bottom line people, purpose and profit now let's get right into it. 

[00:01:19] Kent: My uncle had had this company for most of his working life. And instead of selling it off, he just did not have family that wanted it.

And he was kind of an odd duck and he decided to just not operate anymore many years had gone by. And I was really intrigued by it because he would make small batches of this product. It was called the Velvet and it was really extraordinary type of compounded cleaner. And so I managed convince him with a royalty agreement.

Being able to acquire the formula, but nothing else came with it. I simply had a formula and have to start from the very beginning, which was really exciting because I got to name it and, you know, got to figure out what kind of customers I thought the product would be best position for how to go out and find those customers.

And I was able to get most of the stores, hardware stores, marine stores, sometimes a novelty shop to pick the cleaner up on consignment. One of the cool things I did with this cleaner, it was in a glass jar. And then the top of the glass jar for every case of 24, there was a silver dollar in there. And my uncle did that as a promotional gimmick.

So I did take that one item and it was really a lot of fun because some of the stores I'd go into and I would actually demonstrate. So it was great on really good grown. I'd have bumper that was offered like a car maybe 19. I think some of the cars were as old as 1930s, and I would be able to get these bumpers and they'd have like surface rust and things on them, clean it because velvet excelled in everything that it claims.

[00:02:56] Natasha: Let's just get back to the big elephant in the room you were 14? 

[00:03:01] Kent: Yeah, I know. 

[00:03:02] Natasha: What kind of kid were you, like? 

[00:03:04] Kent: Yeah, I wasn't a nerd, but I definitely was like this leader type kid right out of the room. I'm not kidding you. I look back on my life and I realized everything I had to do is I had to take a risk and I needed to do something really extraordinary.

My father, and really an extraordinary entrepreneur. My mom had an inner blood as well in family. So entrepreneurship was just something that I did. I had other things that I give before that I just never, they were not specifically,

[00:03:30] Natasha: Oh, before 14, right? 

[00:03:33] Kent: Yeah. 

[00:03:33] Natasha: Did you mean on your parents for a lot of help? 

[00:03:37] Kent: I did, especially early on. So my grandfather would make these cutting boards. They were traditionally purchased by restaurants. So there are those cutting boards that had a steak knife in them. You really don't see them anymore, but they were wooden. And I managed to get my grandfather and I purchased them from him to make me a thousand of them for one holiday season.

And I wrapped the steak knife. Cause I could get those from my father's store. And I wrapped the steak knife and them put them in cellophane. I had a little card in them and I went door to door, selling them. Well, people liked them. Instead of buying one of them, they buy like 10 or 20 of them sometimes.

And so it was really a big pay day. I had another product like that and that gave me the confidence to say, yeah, let me see what I can do with this cleaning product. 

[00:04:19] Natasha: Okay, so most entrepreneurs talk about how they created a lemonade stand and scaled and grew that and had other kids selling for them or mowing lawns or selling candy.

This is the first that I've heard. Of something a little more sophisticated, a lot more sophisticated. So I can't wait to talk to you about the rest of your life and the rest of your entrepreneurial endeavors. Okay, another big question. Can you please describe to me and to the listeners? What is Conscious Capitalism?

[00:04:53] Kent: Yeah. Conscious Capitalism is capitalism. It's a new way of thinking about capitalism in that it's very focused on helping society and the environment. One of the things we hear a lot about are triple bottom line, profit, people, and planet conscious capitalism as a triple bottom line model. One of the things that distinguishes conscious capitalism from other forms of doing good, such as ESGs and CSRs and all these acronyms we hear is that it's an actual model.

And so when we take a look at it, work, everything that we do all begins with purpose and purpose is really, really essential. And the purpose is to address. Perhaps an improvement or literally solving a problem could be social inequality. It could be a challenge with a piece of a part of environment, but that's a piece of what conscious capitalism is really about.

And there's a lot of exciting things. I think it's an amazing time to be an entrepreneur. Because we get to have a much more meaningful purpose for? 

[00:05:58] Natasha: So Kent, are you saying that with conscious capitalism, it isn't a business entity that doesn't just have this afterthought of that triple P. But are you saying that the business itself is focused on solving this problem?

Or the net goes to solving another problem outside of the business itself? 

[00:06:21] Kent: Right. So ESGs would be like the net just solving another problem with conscious capitalism. It's how we operate. It's the core fabric of the business. So while we're solving specific problems with regard to our product or service for a customer's needs, we can actually operate that business in a way in which we're also solving another challenge for society and or the environment.

[00:06:46] Natasha: So talk to me about your particular business and how that works within what you're doing. 

[00:06:53] Kent: Yeah. So oftentimes it will happen as an entrepreneur. A CEO could be a small, medium, or much larger mid-market business will be faced with a challenge right now, staff shortage, you know, is really, really big and it's becoming a bigger challenge.

But I think the thing that's interesting about it COVID has definitely accelerated the challenge that we're seeing in the shortage. But it was already here and we know the importance of why technology needs to continue to move quickly because we're not going to have the bodies to ultimately solve the shortage in certain positions.

So when it comes to shortage, we're taking a look at how do you attract really? How do you engage and keep employees? The key here is around purpose and it's around involving all stakeholders who can help with developing and creating new value. That can be delivered not only to customers, but employees in the entire ecosystem, the more that the employees become involved in the value creation, the more that they find, it's the kind of place in which they want to work.

We have to match that up with other things around caring culture. And I can talk about that as well. But it's really important for many business owners to start this journey by saying, I have this business problem. How would you approach it? What new tools do you have from a conscious point of view that maybe we're not already familiar with?

We're not asking ourselves the right question. To get these more innovative ideas. And 

[00:08:20] Natasha: I'm assuming there's an exercise that visionaries leaders can do with their teams to discover what those things are. Is it sort of a core values situation or does it go deeper or is it separate from that?

[00:08:33] Kent: Core values are absolutely imperative to conscious capitalism and running the model.

It's really starting with this notion of higher purpose. We know, and we've seen extraordinary work done. Many of us are familiar with Simon Sinek's work. When we take a look at higher purpose, we definitely go much deeper than that work. So the reason we go deeper is because what we're trying to understand is businesses have a plan to solve problems.

What we're looking for is can they also be solving problems of society, a community, for example, Or the environment and it could be both. So when we look at higher purpose, we're really going much, much deeper, and it's the most strategic decision that a company can make. I think that's pretty cool because if it's the most strategic decision and now we know what a perfect.

And it really bonds everybody together, including all the stakeholders. Think of what the entrepreneur now is focused on. They have one thing to focus on every single day. 

[00:09:32] Natasha: That's the north star vision, right. 

[00:09:34] Kent: Is definitely the north star vision. 

[00:09:37] Natasha: Right. I had so many questions while you were talking and I didn't want to interrupt, but give us an example of a company that is doing this consciously and doing it well.

[00:09:48] Kent: Yeah. One of the companies I like to talk about. There's so many that comes to mind at this moment. It's true colors, brewing they're Wilmington, North Carolina. The CEO had been a successful entrepreneur already. He was sitting in his office in Wilmington and he heard a gunshot. A 16 year old black kid was killed.

It was around the holidays, as it turns out, gang violence in Wilmington, North Carolina is pretty high at the time and he said, this can't be this way anymore. Did a lot of research. And he understood that gangs were actually extremely beneficial for the community. And he understood why there were challenges with gangs, however, where this violence was coming from.

So he started a brewery. Of course before they can get into the business of brewery, he managed to get the gang members together and they became the employees. Other people from the community became so enthralled with this. They wanted to join in other stakeholders, joined him. Next thing we knew we have very successful brewery.

Well, gang violence continued to plummet in Wilmington, North Carolina. In this case here, a brewery has nothing to do with solving a societal issue. It's how they chose to approach business. Number two, what's really cool. Is George Taylor, the CEO senior. Plans on taking this to other places and bringing this model so others can use it.

And it may be for a brewery and maybe for another business where there are challenges with gang violence. That's a good example of higher purpose. 

[00:11:23] Natasha: I really, really loved that. And I'm wondering was the decline in gang violence because of the true good feelings of confidence that these gang members stained.

Was it them seeing themselves in an atmosphere of higher power, higher reason, and how do they split off that mentality of the fight or flight? The gang mentality, even though you're in this environment, that's pretty positive. 

[00:11:55] Kent: Yeah. So as it turns out, there were some really great examples. I won't share those right now, but just suffice to say that human can go through some really challenging conditions.

And once they find a purpose in life, they'll move beyond that position very quickly and it moves their mindset. So it was a lot of work done by George Taylor and his team with these gang members to help them get connected through. To see that their life really mattered and that they could contribute to their community and to society at large, that was number one.

Number two. Yes. Confidence was a really big piece. And so a lot of work was done around confidence. Another piece that's really important to recognize is financially. One of the reasons that gang members, people choose to join gangs is to have a way to be able to make money. And in this case here, they are able to now find a new way of making money and be part of a cooperative environment.

So they would do better than just simply make money. This would be helping them thrive in their life and to give back to their community in all different ways, um, be able to have a family and feel that they're, I'm going to leave a legacy when they leave. 

[00:13:03] Natasha: That's such a great sentiment. I can see that, you know, in any population there's going to be leaders and entrepreneurial thinkers, and that's not going to be different on the streets and the gangs.

There's still going to be people it's where they're funneling and focusing their energy. It's a great turnaround. So going back to your own business, scaling and growth seem like it probably feels different for you rather than revenue, better profits. When you scale and grow businesses, you're really impacting the world truly.

So the question that I asked a lot of entrepreneurs that I truly want to know on my own. It's going to be through a different lens. So when you are thinking about scaling and growing your company this year, what was the strategy or tactic that you were looking at? Really doubling down and focusing on?

[00:13:56] Kent: Well, the first thing with regard to scaling a scaling as a sustainable business, which then. That it's taking a long-term focus. We certainly understand we have to make profit. We have to have cash in order to operate the business and the cash fuels the greater good towards the purpose and the mission of the organization.

But being very focused on what is it. If we're going to make a decision, do it ethically who don't have don't allow trade-offs and make sure that it is going to have a positive impact to stakeholders. Now that doesn't mean that it's going to impact all stakeholders. Positively at the same amount, it may impact some stakeholders.

The key is in a trade-off isn't just say something like, wow, we can do this over here. If we pay our employees less money, or those trade offs are what we want to avoid, we want to find out how can we actually continue to really think about business in terms of an abundance of not the Wu abundance, which is fine, but in terms of abundance, it's not limited.

There is an enormous amount of growth that can happen in a conscious company. Like a good tidbit. You didn't ask me, but a good tidbit that your listeners may be interested in knowing purpose driven S and P 500 company outperform their traditional peers by four times, that is historically shown to the Akron purpose-driven S and P 500 companies outperform their peers.

Historically speaking four times, that's beyond the competitive advantage. That's a game changer. How real legacy has created. 

[00:15:38] Natasha: It doesn't surprise me that they perform four times more, but I can see how entrepreneurs, it would be hard to get their minds around it. So can you give an example of one or two of those companies that are really nailing it?

[00:15:55] Kent: The company Chobani many listeners may know Chobani yogurt company. What a great story. Yeah, understood very much about caring culture and the CEO I'm going to say about two years ago gave pretty good percentage of the company away to the employees, on wall street thought he was absolutely crazy. It didn't make any sense.

And at the end of the day, the company just grew by leaps and bounds. The employee's lives are thriving. They do an extraordinarily good job of involving all of their stakeholders. Stakeholders is the magic to creating innovation and innovation is such a big word. Let's just break it down. How about if just incrementally every single day, we're finding ways to create new value for our customer.

Maybe even our employees or other stakeholders as we create that new value, the companies will grow exponentially. And I happen to really like that aspect of stakeholder management because the payoff is extraordinary. But as an entrepreneur, you have so many stakeholders, you can draw upon to get the diversity of thinking, to create the opportunities.

[00:17:10] Natasha: And are these companies creating a system in which their employees are all owners of the company in some way? 

[00:17:17] Kent: You see it happening more and more? It's certainly helpful, but it's not necessary. We've seen breweries do it. We've seen many different companies, even retail organizations that oftentimes we would think would be owned by really a big giant have begun to find ways to have employees not just simply earning away.

But how can they to create some wealth, to move them into doing greater things in their life, but to be able to do more things for society and the planet and direct where they want their efforts to go to help create the stability. The financial stability for retirement is become a reason more and more organizations are willing to share more of the company, not just through an Aesop.

Aesop is one form we're seeing different flavors of cooperative. There's here in Boston is up brewery. That turned into a cooperative. When you walk in. 

[00:18:12] Natasha: What is it with you and the breweries, Kent? 

[00:18:15] Kent: Oh yeah. I am a Vermonter and we do like our beer. We are quite well known for great breweries and. On occasion, I will enjoy IPA's or an occasional sour or something.

They're quite good. Yeah. It is interesting. And keep giving brewery stories. It's a little coincidental, but the one here in Boston, it's amazing. When you walk in the door and this relatively small startup three, four years ago, it has a completely different feel when you're interacting with the team members, it feels completely different.

They each take pride in what they're doing. Nope. Well, they may each have roles and responsibilities. They're not firm and they don't put up the guard rails. They want employees to think about how are we going to serve our customers? How are we better than to take care of and collaborate with our stakeholders?

How are we going to be doing something that makes a difference for environment, for our community and our environment. And they're working on both community and environment in their process of beer-making on the environment side, in the community. It's to create an example of a workplace that's extraordinary.

And to give people hope that was much like the American dream of owning your first home. They want to give these employees and opportunity for hope in terms of being able to have. A meaningful life and to feel like their impact does allow them to leave a legacy. 

[00:19:44] Natasha: It seems like it's the buy-in and the mindset that is the most important and not necessarily the traditional and the ownership, the Aesop that really is the game changer.

[00:20:03] Kent: Engagement, I think has become such a word that we hear it all the time. We either have engagement in our companies or we don't in terms of employee engagement. And the reality is engagement as a result, just like profit. What is it? That's going to create the opportunity. In which it just so happens to me that the employees are also highly engaged.

I'm frequently quite surprised when I talk with CEOs of companies, they say, oh yeah, we have an amazing culture. And our employees are really highly engaged. And then they asked me to come in and do some discovery work and our team has taking a look at it and it could be usually anything but highly engaged because we have really lost our way to understand what it really takes.

To receive highly engagement. It's not what it used to be. We had a lot of focus on accountability, you know, and accountability. It was all about accountability and everything that led up to it to create high engaged Ching team-based cultures. And now it looks very different. Employees want to feel cared for, and they want to be in this environment.

That truly is trusting. That means that it's leaders are authentic. Things are transparent. There are no gangs. Things are not being done to manipulate the workforce into behaving differently. And that would be a big distinct wishing difference. If you were to ask me what the difference in the workforces are, it's not a manipulative workforce in a Conscious Company

they're doing the things from a place of heart center. And that becomes a way in which all the employees through purpose come together to create that culture that's caring. 

[00:21:47] Natasha: One company comes to mind, I don't know if they're looking at their company through this lens that you're talking about specifically, but it's, John's crazy socks. Do you know that? 

[00:21:59] Kent: I do. 

[00:22:02] Natasha: I interviewed them a couple of months ago and it just really, it was one of the most touching interviews. I literally shed tears when we were done, because I was so it all made sense, but they were saying, but then to hear it from the source and see, it was just really uplifting. And I got one of the first good job mom for my daughter after that interview.

Because it's meaningful, more meaningful to her at 26 to see me doing something like this that is making impact. So I got the thumbs up, which was wonderful. 

[00:22:37] Kent: Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah. Great story. They're doing an amazing job. I don't know if they're following the Conscious Capitalism model. But they're doing an extraordinary job and they're making a difference in so many people's lives, without a doubt, they must be really understanding and applying stakeholder management, which would be a big piece.

And they clearly have a very deep purpose and they're creative, 

[00:23:00] Natasha: They're more intuitive for them. And, and a lot of what you're talking about, I feel like I do within my company. Not to the T, but I'm wondering as we're talking, how difficult would it be for a larger company, $10, $20 million in revenue to then reframe their business and say, you know what I want to, and we need to do this for our company and we didn't have it instilled before.

What is that process like? 

[00:23:28] Kent: Yeah, it is possible. And it does happen. I want to share a name of a company out of Atlanta. It's One Nine. Now this story very well. I was not part of this story and there's a film that's being premiered in Atlanta next week. I'll be there for it. It's called the company is called Interface.

Interface carpet manufacturing company. One of the dirtiest businesses on the planet is carpet. Just imagine all of the reasons why it's dirty from petroleums to the waste, everything in between now, 25 plus years ago, the founder and CEO, Rand are sent out at the time. Now the late Rand or some, he was prompted by

person on his team. Let's say it's an intrepreneur great term. We like to use this day of said, we need to do something. We're literally destroying the planet. We've got to take this more seriously. And Ray had no idea what he was talking about. He goes, and he does some research. In a relatively short period of time, he got it and said, you know what?

We need to start doing things differently. Of course, he told his team and they did this at a meeting what's known as Sarah and be in Atlanta. And his team looked at him and I was like, you've got to be crazy. We can't do this. This is impossible. This is just not going to happen. They walk away, they shake their head and they realize in a very short period of time, Ray was not changing what he planned on doing and what he needed everybody to join.

So they created a really deep purpose. And the first thing they worked on is how are we going to get to essentially carbon neutral, the easiest way to describe it as carbon neutral and right. That's the mandate. We've got to get to carbon neutral. You've got 15 years or 20 years. I don't remember what the period of time did make that happen.

The company actually exceeded the goal and now they're going beyond zero there's. One thing I personally think is fascinating about, well, two things. I think it's fascinating about this company. First of all, this all took place 25 years ago in a company that was a fairly good size. And in multiple markets on the globe, number one, number two, none of those carpet tiles.

I'm not saying they invented the carpet tile, although it is possible. They did what they did do. However, last year they came out with carpet tiles. That's the question, the carbon from the environment or is it within the tiles? Now, this is one of the most extraordinary stories. There is. I'm happy to be a part of bringing the story to the world.

One of many, because it has so many facets to it. So many people who were involved in making it. Then speak about the story that are interviewed in the field. Some of them still work there today, and some are just simply advocates to other companies because their work was so extraordinary from a planetary point of view, from environment that it gives me great hope to companies of all sizes to realize you can be in a business like carpet manufacturing, and still make an extraordinary difference.

[00:26:27] Natasha: And they were able to do this way before this was a big thing and make it affordable. For the market, I mean, I think this is a good example. If they can do it, then there's no stopping anyone from thinking outside of the box. And I'm just thinking, what are some of the worst polluting entities? So interesting.

[00:26:50] Kent: So, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're one of seven official Conscious Capitalists. Is that correct? Yes, a Certified Conscious Capitalism Consultant. I was the seventh one. I believe we now have an eight and I was in the first seven to be certified. And it was an amazing journey. I actually did my case study on a business owner here in Boston, who the furthest thing from his mind was conscious capitalism.

The greatest thing on his mind was survival of his company. And that was a day by day situation. And it was not a typical client engagement I would have signed on to either, but this entrepreneur, I knew I really wanted the help. I had the time and jumped in and through a relatively short period of time, we corrected things really quick.

We use the higher purpose, the stakeholder orientation. We did a number of things very quickly, but what really started changing his heart was the opportunity to not just see that that worked, but to understand that operating from this point of view, Could create a company that could leave a legacy and was really interested in leaving a legacy still relatively young, but that was more important to them.

How am I going to make an impact? How can I leave a legacy for future generations? How can I help people thrive in their lives? My employees and others? That's deep to this entrepreneur is heart. 

[00:28:18] Natasha: And how quick is quickly, very quickly. 

[00:28:24] Kent: Well, the first thing we had to do in there, which was quickly is identify where the challenges were in the organization and that men conversations with stakeholders, the here was the one thing that happened.

And it was a little bit of an experiment at that point on my part, because I had done this work. Exactly. The first thing was let's put together a plan and let's avoid trade-offs in the plan. Sure. We've got to make some really quick decisions and we've got a right to cash flow here, or things are not going to be good.

But we also need to take a look at the long term. So therefore, if we're going to do that, we're not going to accept trade-offs not accepting trade-offs was really, really hard because companies that are focused on profits do it all day long. And that's why there's so many ethical problems. So when we did this, we were able to then go to those stakeholders, banks, financial institutions, prior investors, shareholders, suppliers,

others. We were able to go to those individuals, show them a plan. And the plan was not like one they had ever seen before. They had quick confidence in the plan. And literally in each of those first meetings approved the proposal. And some of them were very, very, very big in terms of asking them to help be a part of the solution.

So like they weren't told what had to happen. It was presenting with a plan. What some of the options were, which one can you help us with? And in most situations they actually did more than, than was even suggested. 

[00:29:53] Natasha: So beside doing this podcast with me and others and speaking, which I know you do, how are you getting this message out to the world?

[00:30:03] Kent: Yeah, the thought leadership is a really big part of this. Um, continuing to develop it in even written format, just conversations flabbergasted. I was on vacation in a quit name, beautiful restaurant, seated outdoors at a t-shirt on somebody recognize the common logo that so many people in this organization that I belong to see.

It's struck up a conversation. I find so often that when another entrepreneur is around and you're just having a conversation, there's no agenda. Just having a conversation they sent something's different. My talk is not the same about business. I begin to speak differently and they're very, very interested.

And then all of a sudden that leads to an introduction which then leads to a speaking engagement or a client engagement. So that's a really big way. We also, within the Conscious Capitalism movement have chapters I'm on the Board of Conscious Capitalism, Boston. I'll be going to the CEO. Which is a really big privilege to go to companies, have to qualify to go.

I am going as a qualifying company and I then before it's not where consultants go. It's for CEOs running pretty large companies. And that's another point. In which we band together and we're all out there talking about conscious capitalism, the movement, and how to bring people in to meet them where they're at.

I think that's really important. This is not an agenda to change people's minds. This is an invitation to begin to think differently because frankly, to have a scalable and a sustainable business, it becomes very competitive. But what I'm talking about is no longer going to be a choice in time. Those who don't do it are actually not going to probably fare very well.

Where seven out of 10 Americans believe that it's business's obligation to correct societal and environmental issues. Seven out of 10 Americans. It's pretty startling. 

[00:32:12] Natasha: us through the possibilities of creating a conscious based company that impacts everyone from the employees to the local and broader community in such a positive way to learn more about Kent, go to the show notes for your listening to this podcast.

For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast now. I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Kent Gregoire

Founder and CEO

Kent Gregoire is a serial entrepreneur. He launched his first manufacturing company at age 14. Since then, he has founded and led more than a dozen organizations. Throughout his entrepreneurial journey, Kent has also provided advisory, training, and coaching services to executive level management under the Symphony Advantage brand. Finally, he is an angel investor in purpose-driven companies as well as a sought-after speaker in the U.S. and beyond. Part of what makes Kent unique is his ‘why’, which consists of unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit for good. In fact, he’s one of seven certified conscious capitalism consultants in the world. Kent is also a husband, a part-time farmer in Vermont and, as of late, a the van-life enthusiast!