A saxophonist, socio-cultural psychologist, flight paramedic, and science writer walk into a church.
That’s not a joke.
On Saturday, these four people will join over a dozen more with diverse titles and backgrounds in presenting at the 8th annual TEDxBozeman event. The speakers, who are all Montana-based, will talk about untapped ideas and concepts to a live audience at Bozeman’s Journey Church and its convention center, The Commons at Baxter & Love.
TEDx events are licensed by TED — a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks — but are organized and run independently within local communities around the world. In Montana, TEDxBozeman and TEDxLewistown speaking events are held every year with the mission to spread ideas and spark conversation.
Two of the speakers are set to present together. Claire Sands Baker and David Sands, a daughter-father duo, plan to talk about a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project started 12 years ago to help small farmers in Kenya.
Sands is a plant pathologist and biotechnology professor at Montana State University. His research interests include gluten-free crops and biocontrol of striga, a parasitic weed that attacks staple crops like corn in sub-Saharan Africa — which is where The Toothpick Project comes in.
According to Sands and Baker, The Toothpick Project is an effort to control the spread of striga using a strain of a fungus that can kill the weed. Sands said he developed the natural striga-killing fungus strain to be transferred from a toothpick to cooked rice grains that smallholder farmers in Kenya could plant with their crop seeds.
And project trials recently completed on 500 farms in Kenya show this bio-control technology has significantly helped restore crop yields for farmers and presents potential for expansion, Sands and Baker said.
“This is a new technology that we want to expand out to 50 to 70 different countries,” Baker said, who serves as co-founder and director of The Toothpick Project.
But regardless of where their project goes, the duo’s goal for Saturday is to introduce listeners to a new technology that involved a lot of collaboration and to help them realize the importance of action.
“Inaction is harmful. If we do not address the problem of striga in Africa, there would be a dramatic effect,” Baker said. “When we have the tools to change peoples’ lives, we should use them.”
Baker and Sands won’t be the only two introducing new ideas about how to utilize plants for good. Alayna Rasile-Digrindakis, a textile artist and designer, will talk about her milkweed floss discovery.
Rasile-Digrindakis is a Helena native enrolled in Montana State University's Master of Fine Arts program. After spending a year at the Textile Art Center in New York City and creating her own textile work, she began exploring ways to produce more environmentally sustainable clothing items.
Through this exploration, Rasile-Digrindakis discovered the buoyant and thermal capacities of milkweed floss, or the cotton ball-like seed fiber of a milkweed plant.
“Milkweed is a native plant, but a lot of people refer to it as a weed because it has no commercial value,” Rasile-Digrindakis said. “But it has a lot of potential to take the place of goose down products.”
According to Rasile-Digrindakis, she’s started using milkweed floss to insulate the jackets she makes and plans to start selling through May West, a design studio and material research laboratory she co-founded.
Rasile-Digrindakis said not only is this floss more sustainable than goose down or synthetic insulation material, milkweed is also extremely important for monarch butterfly larva.
“I plan to talk about the monarch butterfly and the issues around its population decline, which ties into milkweed,” Rasile-Digrindakis said. “Once milkweed floss is proven as a viable textile product, then there will be a market demand for it and hopefully people will want to grow it versus get rid of it.”
Giving milkweed market value to save the monarch butterflies is Rasile-Digrindakis’s main goal. But she also said she hopes to help people, including listeners Saturday, understand that what they wear matters.
“I want to bring to the forefront of people’s minds how impactful their purchasing power is,” Rasile-Digrindakis said.
Along with Rasile-Digrindakis and Baker and Sands, Zach Weiss is set to bring yet another perspective on sustainable farming and healthy ecosystems to Bozeman on Saturday.
Weiss, who calls himself an “ecological warrior,” has lived in Bozeman for about 12 years. Some seven years ago, he grew interested in watershed restoration and holistic farming practices and started Elemental Ecosystems. The "for-benefit" business aims to solve society’s growing environmental problems by helping people develop healthier relationships with their landscapes.
“I’ve seen an incredible disconnect between people and their environments. … They do things that work against their own interests and the health of nature,” Weiss said.
To help create healthier interactions, Weiss and his Elemental Ecosystems team travel all over the world. Weiss explained that his business helps people meet their goals — from creating a sustainable homestead to a natural swimming feature — in a way that benefits them and their landscape.
On Saturday, Weiss said he’ll specifically talk about how water cycles through landscapes, a process he and his business look at frequently to help farmers store and extend available water during drought.
“Water is the most elemental building block of life, so knowing how to maximize the potential of water is important for a healthy community,” Weiss said.
While Weiss adds to the diverse list of sustainability-driven speakers, TaNeel Filesteel brings a pioneering perspective to TEDxBozeman. The full-time college student and tribal prosecutor for the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation has one goal Saturday: speak to tribal populations about the problems that affect them.
“Every TED talk that has involved Native people has been meant to educate non-natives,” Filesteel said. “That’s great and is needed, but I wanted to speak to other indigenous people.”
Filesteel is an Aaniih or Gros Ventre tribal citizen of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. In 2016, she started as the deputy tribal prosecutor for the Fort Belknap Tribal Government and is passionate about working toward restorative justice and community healing.
On Saturday, she plans to talk to the indigenous community about what she’s learned in this prosecutor role related to complex topics like missing and murdered indigenous women and the high incarceration rates of indigenous peoples in Montana.
Filesteel said she understands that indigenous peoples won’t make up the majority of attendants Saturday, but she also knows her talk will be published online afterward, which she hopes will reach her targeted audience. She said she’s excited about being a part of TEDxBozeman because of the great impact TED talks have had on her own life.
“Indigenous people are storytellers. Traditionally, it’s how we are taught as a child, through ideas, stories, and speaking,” Filesteel said. “What I noticed when I first started watching TED talks was the impact. … How the speakers deliver their ideas is a really beautiful process to be there and listen to.”