TEDx Talks Inspire at Nature Conservancy Celebration

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Great Egret, Gordons Pond. Photo by Kevin Fleming

So the story includes an Ethiopian maize farmer, a man who swears by fresh air and an ancient beer aficionado.


No, they didn’t all walk into a bar (although maybe the beer guy might’ve liked that), but they were part of an evening of TEDx WilmingtonSalon talks for the 25th anniversary celebration of The Nature Conservancy in Delaware.

More than 100 people gathered Friday night at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library to hear James Borel, Peter Kareiva and Sam Calagione give TED Talks, which are part of a nonprofit organization that sponsors 18-minute talks by people who have “ideas worth spreading.” (Notable TED speakers over the years have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and Elizabeth Gilbert, to name a few.)

The talks themselves will soon be online to watch, but here’s a recap of what these three ideas guys had to say:

Peter Kareiva, vice president and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy

Being a conservationist, Kareiva said, isn’t about bemoaning impending doom and gloom. He argued there isn’t one way to help the planet, but an array of options people can choose from to make a positive impact.

He looked at how the government in Seoul, South Korea, transformed a six-lane highway through the city into a beautiful river, how near-extinct populations of gray wolves, grizzly bears and bison were restored to health in Yellowstone National Park and how a major chemical manufacturer reduced high ground-level ozone through reforestation.

Getting kids excited about science and engineering is important, Kareiva said, and most of all, simply developing an appreciation for nature around us can do wonders. He cited a new study out of Stanford showing that 50 minutes spent outside every day significantly reduced participants’ anxiety and also improved their memory and problem-solving skills. “It’s like you took a prescription from nature,” he said, underscoring that nature is far from being a passive, distant entity.

Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

After graduating from college with a degree in English, Calagione moved to New York City with expectations of writing the next great American novel. To make ends meet, he worked at a bar in the Upper East side, where he fell in love with craft brewery.

In 1995, he opened Dogfish Head, headquartered in Milton, with the dream of stepping away from European beer-making traditions and creating brews with local ingredients. “Our mission,” he said, “was to be the first American craft brewery working with an American landscape.”

After receiving much criticism for putting things like raisins and chicory root in his beers, he struck gold with the Midas Touch brew, which was a recipe based on a Penn archaeologist’s findings from goblets at King Midas’ funeral feast.

Calagione talked about his belief that good karma comes from business collaboration, and that treating the Earth well is just as important. “Pretty much everything we make wouldn’t exist if we didn’t conserve the land,” Calagione said, adding he’s happy to support the Nature Conservancy. “It’s a no-brainer as far as mission alignment.”

James Borel, DuPont executive vice president

Borel spoke about DuPont’s recent project in Ethiopia that aims to help alleviate hunger there and in the greater sub-Saharan region. Its power, he said, comes from private, public and governmental groups working together.

The main idea is to provide genetically improved maize seeds to farmers, who make up about 80 percent of Ethiopia’s population, reduce post-harvest loss and teach new techniques with better equipment.

Borel was inspired to get DuPont involved after meeting an Ethiopian farmer, Debebe Ayele, in 2012. The man had received better seeds and training, and in return, made a profit for the first time. With that money, Ayele invested in his children’s education and a new roof for their home. Because of his success, he became a local leader.

Just like the maize in the fields, the farming program is continually growing: There will be 32,000 farmers in the program this year, and in 2018, Borel said more than 100,000 are expected to participate.

He called the project exciting. “Food scarcity will always be with us,” Borel said, “but we now have the capacity to change that.”

The Nature Conservancy is the largest science-based conservation organization in the world, said Maria Dziembowska, the Delaware chapter spokeswoman, in a release. Since forming in 1990, the chapter has helped to protect 30,000 acres in Delaware and manages more than 5,000 acres on its nature preserves. It’s currently working to create a water fund that would secure a sustainable supply of safe water in the Brandywine-Christina watershed.

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