April 12, 2021

Amber Gibson

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The Internet’s Favorite Midwestern Forager

A Q&A with Alexis Nikole Nelson

“A little afraid of going to the grocery store right now?” That’s how the Columbus-based social media star Alexis Nikole, who has nearly 880,000 followers on TikTok and 266,000 on Instagram, started one of her first foraging how-tos last April.

“That’s okay!” she continued. “I’m going to show you some things growing in your neighborhood that you can eat.” Since then, she’s followed through on that promise, showing her followers how to brew tea from mulberry leaves, how to make acorn flour pancakes, and how to pickle magnolia blossoms. (Last fall, she wrote a piece for us about eating wild wherever you are.) A stand-up comedian with a survivalist’s instincts, she makes it all look fun, inspiring a new generation to eat wild. Recently, we called Nikole to learn more about her life as Gen Z’s Euell Gibbons.

The Internet’s Favorite Midwestern Forager - Quote

“That’s okay!” she continued. “I’m going to show you some things growing in your neighborhood that you can eat.” Since then, she’s followed through on that promise, showing her followers how to brew tea from mulberry leaves, how to make acorn flour pancakes, and how to pickle magnolia blossoms.

Who are you when you aren’t making viral TikTok videos?

I work in the realm of making content in my 9-to-5 as social media manger for Bark, so if I’m not making my own content, I’m usually making content for my job or hanging out with my dog. A lot of my life does revolve around food and being outside. I was doing a lot of stand-up comedy before, too. I’m one of the co-producers of Columbus’s longest running sketch comedy show, Monday Night Live. It’s been put on hold for a year now, sadly.

I’ve always been interested in storytelling in a way that is engaging and humorous. I had just never taken the time to apply it solely to myself. It’s been very validating.

How much time do you spend on your videos each week?

On a light week during wintertime, when there’s not a lot for me to be doing, it’s probably closer to fifteen hours a week, but I know back in the fall, when I was cranking out videos and trying to engage with followers as much as I could, answering comments, it probably got closer to thirty or thirty-five hours, so close to an additional full-time job. It was really nice to take a step back during winter.

You feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up when you’re trying to keep up with everything that’s going out of season. This winter, I got to plan, going through what I did last year and what I liked and want to do again, what can I improve on, what we can skip this time around. That’s been delightful. I’m very curious to see how I feel this time next year after having time to plan. I didn’t expect my content to go viral, so there were no plans in place before.

Why do you think you’re so popular on TikTok?

The education space isn’t super saturated on TikTok. I see they’re bringing more educators into the space, which I think is great. It absolutely is not just lip syncs, dance videos and cringey skits, although there’s a lot of that.

I’d been so used to writing short-form bits for Monday Night Live anyway, and as a woman and person of color raised in southern Ohio, I was often the minority and always very nerdy. There’s always been pressure to be the most palatable and engaging version of yourself—because otherwise, people don’t listen to you. And I think I bring a lot of that to every video that I make for TikTok.

What makes you and your work uniquely Midwestern?

With foraging, I’m working directly with what’s around me, so I get to hype up a lot of hidden gems that folks that live in this area may not even know we have—your persimmon, pawpaws, and spicebush. It’s often still seen as flyover country, but the Midwest is way more than even Milwaukee and Chicago. There’s so much going on, and we’re lucky enough to maintain so many green spaces. I think that’s worth celebrating.

Do you have any hopes or plans for turning foraging into a full-time gig?

It would be very cool someday to finally get a book together with all of my various concoctions. I’ve gotten a lot better about actually measuring things instead of flying by the seat of my pants in the kitchen. A lot of folks have commented that they would love to see me on PBS or Netflix and that would be the dream if it happened. I did a segment on a Vice series that premiered this past fall, Counter Space, and I guess I didn’t realize how much of an opportunity there is in visual media for food storytelling right now. But I’m also very content with my very fun job that gives me health insurance and puts a roof over my head.


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