Grow Your Own Ramps

Video series gives detailed instructions for forest farming

Jim Chamberlain replanting ramps for study on sustainability of harvesting. Photo by Zoe Hoyle.

In the Appalachian Mountains, spring really starts with ramps and ramp festivals.

Also known as wild leeks, ramps (Allium tricoccum) have been described as having a flavor that falls somewhere between that of garlic, onions, and scallions. While the taste is sweet, the pungent smell of ramps—and of those who’ve eaten them—has been known to clear a room.

Native to the hardwood forests of eastern North America, ramps emerge in moist, shady areas of Appalachian forests in late March when the plant sends up a circle of smooth broad leaves that die back when the overhead trees are fully leafed out. People collect both the leaves and spicy bulb of the plant as a spring tonic, a tradition the early settlers may have learned from Native Americans.

Gatherings with cooking and music naturally formed around the spring digging of ramps. Over the last 50 years, these gatherings evolved into festivals held to raise operating funds for rural fire departments, rescue squads, churches, and other community organizations. U.S. Forest Service scientist Jim Chamberlain started studying ramps and ramp festivals over 15 years ago. Over the years, he’s seen the demand for ramps skyrocket.

“Over the last couple of decades interest in these edible forest products spread to local farmers markets and to big city restaurants where world famous chefs want to cook with them,” says Chamberlain, research forest products technologist with the Southern Research Station (SRS). “Now, big food retail corporations are demanding these spring onions.” 

With demand for the wild ramps increasing, harvesting may be affecting native populations.

Traditional ramp harvesters dig small clumps of ramps out of larger patches, leaving behind enough plants to form new patches, but new harvesters may be unaware of the practice. If harvesting levels keep rising, fewer plants will be left behind and populations may decline.

Forest farming of ramps offers an alternative to wild harvesting. “It’s important to think about the conservation and sustainable management of these plants,” says Chamberlain. “Forest farming can reduce the pressure on native populations while providing forest landowners with an alternative stream of income in the spring.”

Last year, Chamberlain partnered with Virginia Tech and Cornell University to produce a six-part video series about forest farming of ramps. The Ramps Forest Farming Video Series is provided to the public on a YouTube channel that was created as part of an eXtension project with support from SRS, the USDA National Agroforestry Center, and NIFA.

Over the course of the six-part series, Chamberlain provides detailed field-based information on:

  • Ramp plants in the context of the forest;
  • Sunlight and soil conditions needed for growing ramps;
  • The stages of the ramp’s reproduction and life cycles;
  • Instructions on how to build a raised bed for ramps in the forest;
  • Identification and handling of double and triple ramp bulbs; and
  • Siting and other considerations for putting in raised beds in the forest.

Working with Cornell and Virginia Tech cooperators, Chamberlain developed additional forest farming series on growing shiitaki mushrooms, goldenseal, and ginseng, with more in development.

For more information, email Jim Chamberlain at jchamberlain@fs.fed.us.

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Posted in Ethics & Values, Forest Inventory & Analysis, Forest Landowners, Forest Products, Non-Timber Forest Products, Upland Hardwoods

U.S. Forest Service Co-sponsors Magazine’s 8th Anniversary Conference

by Teresa Jackson, SRS Science Delivery Group

Minority Landowner Magazine publisher Victor Harris (left), Southern Research Station assistant director Jennifer Plyler (center), Winston County Self-Help Cooperative team leader Frank Taylor (right). Photo by Teresa Jackson, U.S. Forest Service.

More than 220 farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and natural resource professionals from across the United States attended “Family Farms Strengthen the Local Economy,” the Minority Landowner Magazine’s annual conference held this year in Greenville, South Carolina.

“Through the feature articles in Minority Landowner and through our annual conference, we introduce farmers and forest landowners to the science that can positively and negatively impact their land management operation,” said Victor Harris, publisher and editor of the Minority Landowner Magazine and conference host. “This year Dr. James Vose from the Forest Service Southern Research Station gave an excellent presentation and answered many questions regarding climate change. It was very well presented and very well received, resulting in a productive dialogue.”

“The partnership we share with Southern Research Station continues to be instrumental in the success of our conference, and in equipping farmers and forest landowners with tools and knowledge to make their operations productive,” said Harris. “We could not produce such a high caliber conference without them, and we’re proud to have the Southern Research Station as a strong sponsor and supporter.”

Harris, a registered forester and former Forest Service employee, has published the Minority Landowner Magazine since 2006, providing limited resource farmers, ranchers, and landowners with resources needed to be productive and profitable, and to maintain land ownership.

Over a three-day conference, participants heard from speakers and presenters from USDA and state agencies, the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, Farm Credit, and their peers. They spoke one on one with exhibitors and rotated through four concurrent breakout sessions on Financial Planning, Farmers Markets & Community Supported Agriculture, My Land Plan, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs.

This year’s conference encompassed a group of participants who had not only a strong desire to learn and glean all the information they could from workshop presenters, conference speakers, exhibitors, and panelists, but also an unselfish willingness to share their stories, successes, and challenges with others. From banquet speaker Frank Taylor, team leader of the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative based in Louisville, Mississippi, to luncheon speaker Hezekiah Gibson, founder and president of United Farmers USA based in Manning, South Carolina, everyone was eager to impart knowledge to help others improve their operations and become better land managers.

SRS assistant director Jennifer Plyler, project leader of the SRS Center for Integrated Forest Science Jim Vose, public affairs specialist Teresa Jackson, and cooperative forestry management analyst Cheryl Bailey from the Washington Office, represented the Forest Service.

Plyler gave a general overview of the Forest Service and SRS as she spoke on the importance of keeping land forested and in the family, invasive species, non-timber forest products, water resources, and forest inventory and monitoring. Jackson staffed the SRS booth and provided participants with information on Forest Service products and services.

Vose presented information on climate change and climate variability, touching on vulnerabilities to forests, changes in the earth’s climate system, and the establishment of the Regional Climate Hubs. As a Washington Office representative, Bailey participated on a panel of natural resources professionals, and provided information on the “Know your farmer know your food” program, ecosystem services and markets, the Renewable Energy Project, and the National Agroforestry Center.

The Minority Landowner Magazine is the largest distributed magazine of its kind, with more than 5,000 subscribers. In addition to the Forest Service, the conference was co-sponsored by USDA Southern Agriculture Research & Education, Risk Management Agency, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, and NRCS, all of which were well represented.

For more information, email Teresa Jackson at teresajackson@fs.fed.us

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Posted in Economics & Policy, Ethics & Values, Forest Operations, Forest Products

Non-Timber Forest Products

Jim Chamberlain holding ramp. Photo by Gary Kauffman, USDA Forest Service

From walking sticks to herbal medicines

Jim Chamberlain, research forest products technologist with Southern Research Station Forest Inventory and Analysis unit, organizes non-timber forest products into four general categories:

1)      Edible and culinary products harvested from the forest include mushrooms, ferns, and the fruits, leaves, and roots of many plant species. Edibles commonly gathered and sold throughout the Southeast include ramps, fiddleheads, poke salat, black walnuts, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, persimmons, and acorns.

2)      Specialty wood products are considered non-timber if they are produced from woody vines, saplings, or parts of trees, but not from sawn wood. Examples include carvings and turnings, utensils, and containers. Also included are walking sticks made from branches, furniture made from branches and vines, and musical instruments made from wood not sawn from logs. 

Fine art box made by local artist Gary Goodman. Photo by Gary Goodman.

3)      Floral and decorative products include the crooked wood gathered in Florida forests for dried flower arrangements, grapevine used to make wreaths and baskets, and galax leaves gathered for national and international floral markets. Several species of log moss and hanging Spanish moss harvested from southern hardwood forests are also used in the floral industry.

4)      Medicinal and dietary supplements are major products for the Southeast, particularly the Appalachian hardwood region, where Chamberlain has identified more than 50 plants with medicinal value. American ginseng, the most popular of these, is collected from 7 of the regions 13 states. Other medicinal plants collected from the Southeast include black cohosh and bloodroot. The pine forests of Florida are also the primary source for saw palmetto, a medicinal plant used to treat prostate problems.

 

Read about FIA efforts to track non-timber forest products.

Read about Chamberlain’s recent research on American ginseng.

 For more information: Jim Chamberlain at jchamberlain@fs.fed.us

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Posted in Forest Inventory & Analysis, Forest Landowners, Non-Timber Forest Products