TEDxFargo 2019 explores bear poop and 'unnecessary knowledge' to crafting and S curves

David O'Hara from Augustana University speaks during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center on Thursday, July 25. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO - People go to TEDx events to be stimulated and inspired.

Rarely do they expect that to involve bear poop.

But to David O’Hara, a professor of environmental philosophy at Augustana University, you can’t live your best life without eyeballing some ursine excrement.

O’Hara opened TEDxFargo: Forward with a focus on “bear poop and unnecessary knowledge.”

Seeds and berries left behind by bears doing what bears do in the woods help move plant seeds around and provide a fertile mulch, O’Hara said Thursday, July 25. Salmon bones and vertebrae in droppings reflect how important those fish are to bear diets. Salmon, which die after spawning then decompose, fertilizing the riparian environment. The connectedness can also be a metaphor for our own lives, he said.


“Take some time to look at the bear poop in your life,” O’Hara told the crowd at the Fargo Civic Center, and reflect on “how it might just be a mound of fertilizer, waiting for you to pay attention to it.”


More than 2,000 people had purchased tickets for this year’s TEDx, making it the second sell-out year in a row for the event, emcee Greg Tehven said.

Conference director Emma McIntyre said this year’s theme closes a three-year arc. The emphasis in Forward is on the word ward, meaning to protect and guard.

“The first year (2017) we challenged our attendees to come up with an idea that they’re passionate about. Last year, we challenged them to pause and reflect on those ideas and make them stronger. And this year we’re asking them to protect those ideas, guard them, and make them pillars” in our community, McIntyre said.

The early session was an eclectic mix of ideas and entertainment.

Marshall Johnson, the executive director of Audubon Dakota and vice president of the National Audubon Society, pointed to the importance of the nation’s remaining grasslands for their ability to sequester carbon and filter water. He also warned of the dangers of the collapse of bee populations (one of every three bites of food is owed to bee pollination).


“We can’t allow our cynicism to be our crutch anymore; our skepticism to be our excuse,” Johnson said. “Go out and shop and eat like the world depends on it.”

Ashley Morken of Unglued in downtown Fargo talks about the aspects of crafting during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center on Thursday, July 25, 2019. David Samson / The Forum

In a lighter vein, Ashley Morken, the owner of the Unglued gift shop in downtown Fargo, encouraged TEDxers to feel the power of crafting.

“Crafting can change the world,” Morken said. “I believe you need to DIY - do it yourself - or die.”

Crafting releases stress, stimulates brains and is “essential to kicking ass,” Morken said.

Aneela Adnani talked about her struggle with trichotillomania, a disorder that had her pulling her hair out without being aware.

“I thought I was weird and damaged,” Idnani said.


Idnani became cofounder and president of HabitAware, a company that makes a smart bracelet, which helps people overcome compulsive hair-pulling, skin picking and nail biting disorders

“All I want is for you to see us,” Idnani said, and to move the world from “shame and blame” to “compassion and understanding.”

Katie Rose Hicks demonstrates her hoop skills at the Fargo Civic Center before the start of TEDxFargo on Thursday, July 25, 2019. David Samson / The Forum

Dave Power, president and CEO of the Perkins School for the Blind, urged TEDx attendees to keep track of growth in their businesses and their lives, in order to stay relevant.

The “tyranny” of the S curve in the life cycle of a product is that most successes reach a point where they level out.

The answer, whether in business or your own life, is to “find the next S curve,” Power said, focusing on the next product to bring to market or the next chapter in your life.

Randy Thomas, a premiere live voice announcer, said that as a child when she listened to disc jockeys on her turquoise transistor radio, that another world opened up for her. DJs “were almost God-like,” she said.

Later, a switch came on for her as a contestant in the Little Miss Surfside beauty pageant. If she used her voice powerfully, “I would be heard,” Thomas said.

She met sexism when she tried to become a DJ at a campus radio station, but persevered to become one of the first women on the air in Detroit. Years later, she was asked to announce for the Academy Awards, leading to a long string of prominent announcing gigs.

Her advice to anyone who hears the words, “We don’t have girls here. Just think of it as an invitation.”

Greg Tehven shows the first TEDxFargo logo used for the inaugural conference during his welcome address at the Fargo Civic Center on Thursday, July 25, 2019. David Samson / The Forum

The first session also included a performance by Moorhead native and American Beatbox Champion Bjorn Hunstad, as well as an interview of Dave St. Peter, the CEO of the Minnesota Twins, by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Audience members were impressed.

“I’ve loved it so far,” Katie Payette said in a break between the first and second sessions. “It’s really inspirational and makes me think of ways I can move forward.”

Jennifer Larson was also enjoying her time TEDxing.

“They’ve all been great so far,” Larson said. “The way they get up there and tell their stories … it’s amazing.”

Marshall Johnson, Executive Director of Audubon Dakota and Vice-President of the National Audubon Society, speaks during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center on Thursday, July 25, 2019. David Samson / The Forum

Related Topics: ASHLEY MORKEN
Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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