Ramps are one of the most beloved foods of Western North Carolina and the wider Appalachian region, inspiring chefs, captivating adventurous home cooks, and marking a rite of Spring for people who grew up foraging ramps in the mountainous landscape they and their ancestors called home. With the growing exposure and popularity of ramps, many people are finding reason to harvest wild populations during the short window of time, usually in April, that their greens and bulb are available. Since ramps are a slow growing perennial, many people don’t realize that the meaty bulb gracing their plates might be a decade old. Female ramps don’t produce a flower stalk until they’ve reached seven years of maturity. Because they are slow reproducers and only grow in a very specific habitat, ramp populations have been dwindling.
Happily, however, there is a way to sustainably harvest ramps! Please watch and share this video we’ve produced explaining how to do so. Advocating as consumers, by asking for and purchasing only sustainably harvested ramps, will also help build a demand for responsible foraging practices.
How to Harvest:
- Avoid harvesting from small patches of ramps.
- Do not harvest any ramps that have a little brown spent flower stalk attached to their leaves.
- Using a knife, insert it into the ground at a 30 degree angle, slicing through the bulb. Collect the leaves and the top third of the bulb, leaving the rest of the bulb and root plate in the ground.
- Harvest only 1 in 5 of the ramps in a patch.
- Wrap tender ramps carefully in a damp paper towel or cloth and keep them in a plastic bag or cooler to retain moisture. Refrigerate immediately and use as soon possible.
When buying ramps, look for:
- The leaf and partial bulb
- Very fresh, green leaves, and plants that have no foul odor
- Do not purchase whole plants that include the root plate and roots.
- Ask the vendor how and where they harvested their ramps.
Thank you for sharing this video far and wide and helping educate ramp lovers of all kinds about sustainable practices!
This past summer, Suzy Phillips and Jim Smith visited Nick and Susan Nichols at Highlander Farm, where they raise chickens for eggs and meat, and lambs
Here are the thoughts that Jim took away from their excursion:
“As we talked, it became apparent to me that this was not your usual farm couple, or farm.
“The Nichols had come to farming as a way of life…a choice to work with animals and garden and land…passing up other, perhaps more lucrative, options and not settling for a retirement lifestyle. They enjoyed what they were doing. Coming as they did to farming, they were open and put into practice some ideas for pasture management, use of donkeys as guard “dogs”, free range and healthy chickens.
“What I felt being around them was that through their interactions in their community and by sharing ideas, resources and information, they also shared a personal excitement about their work and lives. They truly were sharing themselves.
“They did not have “chores.” Instead, they had values that reflected a deep connection to their land, to their family, and to their customers and farm visitors.
“That was apparent when they said, ‘oh..you want some eggs? Please take some…no charge.’”
“People talk about Thanksgiving. Well, I have it all the time.” Lester Crayton
70 years– that’s how long Lester and Marietta Crayton have been married. They are both in their nineties and live at home in the Oakley community in Asheville, surrounded by a neighborhood that used to be Lester’s family’s farmland. As houses have been built on what used to be corn, wheat, and hay fields, their stories keep alive their incredible history and partnership.
Lester’s father and mother met working for Vanderbilt at the Biltmore Estate and had his family farm in Oakley where his father grew celery for market, selling to grocery stores and the A&P. Marietta grew up in Madison County on Merry Mountain, where she grew tobacco to raise money to go to the girls’ teaching college in Asheville. During college at The Normal, she paid her way by working in the cafeteria.
One of those fateful years, their life together began: Lester asked a friend to arrange a date for him, with a girl at Asheville Normal– or what they referred to as “the Angel Farm”– and he knew after one blind date that he would ask her to marry him.
Their story continued through a service in WWII, after which Lester came home and became a preacher.
Rose Clark loves to fish. She keeps a garden, from which she put up 21 quarts of canned beans this past year. And she often host dinners, where 18 family members and friends dine at her table… Rose is 102 years old.
I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with Rose in her home, along with her son, Doyle and his wife, Nora, to hear about her life, her childhood memories, and her secret to green beans.
As Nora says, “Rose is the winner,” and she is, surrounded by people who love her dearly. The mailman, even, helped her put in her garden and staked the beans as they grew. She is a joy, and the richness of her life certainly comes out in her stories.
Nan and Earle Wise of Marshall both grew up in families with nine children. Their stories of growing and preparing food for families that large are interesting and poignant.
Earle made a career in farming as the Agriculture Extension Director in Madison County. He saw the rise and fall of Big Burley as well as tomato houses that sent tomatoes all over the country. Nan was a 4H leader, Square Dance Coach and substitute teacher. Her experience in canning and preserving food comes across as second nature as heard in her quip to her daughter, Maria Wise, “well if you can read you can ‘can’”.