116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT PLEASANT — Though he’s served as a blogger and social media presence on cooking, canning and gardening for nine years, Kaleb Wyse still isn’t quite sure what the biggest ingredient to his success is.
“I will never understand why people watch me,” said Wyse, co-creator of Wyse Guide.
With nearly 100,000 subscribers on YouTube channel and nearly 90,000 followers on Instagram, the mystery has only been magnified with his success. In some ways, he feels awkward about his success on a completely virtual platform, where his personality is the prime commodity.
“You don’t think people are going to like you. That’s not what I was ever trying to do,” he said.
But since finding his stride in content, his following has surged in the last three years, when The Gray Boxwood — the former name of his YouTube channel — became Wyse Guide and found its focus. In 2015, his YouTube channel only had about 12,000 subscribers.
For the social media presence, removing his own filters to make posts was a key to getting out of his own way.
“It takes you a long time to figure out what is your voice, what is your presence. It took me a long time to be comfortable with that,” said Wyse, 33. “We all have filters on ourselves.”
As he refined the focus of his work, adding more personal touches to his recipes, bringing in gardening tips and adding canning to the mix, he found a voice that defines Wyse Guide’s draw for many. To many viewers, it’s the personality that sets a how-to guide on what can be intimidating topics apart from a sea of other online guides.
The blogger moved his content delivery to primarily short-form videos, and Wyse’s personality was able to come through in unscripted ways that showcased him having fun with his passions in an organic, relatable way.
But for the man raised Mennonite on the same land he lives on today, those vulnerable, relatable elements were not deliberate, Wyse said — perhaps proving the authenticity of it all.
“You’re brought up to be more self-deprecating,” he said. “People think I’m someone they can talk to.”
And when given the chance in person, they don’t hesitate. Now, Wyse is stopped for conversations at the grocery store, initiated without any sort of introduction, where followers ask random questions about one of his latest posts. In a way, it’s a sign of success with what he set out to do with Wyse Guide: making a living out of something he enjoyed.
How it started
While he continues to work another day job, Wyse Guide has become a full-time position in itself — something Wyse never thought would happen.
“For years I would always sit and want to cry and say that I feel like no one sees it,” he said.
It just felt like another blog on the World Wide Web, occupying space but not seen in a tangled mess of blogs on the topic. Looking back at what was then The Gray Boxwood, started in 2012 with co-creator Joel Kratzer, feels like looking at an old photo of himself, Wyse said.
“It was awful at first, content wise. I didn’t go into it with any concept,” he said. “It made no sense.”
To make matters worse, writing was never his strong suit.
But working an accounting job in Iowa City after graduating with a business and accounting degree — majors he came to regret — he had to find something to make life worth living.
“I hated every day, so every day I would look for an outlet,” Wyse said.
At first, that started with ripping everything out of the garden at his home, purchased from his grandparents. Though he enjoys being the fourth generation to live on the farm land, he’ll be the first to say he doesn’t want to farm it in the traditional sense — something his beautifully manicured yard can attest to.
“I love the space, I love the scenery,” he said. “I was never someone who wanted to do (farming) things. I wanted to work in the yard and (do canning.)”
But with a love for the heritage of farming — community, family and the nostalgia it brings — he’s managed to put a fresh, modern twist on tired lifestyle magazine topics by merging his upbringing with his personal taste.
“I simplify them for people,” Wyse said. “For canning, we picture a grandma over a really hot stove that is steaming, and it has a pressure canner that you’re scared this going to blow off the lid.”
So instead of the pressure of having to can 50 quarts of green beans, he shows how enjoyable it can be to can three jars of pickled cauliflower, demonstrating it can be done as a hobby on a smaller scale with more interesting modern flavors. The formula is a simple mix of modernizing nostalgic things in a realistic and fun way, Wyse said.
Building relationships, past to present
Incorporating an antique component is a typical trademark threaded through his work. Many of his recipes are inspired by handwritten ones in his grandmother’s cookbook, adapted to how he would like to cook and eat it.
Serious viewers take note of the little details — a reflection of the level of engagement Wyse has cultivated since defining his voice and focus. When a certain plate from his grandmother stops appearing in videos, they’ll ask where it went.
But more than a fan base, the collection of how-to guides have made viewers feel like they have a relationship with someone they’ve never met — perhaps the true test of any online personality’s success. Through that relationship, many are able to relive the memories they have gardening, cooking or canning with their family, too.
That’s where Wyse’s passions came from.
“I was always the kid that wanted to be with adults. So I would always ask ‘What did your mom plant when you were young?’” he said. “(My grandmother) would go into these long stories about what they were planting and how they would can it.
“I never really thought about all that stuff I talked about or learned through her, but that’s now what seems to come out in every video in some form.”
As many people of his generation tend to move away from their rural roots after college, Wyse is perhaps an exception to the rule. Though he likes to visit cities, he said he would never be able to call one home.
“I feel very uneasy when I don’t feel rooted,” he said. “I feel that home is here.”
Making a living out of the passions he got from his family, it might not make sense to teach others how to love cooking, gardening and canning from any other location. And for Wyse, gardening, canning and cooking are not lifestyle topics — they’re the way life should be.
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