Inside the TEDxDirigo conference

By MIKE MILIARD  |  September 14, 2011

Listen to the bees

"There's nothing like the magic of bees for changing your worldview," said Christy Hemenway. Indeed, the humble and industrious Apidae have a lot to tell us about the way we grow our food. Ever since Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture introduced the era of Big Ag, things have been a bit screwy. Monoculture farming, where one crop is grown en masse in one place, over and over again is "not how nature does things," she said. "Nature insists upon balance and diversity." That short-sighted model, where a single pest can destroy a whole crop, and year after year of homogeneity degrades the soil, necessitates the use of pesticides and fertilizers. That's not good for anyone — but perhaps least of all the bees. Since so-called colony collapse disorder first came to light several years back, no one's been able to single out a cause. But consensus is forming that our farming techniques could be contributing. Tug on one thing in nature and you'll find it's attached to everything else, said John Muir. The bees are attached to everything, said Hemenway — and they're "telling us our food system is broken."

No risk is too large

Kerem Durdag is CEO of Boothbay-based Biovation, which manufactures high-tech nonwoven fibers and textiles, derived from green sources. He worked at a string of investment and technology firms before that. And he's also a poet. He could consider a career as a spoken-word artist, too. Born in Pakistan to Turkish parents, Durdag is a Mainer emphatically on purpose. And his arm-waving, lung-busting, stage-striding reenactment of his long and comically mis-adventurous emigration from that hot, crowded land of "crazy, sweaty, mad beautiful people" to this country of swirling snowdrifts, Three Stooges, Swanson TV dinners, and scalding showers had the audience laughing hard. But Durdag's take-away was said in all seriousness. His bold risk-taking has led to an immeasurably better life. He implored the audience poetically to follow his lead: "Dive into the clearing. Dislocate. Fragment. Live, love, look beyond. Get lost. Become the other. Grab on."

Adapt successful models

Alan Lishness is the chief innovation officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Center. But lately he's been thinking a lot about the Finnish education system. Finland, after all, is "a lot like Maine" — its climate and topography are similar, and demographics are akin to ours — just at four times the scale. Finland, though, has arguably the best education system in the world, with just a 4 percent dropout rate (compared to 13 percent in Maine and 25 percent in the United States at large). In his impassioned and stat-packed speech, Lishness laid out his case for how we can make Maine more like Finland: the educational envy of the US. By emulating the hallmarks of the Finnish system — giving teachers the respect and autonomy they deserve, downplaying standardized tests and educational competition, emphasizing student self-reliance — he's convinced Maine can transform its schools to the point where the Pine Tree State becomes a byword for smarts. His dream, he said, is a country in which a job applicant gets the edge over the competition not because she went to an exclusive college or graduated cum laude, but simply "because she's from Maine."

Salve wounds

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Related: Spreading Maine ideas, The potential of TEDxDirigo, Twelve sweet ideas for Maine in 2012, More more >
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