When these caring North Carolinians say they have a wild side, they mean it in the most literal sense.
From braving Naked & Afraid to becoming the Fairy Godmother of Foraging, living on the edge in North Carolina doesn’t have to mean climbing cliffs in the Blue Ridge Mountains—it can mean something as simple as supporting sustainability and animal welfare through education and advocacy.
Whether you want to cheer them on from the comfortable sidelines or follow in their footsteps to unleash your own inner wildness, you’ve got to learn about these six amazing individuals from the Tar Heel State.
Ben Zino Is the Gen Z Steve Irwin
Before Ben Zino even stepped foot on campus at North Carolina State University to study fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology, he’d already been looked to as an expert on the topic as host of popular YouTube channel The Wild Report.
Inspired by environmental educators like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin, Zino grew an interest in the topic as a young child. Then, after attending a National Geographic gathering for emerging explorers in 2016, he took the leap and started his own platform.
“Leaving that [symposium] I knew I wanted to take a more active role in conservation,” he told NC State’s College of Natural Resources.
His channel focuses on interacting with wildlife, sometimes traveling to places near (South Carolina or Florida) and far (Japan, most recently) but always returning home to North Carolina.
“My heart will probably always be in North Carolina,” he said. “It’s where I started and I think we have an awesome state.”
Indy Officinalis is the Fairy Godmother of Farming & Foraging
Indy Officinalis may have just recently become the host of the new hit National Geographic show Farm Dreams, but she’s been educating the public long before she had such a huge platform.
As a sustainability activist, urban farmer, model, and influencer, Officinalis teaches people about farming and healthy living in a variety of ways. She graduated from the Blue Ridge School of Herbalism and later spent many years farming mushrooms across the country.
The thing she’s most proud of, however, is working with the unhoused population in Los Angeles—especially BIPOC. “I teach folks who don’t have access to land how to grow food. That’s where I draw a lot of my inspiration from,” she told Byrdie.
Leigh-Kathryn Bonner is a Fifth-Gen Beekeeper
When you think of careers that get passed down through generations, you probably think of politicians, doctors, and lawyers. But for Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, the family business is something a bit more bizarre—or shall we say, buzz-are?
Bonner’s family has been beekeeping for five generations, but she’s put her own spin on the business. She founded the urban bee startup Bee Downtown (aka “America’s #1 Bee Team,” per Instagram), which installs and maintains beehives on the rooftops of corporate campuses.
The organization provides local Durham businesses the opportunity to sponsor hives and make a sustainable, positive impact on the environment. In turn, they get to keep the honey the hives produce.
“We hope that our hive sponsorship will encourage other groups and businesses to help subsidize the expensive and important work of beekeeping,” the Raleigh native told Bitter Southerner, “so that more beekeepers can flourish, more bees can flourish, and our communities can become more bee-friendly, more beautiful, and more sustainable.”
Luke McLaughlin is Naked and Unafraid
Luke McLaughlin is a naturalist, survivalist, holistic counselor, and founder of Asheville’s Holistic Survival School. However, you might recognize him from the Discovery Channel shows Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid XL, where he survived 21 and 40 days, respectively, deep in the wilderness.
Having developed many of his skills at a primitive wilderness therapy program in the desert, he has committed his life to teaching ancestral living skills so that people can become more connected to the natural world.
If you want to master some survival skills yourself, consider taking a class or immersion program at the Holistic Survival School. Don’t worry—everyone will be clothed this time.
This Mother-Daughter Duo Opened a Farm Animal Sanctuary
Alexa Murray and her mother, Sharon, founded Friendly Fields Farm Sanctuary in 2020. Since then, the mother-daughter pair has rescued and rehabilitated more than 100 farm animals, from affectionate piglets to adorable baby goats.
“Our mission is to rescue farm animals from situations of abandonment, neglect, slaughter and abuse and provide a safe forever home for them,” their website reads. “We take in the animals that no one else is willing to help. We spread a message of kindness towards animals, and compassion in our community.” Can you say “dream job?”
You can keep up with their furry adventures through Alexa’s TikTok account, which has a whopping 85,100 followers.
Luckaia Strand is Part Marine Biologist, Part Jewelry Designer
Luckaia Strand’s Instagram handle is @half_fish, and we couldn’t come up with a more appropriate moniker if we tried.
Dividing her time between North Carolina and Oahu, she spends a great deal of her life in the sea (she is a marine biologist, after all). And when she’s not swimming with sharks or releasing turtles back into the wild at her day job, Luckaia is busy making sustainable jewelry for her brand Kai Kollective.
We especially love the Microplastric Kollection, a line of rings, earrings, hair clips, and dog tags that are all made from upcycled microplastics collected from beaches. It’s the definition of “from trash to treasure.”
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