I’ve been asked that question more than a few times in the three weeks since we became employee owned. The answer? I am starting to feel the soil under my feet again, my shoulders definitely feel lighter, and an unfamiliar smile keeps settling on my face. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I think my fellow co-owners are smiling more too, and everyone’s energy has gone up a gear.
I knew it was the right choice on the day: when we had the best party the farm has ever seen, full of spontaneity and joy; when my staff gave me a seat fashioned from the remains of last winter’s fallen oak; when we all signed a giant scroll as witnesses to the occasion; when several staff, old and new, spoke movingly of what Riverford means to them and their hopes for our future, to rapturous applause; when I found myself standing on the shoulders of two acrobats with a rose in my teeth… but most of all when I staggered off, inebriated and overwhelmed, to take a few minutes on my own and enjoy dusk falling into the valley. For years I have loved that view, across the fields that I have walked, planted, and hoed so many times – over the reservoir where my children learnt to swim, to the wood-shrouded Tor Hill. After a few moments, I saw that I was not alone: four equally inebriated, previously landless co-owners were also taking in the landscape. I shook myself when I realised it was no longer mine – to do with as I pleased, to share if I wanted, or not if I didn’t. Now it was ours, forever, with no going back. To my surprise and relief, in the last light of a perfect day, that felt perfect – and it still feels perfect three weeks later.
My smile stems from the conviction that together we have taken action and made a small change. I often return to this quote from Chomsky: “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.” To have sown a seed of hope and made a step towards the world I want to live in seems a very good reason to smile. So… it feels good. Some rain would make it even better.