Inside the TEDxDirigo conference

By MIKE MILIARD  |  September 14, 2011

Feed yourself first

Scarborough's Roger Doiron has a "subversive plot" — one that could "radically alter the balance of power" in this country, but will "only work if I share it with as many people as possible." The lowdown? Food is a form of power — and gardens, simple and green, offer ordinary folks the chance to take that power back into their own hands. The founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, which connects more than 20,000 people worldwide in a collaborative effort to relocalize the global food supply, Doiron is adamant that, in a world where resources are getting scarcer, but more food is needed than ever, it's time to redefine what food is (not pre-packaged and plumped up with high-fructose corn syrup), redefine what front yards look like (leafy and fruitful oases instead of empty lawns), redefine local food-sovereignty laws (the right to grow food where and how you see fit, and to sell your surplus) and otherwise "set garden entrepreneurism free."

Engage with the world

"The audience that we're developing have demonstrated the ability to create change," Adam Burk told the Phoenix's Deirdre Fulton last month, while conceding that there is "more for us to do" — especially when it comes to figuring out how to "sustain" all those great ideas once the attendees head back out into the real world, where the know-nothing Tea Party brays louder than ever and Paul LePage sits in Augusta, gazing longingly at a photo of the Koch brothers.

But in a country with a lot of problems — one whose populace can sometimes feel more polarized and mutually antagonistic than ever — it's better that events such as these exist than if they didn't. Good ideas, even if unrealized, count for something.

For all the enlightening notions proffered at TEDxDirigo about renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and more efficient and effective health-care delivery, one theme that kept cropping up was the need to expose oneself to people and ideas that are unfamiliar and different. To avoid easy classification and stereotyping.

Zadie Smith wrote in the New Yorker this week, "The rise of the Internet dovetailed with [a] tribalism" in the 10 years since 9/11. "You could pass a decade online without ever hearing from the 'other.'"

TEDxDirigo offered a valuable counterpoint to that head-in-the-sand worldview. Jeff Thaler made the powerful case that in this lazy age, massively mediated by television and computer screens, there is a "greater need to interact" than at any time in the past.

We're "more prone to indifference and bias and stereotype than ever before," he said. The antidote? "Get out of your chairs, push away from your screens, and open yourself to the unfamiliar."

Attracting changers:Portland's getting attention as a place on the grow

At lunchtime on Saturday, TEDxDirigo attendees headed across Congress Street to Maine College of Art, where students were hosting lunch. (TEDxDirigo is collaborating with MeCA on a public art project, "Inside/Out," that will take to the streets this November, timed to the mayoral elections.)

There I met Darrell Williams, founder and CEO of Eighteen Ventures, a Portland consulting firm aimed at helping IT startups navigate the capital investment process. He's a Maine native. Portland High. Bates. In fact, he said, he used to work in that very building, back when it was the Porteous department store.

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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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