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@blackforager builds community and connects with the past: NPR

James Beard Award-winning chef Alexis Nikole Nelson harvests wild foods while building a community of plants and people.

Alexis Nikolé Nelson


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Alexis Nikolé Nelson


James Beard Award-winning chef Alexis Nikole Nelson harvests wild foods while building a community of plants and people.

Alexis Nikolé Nelson

One of the ways people connect to their heritage is through food, and for some, that means eating wild food. While there is no organization that tracks foraging nationally, longtime foragers and the popularity of foraging videos online will tell you that enthusiasm for the activity is growing.

Douglas Kent is the author of Foraging Southern California. During a recent visit to Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park near the Port of Los Angeles, he told NPR’s A Martinez that we are surrounded by plants that can be used in many ways.

“Health and wellness, superfoods and digestion, dyes, fiber, painkillers and all kinds of things,” Kent said.


NPR’s Forager Douglas Kent and A Martinez in front of the arroyo willow and Mexican palm tree at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Los Angeles.

Alice Woelfle/NPR


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NPR’s Forager Douglas Kent and A Martinez in front of the arroyo willow and Mexican palm tree at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Los Angeles.

Alice Woelfle/NPR

Kent teaches ecological land management at Cal Poly Pomona. But in his spare time, he fills his home with dyes, medicines and cordage from local plants that have been used for thousands of years.

“So the willow and the fan palm… would have been our roof, our sides, our backpacks, our sandals. This plant would have been absolutely essential to the early humans here,” Kent said.

For Alexis Nikole Nelson, a researcher in Columbus, Ohio, that connection to the past is part of the appeal.

“I feel like not only does it serve me in the present, but I feel like a lot of my ancestors serve me better,” Nelson told NPR. Morning edition.

This is particularly important to Nelson as a Black person who has immersed himself in the history and politics of foraging in the United States. She talks about the strained relationship that black people in the United States have with the outdoors and their knowledge of wild foods that dates back to the days of slavery, when foraging was an important means for those who were slaves to complete a meal.

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When she goes out, she prefers to wear frilly dresses, lots of makeup and flowers in her hair. Although the cottagecore fairy princess look is an expression of her personal style, Nelson believes it also helps keep her safe. Despite having nearly 6 million followers on TikTok and Instagram, she says some people in her neighborhood might not be comfortable seeing a black person doing an activity they can’t immediately identify.

“I would always rather have someone come up to me and ask me what I’m doing first, like calling the police or, you know, calling a park ranger,” she said.

Using the handle @blackforager, the James Beard award-winning chef makes bright and often silly videos that bring together her love of food, environmental science and, as she puts it, “eating plants that don’t belong to me “.

Nelson’s interest in foraging was sparked by onion grass growing in her garden when she was five years old. Her parents nurtured this interest and raised her to recognize the leaves, buds and branches of different plants, and to track which ones were active in different seasons. She began experimenting with social media videos during the pandemic, when many people were looking for new outdoor activities and afraid to go to the supermarket. Her TikTok and Instagram accounts quickly went viral.

Her concoctions are unusual and tantalizing – including projects like dandelion flower fritters, American persimmon mug cake and acorn jelly.

For foragers like Nelson and Douglas Kent, foraging isn’t just about experiencing wild plants, it’s a way of seeing the world and building a community of plants and people.

Kent feeds himself on the way to the bus stop and says walking with him can be frustrating for anyone trying to get somewhere. He wants more people to know that many of the plants around us every day can be used for food, fiber or medicine.


Douglas Kent has a dandelion plant in Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park.

Alice Woelfle/NPR


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Alice Woelfle/NPR


Douglas Kent has a dandelion plant in Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park.

Alice Woelfle/NPR

When Nelson spots an interesting plant growing in someone’s garden, she leaves a handwritten note with its contact information. This often sparks a conversation that sometimes turns into a friendship. Even though these neighbors never eat what is on their property, they have established a bond with their human and plant neighbors. This type of community care, for people and plants, is something Nelson hopes to share. She points out that when people eat wild foods, they are, whether they realize it or not, establishing a connection with their roots.

“Each of us is here today because one of our ancestors, no matter how far we go, searched for food and had this knowledge of the land around him,” he said. she declared.

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