The Latitude Movement is an idea with three legs. Each of these legs is its own small world, and these legs combine to provide what I think is a solid platform for local communities to connect globally- The Latitude Movement.
Leg 1/Idea 1: Local has magic. Power. Impact. I know this because I have spent over ten years working in local movements- the local food movement specifically. Local has power because we can see the impact of our actions, and we feel that our work matters. Local is effective because of the roots we have in a community and the set of relationships that allow us to get things done, move small mountains on the local level. Local is human scale, and to some degree, we are able to shape the local world in ways that become so much harder on a larger scale.
Here’s the thing that my work experience has taught me- as soon as we begin to ask- how can we integrate all of our local efforts into a larger movement, or a more coordinated national and international strategy, we almost always lose the magic of local. Only rarely have we seen any kind of movement with serious sustained power on a larger stage. Inevitably the magic fades away. This is politics, this is larger organizations and the complexity of them, but there is a more simple aspect to this, to which many of us can relate- that we can’t scale local without losing some of the magic.
I remember when I was invited to join a regional food system council, bringing together leaders from various parts of a wider area to look at how we could coordinate efforts to improve and build a better food system for the future. This and other experiences helped me understand that while these kinds of efforts are important, the magic was out of the room. We were another layer removed from the direct connections and relationships and flavors of fresh food from vital farms.
When we try to scale local movements, we end up with a similar organizational structure- leaders of localities meet in regions, then leaders from regions meet up in a national capacity, and then leaders from the national structure meet up internationally. By the time we take something which starts local to a global stage, we find the magic and zest is missing.
Am I saying that an organization focused locally is more effective than one focused on global issues? No not at all. What I am saying is the heard learned and experienced Magic of Local we can call it- when we work on smaller scale projects focused on the local level, and to me it is interesting that it is so hard to scale these projects in ways that don’t become bureaucratic, stale, or kind of lacking in sustainable umph.
I know there are exceptions, so I am speaking more broadly that there is power in local, that there is something which is very hard to replicate on a global level.
Idea 1 is therefore an appreciation of the magic of local, and a curiosity of how the magic and power of local can be brought into a global context while retaining that magic. And perhaps an added aspect of Idea 1 is that I think many of us who do local work think of it in terms of helping to change the world, but it is hard to connect those dots, between our local community work and the rest of the world in actual terms, and organizationally, and to some extent, this idea remains kind of conceptual, kind of vague. OK I am thinking globally but acting locally, but am I not also acting globally, and how can this be more consciously integrated without losing the power and magic of my local work?
Local has magic, and I want to experience this magic in a sustained and tangible global i. This is idea 1. And it is not necessarily a new one. I am sure any of us have experienced this in our lives, how the process of something local getting big changes the dynamics of that thing, and how it also loses a bit of that original lustre- this is almost impossible to avoid, and yes I am sure we can come up with exceptions.
Idea 2/Leg 2 of this little wooden stool called the Latitude Movement is that people on the same latitude around the world have something profound in common- Sunlight – and more specifically, the exact same amount of sunlight each and every day. Now, to some extent this is fairly obvious if we study a little bit about how the earth rotates around the sun, and we know that the Northern hemisphere get more exposure to the sun half the year, and then the Southern Hemisphere is more exposed to the sun, and that as you go further North or South, those seasonal impacts are more intense. At the poles we have days where the sun doesn’t appear for long stretches, and other stretches where it never sets at all. At the equator- perhaps our most famous latitude line of all, the amount of sun is the same each and every day, with no change year round at all. In Vermont, we are somewhere close to in between the North Pole and the Equator. But I want to come back to the original point, which is that wherever you stand in the world, people and places directly east and west of you will have the exact same amount of sunlight each and every day. And what really impacted me, when this point really hit home, was when we moved, after ten years of farming, and working with the sun in Virginia, up here to Vermont. It wasn’t just moving North, I quickly realized it was moving into an entirely different relationship with the sun. The growing season isn’t just shorter for vegetables, it is also more intense. Crops literally grow twice as fast, or at least that is how it felt, and my gosh, this is a very different reality, yet one shared by everyone East and West of me here in Vermont. So latitude is a real ‘something-in-common’ that we have with others along our same latitude line, a real platform for connection for communities along latitude line.
Idea 2 is also not new- there are historical realizations that latitude is a natural connection, but I think in today’s age, where we can connect with and travel the whole world to a certain extent, that we lose sight of this specific connection we have of communities East and West- the latitude connection.
Idea 3/Leg 3- I am amazed how hard it is to sustain something. How many of the projects that we start, if we sort of let them go, they disappear or fade away. Some would say, well the project wasn’t meant to succeed then. I don’t know about that- I think there are many amazing projects which have endured that also take an incredible amount of energy to keep going. Idea 3 is that perhaps the easiest project to sustain is the potluck. I create a dish, you create a dish, someone else and suddenly we have a feast! And if I look at the different things I have been a part of, the one that seems to keep going, yes with energy, but a kind of shared potluck energy, is CRAFT- a program of farmer tours and training, where basically a network of local farms comes up with a schedule, and the workers from those farms meet up , have a potluck, and tour the farm. Learning happens, networking happens, and the experience and learning improves, with very little effort.
These are the three legs.