Backyard Ramp Patch Project

Publication Year: 2008
Publication Type: Program Highlight
Citation: Cherokee Extension
Category: Publication
FRTEP – 1862

Ramps are a native wild onion that grows in the Appalachian mountains and a favorite wild food gathered in the early spring by Cherokee People. The young shoots, packed with vitamins and antioxidants, are mixed with eggs, fried potatoes or sautéed and eaten as a spring tonic. “Goin’ to the ramp patch” is an annual Cherokee tradition shared from one generation to the next. Ramps are strong tasting and traditionally gathered in small “messes”. About 2 hand fulls is enough for several meals. The Cherokee have a particular method of cutting the ramp bulb and leaving the roots and basal plate in the ground to regrow. Unfortunately, the local term is called “diggin’ ramps” and the traditional, sustainable harvesting method has been misunderstood by non-Cherokee gathers.

Martha Stewart and New York City restaurants have discovered this woodland delicacy and now over-harvesting by outside gathers has caused the Cherokee to loose access to traditional gathering patches. Both over harvesting – which has wiped out entire patches – and a ban on ramp gathering from the National Park Service has severely impacted traditional ramp gathering.

This demonstration project has resulted in the replanting of 24,000 ramp bulbs over the past 5 years. This project is very popular and volunteers gladly join in the packaging of the bulk ramp bulbs. This home demonstration project has resulted in 480 new ramp patches. Over 35 volunteers have helped package and distribute ramp bulbs. Program participants report that the bulbs transplant very successfully. Based on interviews a year after planting, most estimate that all of their bulbs survived.