By Erica Rapp and Andrew Jason
Event photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
By Erica Rapp and Andrew Jason
Get ready to be inspired, Fargo, because one of the biggest TEDx events in the country is happening again in Fargo this summer. This year’s TEDxFargo event is going to be one for the books, and you’re going to want to be there. We talked to event co-organizer mark staples about this year’s plans and also got the chance to talk with a few of this year’s inspirational speakers.
*Click the various tabs below to read extended interviews with some of this year’s TEDxFargo speakers.
Since 1984, TED has been sweeping the nation and bringing people together. For those unfamiliar, TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas. It is most well known for TEDx events — local, self-organized events that bring people together to talk about a variety of topics, problems and passions.
In 2012, Greg Tehven, co-founder of Emerging Prairie, brought the first TEDx event to Fargo with a total attendance of 100 people. This year, according to co-organizer Mark Staples, TEDxFargo is shooting for 2,400 people, a significant growth from last year’s 1,800. In addition to 20 speakers again, Staples also stated that speakers were chosen a little differently in comparison to years past, which sticks with this year’s theme of acceleration in the community.
“Greg (Tehven) and Dr. Sue Mathison (co-organizer) sat down and asked, ‘OK, what are some problems in our community that we want to solve?’” said Staples. “It’s more problem-based and then finding a solution, and who in the nation or world would have the best solution to that problem, and trying to get them to come and talk.”
Transforming The Civic Center
TEDxFargo has an almost festival-like vibe. Anyone who walks into the Civic Center, thanks to Livewire Entertainment, will be greeted with an entirely different space. Although plans are still being finalized, Staples claims that guests will be impressed.
“It’s breathing new and exciting life into the Civic Center that usually isn’t there,” said Staples. “I’ve been to a few TEDx events around the country and I think what we really do is take a lot of time and dedicate it to planning out the experience for people.”
One of the unique aspects of TEDxFargo is the auxiliary events that will be happening outside of the main event schedule. Staples explained that they are planning on hosting various activities with the speakers so more local organizations can get involved and attendants can get more out of the event.
“We’re trying to set up these auxiliary events so that we can maximize the impact of having these speakers in town, so we’re increasing the number of those this year,” said Staples. “Those surrounding events are really what’s going to make it unique to Fargo in comparison to other cities. It’s a great opportunity to do things right and apply ideas into the community while those people are here.”
Whether it’s a special lunch, a night market, panel conversation, alleyway festival or maybe even a marshmallow roasting like last year, there’s going to be quite a few ways for people to get actively involved with the individuals that will be sharing their ideas.
In addition to the surrounding events of TEDxFargo, Staples said they are including unique ways to get attendants to do something in town that they wouldn’t normally do on a regular basis, such as using the Bike Share to get to all of the activities with a special TEDxFargo discount or having guests park outside of Downtown Fargo and use the LinkFM bus to get to the Civic Center. The list truly goes on and on, and one can only discover the possibilities that TEDxFargo holds simply by attending.
TEDxFargo Speaker Preview
When Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were approaching age 30, they had six-figure jobs, luxury cars and large houses but realized they weren’t satisfied with their lives, nor were they happy. In 2011, they left their corporate careers to pursue a life of minimalism in order to make more time for what matters most to them and live a more meaningful life without all the clutter. Three books, multiple worldwide tours, hundreds of essays and online sessions, a health podcast, countless TV show appearances, many speaking events, a No. 1 theatrical documentary and much more later, this duo is working to spread the idea of minimalism around the world in hopes that it changes lives like it did theirs.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been working on for the past few years?
Joshua Fields Millburn: “About six years ago, we started a website called theminimalists.com, since then, we’ve done a bunch of things to try and contribute to the world in a meaningful way. Ryan and I have published three books. The one that is most known is Everything That Remains, it’s a best-selling book and it’s a memoir about the five years of our lives from being these suit-and-tie corporate guys to being minimalists and on a more meaningful path in life. We’ve written the three books, we have toured all over the place, we’ve spoken all over the place–places like Harvard Business School and Apple. We’ve written hundreds of essays on minimalism, which is nearing 5 million readers at this point. And we just started a podcast at the beginning of this year, which has been an interesting journey for us. We’ve been able to reach nearly a million people there with that platform. We started out writing, but it has really turned into a multi-media project and we’re constantly finding new ways to spread the word about minimalism, about intentional living, about living a meaningful life with less. That’s why, about three years ago, we started filming a documentary, so we went out and interviewed minimalists from all different walks of life: minimalist families, entrepreneurs, architects, writers, environmentalists, tiny house enthusiasts, all of these different things. The documentary is called “Minimalism: A Documentary about The Important Things.” It just came out in theaters last month and it’s currently the number one documentary theatrical release of 2016. It has been an amazing journey. It’s being shown in 400 cities throughout the U.S. and it will be in Canada next week and Australia next month. It’s just another avenue, another path, another vehicle with which we can communicate this simple living message.”
What do you hope for Fargoans to gain out of your talk at TEDxFargo?
Joshua Fields Millburn: “Fargo is one of my favorite cities on Earth, and I would have never said that five years ago but, ever since I’ve been involved with the folks over at Misfits there … They asked us to speak at their very first conference and I had no idea what it was. And we went out and found an amazing community there with the Misfits, but realized that it was really an extension of the great Fargo community. So I met people like Greg (Tehven, TEDxFargo founder) and all sorts of people in the Fargo community there. What I learned is that there is a lot of culture per capita in a place like Fargo, it’s like a very big small town. What I love about the culture there is that it seems very connected, and what I hope to bring to the table is another perspective really. Ryan and I, that’s what we master in, is providing a new perspective and a new template. It’s about realizing that the American dream is simply a path, but it is not THE path for a more meaningful life. What we hope to do is try to communicate what our values are and then show people one of the paths, which we call minimalism.”
What would you say was the No. 1 change you experienced when you started leading a life of minimalism?
Ryan Nicodemus: “I guess, the old Ryan of yesteryear, like six years ago, I was someone who was very busy, but not necessarily focused. If you would have asked me when I was in my mid-20s what my priorities were, I would have maybe said my house or my relationships. Instead of spending time with the people that mattered most to me, I was spending more time with co-workers and networking buddies and other influential people in the community. But what I learned through this practice of minimalism is that our priorities are not always what we say we do. Our priorities are what we actually do with our time. I think what minimalism does is that it allows us to clear the clutter out of the way to not only make room for important things and finding out what our priorities are, but it also allows us to find the time and ways to give those priorities our attention. That’s kind of where minimalism has led me.”
JMF: “The fundamental lesson that I’ve learned is to love people and use things, because the opposite never works. That was a small but a profound ship that I learned in my life, realizing that I had given so much meaning to my stuff. But the stuff only had the meaning that I gave it. I was so focused on success, achievement and the accumulation of trinkets that I lost sight of what was important. There was a point in my late ’20s where I was living the American dream, but I realized that it wasn’t my dream. It got to the point where I had everything I ever wanted, but it took getting there to realize that everything I ever wanted wasn’t actually what I wanted at all. I couldn’t keep chasing happiness. I think if we just keep chasing happiness, it will lead to discontent. If you can lead a meaningful life, then happiness is a beautiful byproduct.”
Speaking of priorities and making time for them, does that ever get hard with all of the extra media chaos that comes with being in such a public light? Do you ever lose focus?
JMF: “We’re pretty deliberate about the decisions we make and the commitments we take on. We’ve gotten really good over the last five or six years at saying no, so that we can say yes to the right things. I think that’s what’s important. And the things I say yes to now, not only do I make sure they’re aligned with what I want to be focused on, but also with who I want to be as a person. They’re aligned with my values. I wouldn’t say yes to something if it wasn’t a good short term opportunity. In fact, I think the key to that long term meaning is aligning my short term actions with my long term values and beliefs.”
What’s your No. 1 focus or priority right now? Any cool projects in the works?
JMF: “Ryan and I, we pick one big project to focus on every year. This year it is absolutely the documentary. We just finished a long, five-week tour getting that documentary out there. That will be online later this year. So everything this year is going to serve that either directly or indirectly in some way. Last year, that was our year of contribution and we traveled all over the world giving back to communities. We’re always finding new things to focus on and we select very deliberately what the next thing will be. We don’t know what 2017 will look like yet, but we’re keeping both eyes open.”
TEDxFargo Speaker Preview
When Jack Wood got started with Growing Together, he didn’t know what he was helping create. Ten years ago, eight families and a team of volunteers came together in an attempt to help new Americans feel more connected to the community. Attempting to build relationships over gardening, Growing Together brings a group of local volunteers to work with new Americans in community gardens. At the end of the year, anybody who worked at least 16 hours gets a portion of the produce. Wood and the team at Growing Together are working on bringing this revolutionary idea to other communities, and Wood is bringing this idea to the TEDxFargo stage.
Take me back through your background and how you got involved with Growing Together.
“Ten years, pretty much to the day, we started our first community garden with eight families on a property on 25th street and 17th Avenue South. It started because the principal of Lewis and Clark, the minister at our church and a couple of other people in town got together and they wanted to know how to better assimilate the new American population in Fargo and make them feel comfortable. One of the things they felt they all loved to do was to garden. They said they have this friend who really knows a lot about gardening, which was me. From there, it has grown. We have six gardens and over 200 families that garden with us.”
Tell us about the work that Growing Together does.
“Last year, our gardens produced 46,000 pounds of food out of our six gardens. Another thing that Growing Together has been very influential in is helping other organizations start gardens. Last year, we helped the New Life Center start a garden. We helped Churches United start a garden. This year, we’re working with Bridgepoint Church in Moorhead to help them start a garden. We also work a local elementary school. We work Bennett Elementary with two of the fourth-grade classes. They plant a garden down there.”
The concept is that you work on it throughout the season and when the season’s done, you split it evenly up amongst everybody?
“Basically, what happens, usually about the second week of July, we start harvesting the greens and cucumbers. As we get closer to the first part of August, we start splitting squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Our model is a continual changing model.
“This year, what we’re going to do is we’re going to have shared boxes so it will be sort of like a CSA. There’s a requirement on the hours so everybody who works 16 hours up to harvest will get a full share. If you join the garden in August, you still have a chance to get a partial share. If you work four hours, you get a quarter share.”
Talk about what this means to new Americans.
“I think the biggest thing to new Americans is that it’s a very safe setting. Number two, it’s a very social setting. For them, to find out that Fargo people are not that bad. They’re actually a pretty good crowd of people. We’ve seen a lot where the families have, like Anita who’s a core volunteer, where she’s actually invited the people from Liberia and Somalia into her home to teach them how to can. We’ve also had young parents who have children to work with the other children to make sure they’re going to music camps and different things.”
Give us a preview of your TED talk.
“The tone for the whole thing is accelerate. What I look at is that we started with eight gardeners and we could have been happy just staying with the eight gardeners. What we saw was that more of Fargo needed these gardens so we decided to let our gardens grow. Especially in the early days, a lot of our core volunteers said, ‘Let’s not get too big because we won’t know everybody.’ I said, ‘You know what, as we get bigger, we’ll just have more core volunteers and get to know more people.’
“Those people who had those reservations have bought into the program. They see the need for helping more and more people.”
Do you have your eyes set beyond Fargo?
“What we’re starting to think about now is more globally because we feel that this model could work everywhere. I guess what we look at is, we look at gardens that are a 100-foot-by-100-foot garden that was just gardened by a normal gardener could probably produce 2,000-3,000 lbs. of food, which is a lot of food. We feel out of that same garden, with the right management, we could increase the yield to 10,000-12,000 out of each one of those gardens.”
TEDxFargo Speaker Preview
For about 30 years, Kaitlin Hopkins was a professional actress on and off Broadway doing musicals and plays in addition to appearing in various television shows, soap operas and films. It runs in her blood, too. Her mother is award-winning actress Shirley Knight, her father was a theatre producer and her stepfather was a screenwriter, so she’s no stranger to the struggles of being an artist and a performer. Seven years ago, Hopkins took the opportunity to design a Bachelor of Fine Arts musical theatre program from scratch at Texas State University, and has been teaching and directing there ever since. However, she noticed that mental health was a serious problem with many of her students and decided to take action.
Can you give us a preview about what your TED talk will be about?
“My TED talk is about stress and mental health with young artists and about brain science and the science of stress and what happens to our bodies chemically when they are under stress. I believe very strongly in a holistic approach to training artists. What I mean by that is that I’m not just interested in teaching them the technical skill set like how to tap dance and how to sing and how to act and all of those technical skills. I believe in training the whole artist, like vocal health and physical health and nutrition, which, as you know, many performing artists are athletes in the same way football players are. It’s extremely stressful and a lot of wear and tear on the body. The first couple of years here, it didn’t actually occur to me to train them in mental wellness and how to handle their stress in response to their bodies. What I discovered is that I had students that were struggling with eating disorders or addiction issues or depression and anxiety disorders.
“I think that we as educators are sending our children and students out into the world largely unprepared to be successful at their chosen professions, whether they’re artists or not. But my demographic is a particularly high-risk demographic, high risk for suicide or bipolar and all kinds of things. So knowing that, I was very concerned with what I was seeing students struggle with. I grew up in an industry where that was very familiar. It’s no secret that artists, musicians and actors–people like Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman–how many more examples do we need to give?”
When did you realize you needed to start addressing mental health issues with your students?
“When I discovered that I had these students that were really struggling and needed help, I reached out to colleagues at other universities and the mental health center at our university and asked if they were experiencing these kinds of things and what do about it. What I heard from them is, ‘Oh you’ll get used to it, that’s just the way it is. Yeah, it’s a major issue but we don’t know what to do about it, you’re not alone, we have it too,’ from everybody. So why aren’t we doing something to prevent it? What the university was saying was, ‘Once it gets to crisis mode, we can do something about it.’ But once you’re there, you’re way past managing a sprained ankle. You’re now like, surgery. Mental illness is the only disease in this country that we wait until we’re in stage four. If you have cancer, you don’t wait that long to treat it. I mean, you’re putting students in the highest-stress environments at their most vulnerable, in terms of their brain development.
“The curriculum and research we’re working on here are significantly improving students’ ability to manage their mental health and their stress. It’s not something that is traditionally done as arts training or college training in general. My concern and the conversation that I want to accelerate forward is one about, why in this country do we not treat mental health the same way we do blood screening? The same way we do annual exams? Mammograms? Vaccines? Why can’t it be a yearly screening like we do everything else? I think there’s such a stigma in this country about mental health. There’s so much information, science, tools and skill sets that are out there now to help students and young people have more clarity, confidence and creativity in what they do. Obviously with my background, I’m not an expert on brain science, however, I will be talking about the science of the brain and how that research has influenced the curriculum that I’ve created with the help of psychologist Dr. Bill Crawford to help train our performing artists.”
What kind of results are you seeing from working mental health awareness into your curriculum?
“Well, we didn’t really realize we had a problem until going into year three. And I realized there was no help. In the years that we’ve been able to take significant action and implement changes, curriculum and workshops to train these students in mental health…. the results we’re seeing are staggering. I mean, I can’t even tell you. Sometimes it’s the small things. I require all of my faculty in the performing arts classes to start their classes with two to three minutes of mindful breathing or meditation. It’s like rebooting your computer too refresh clarity, confidence, creativity and all that good stuff. So what we’ve noticed is that they retain things better, their attention spans are better, they say they’re happier and not as stressed out. We’re able to communicate better about issues before it gets to crisis mode. We can take action before it gets there. You can change your body chemistry just by understanding your brain and what to do.”
TEDxFargo Speaker Preview
Sona Mehring was solving a personal need when she first created CaringBridge. She recognized that people going through a medical event need support more than ever. However, it’s hard to reach out to everybody when you are going through such a tough time. That’s why CaringBridge was created. This website allows people to create their own site while in the hospital or going through a health journey. The patient or caregivers can then communicate the whole journey to family and friends. Since its founding in 1997, more than half a million CaringBridge websites have been created and one in nine people in the United States have used CaringBridge. Mehring gave us a preview of her upcoming TED talk.
CaringBridge is going on 19 years and counting. When you first started it, did you ever think it would end up where it’s at now?
“I knew that it had such potential to have a big impact. I knew how much it was needed and how much people who are going through a health event need to be connected. What’s been amazing over the last 19 years is watching all the changing ways of technology and the ways that people are communicating and how relevant CaringBridge has remained throughout the last 19 years.”
I was just thinking that 19 years ago was before the advent of social media. It seems like you were ahead of the curve with this idea.
“A few years ago, someone called me a pioneer. I think it was actually pretty pioneering. If you think back to 1997, the type of technology that was available–a year before Google was founded, almost a decade before Facebook really came on the scene. It was really using technology in a way that was pretty visionary, not make an impact 19 years ago, but to continue to make an impact throughout the last two decades.”
Stats from North Dakota
· In 2015, half a million people from North Dakota visited and/or created a CaringBridge site (2 in 3 people in the state)
· In 2015, nearly 200,000 people from the Fargo-Moorhead area visited and/or created a CaringBridge site (1 in 3 people in the metro area)
Take our readers through your personal experience and how CaringBridge came about and how it’s affected you on a personal level..
“My background is technology. I’m a true lover and early adopter of technology. In the ’90s, I was using the internet and the very early World Wide Web as part of what I was doing for my day job. Great ideas come from personal need. Two very good friends of mine had a premature baby. One of the most important things that they needed to do was to communicate with their friends and family. Making those phone calls, not only took up a lot of time, but just the emotional energy. The light bulb went up that I should create a website. In fact, the same night their baby Bridget was born on June 7, 1997, CaringBridge was born.
“It instantly became an unbelievable tool to communicate. The wow and the true impact was the ability to bring people together and to help people be there for each other when they needed it most. It’s that impact that has really helped people who are going through a health journey, help them heal, help them be connected and help them have social support throughout that health journey.”
Tell us what exactly CaringBridge provides for the people going through a health journey.
“It provides an array of things that helps their journey. The first thing is that you’re able to control that communication. It’s that very practical of not making those phone calls that are very time consuming and just emotionally draining, to be able to control that communication and let people know what’s going on. It really empowers the patient, if you will, and the caregiver that’s right there. It reduces isolation for them and really be connected to the friends and family.
“On the other side, for the visitors of CaringBridge site, that community that can be activated, they know that they have an ability to help, to be able to understand what’s going on, visit a CaringBridge site, leaving those messages of love and support or even more tangible steps of being able to sign up through our planner of things that they can sign up to do anything from helping with a fundraiser to shoveling the sidewalk to making sure that rides are given, etc.”
Why did you decide to go the nonprofit route?
“Very early on, it was a decision that anyone using CaringBridge, it was so important to be a protected site. Having invasive ads or selling data is not inline with the privacy that I believe is needed when you’re having a CaringBridge site. Rejecting the number one way that sites make revenue, which is selling ads, selling data, and realizing that the financial model should be driven by the families that are using CaringBridge.
“It does two things. It really provides a value in having an impact; otherwise the financial model of people doing charitable giving to support CaringBridge would not be working. It’s become self-fulfilling that the people that have been impacted by CaringBridge, support CaringBridge. It keeps us very centered on the families and the impact that we’re having.
“That has been an important decision that not only couldn’t be supported through charitable giving, it should be supported through charitable giving. A story that I have from very early on, when CaringBridge was launched, was that I got a $100 check. This was back in 1997. I got a $100 check. Back then, you’d have all your personal information (on the check) so I called the woman and said, ‘Thank you for your $100.’ We weren’t yet a nonprofit. She just said, ‘You need to understand, I would have never known my granddaughter without CaringBridge and CaringBridge needs to be there for every grandmother.’ That was one of those lightning bolt moments of understanding of the power of having CaringBridge as a nonprofit and driven through charitable giving.”
How familiar are you with TED? Is this your first TED talk?
“I was lucky enough to do a TEDx talk fairly recently at the University of Minnesota Campus. I have been familiar with TED talks for many years. I’m a huge fan of TED talks. I’ve done TED talk format throughout the years
“I’m very excited to be on the stage in Fargo. I think that Fargo does an excellent job with their TED event. I have some relatives in the Fargo area and I have a soft spot for Fargo, not just because of the TV show, but because I think it is a thriving and emerging community. I’m excited to be able to be part of the event.”
Can you give us a preview of what you will be talking about?
“One thing I’ve learned over the last 19 years is the power of technology as we have been connected. In the last 20 years, our ability to connect in technology has just exploded. To me, this idea of using this technology has provided more ways than ever to connect in a very responsible way and to strengthen those connections and make a positive impact. There’s still a lot of negativity around how technology has affected life. I want to convey that idea that we need to use it in a very positive way.
“To me, this idea of using this technology that has provided more ways than ever to connect in a very responsible way and to strengthen those connections and make a positive impact. There’s still a lot of negativity around how technology has affected life. I believe that, in such a powerful way, it can impact way lives. I want to convey that idea that we need to use it in a very positive way.”