This edible non-timber forest product can cost as much as a good steak with prices ranging from $12 to $30 per pound. Nicknamed the “King of Stink” allium tricoccum, or more widely known as wild leeks or ramps, have the flavor between that of a garlic or onion. Small towns hold ramp festivals where they celebrate and eat this odorous forest plant which is harvested in the spring. In the last few years, ramps have found their way into fine dining restaurants across the country. A new partnership between the USDA Forest Service, Virginia Tech (VT) and the Institute for Sustainable Foraging (ISF) based in Traverse City, MI will ensure that chefs and festival goers will have a sustainable supply of this popular culinary delicacy.
The USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) has ongoing studies on ramp harvesting where most of the research has been based in the mountains in North Carolina. The newly formed partnership between SRS, VT and ISF will study ramp harvesting techniques by private landowners and harvesters in Northern Michigan.
“I am really excited about this partnership and how it will expand our knowledge,” said Jim Chamberlain, Research Forest Products Technologist. Jim along with Michelle Baumflek, an ethnobotanist and Post-Doctoral Research Associate at VT, have added study plots where ramps have been harvested in Michigan. “This is great partnership with a university and private company that will help us learn more about this profitable non-timber forest product.”
“By adding Michigan, researchers are able to add a whole different region of the country,” says Brian Bourdages, the program manager at ISF. “We want to ensure that the best foraging methods are being used to ensure the long term viability of this commercially valuable plant.”
John Munsell, Associate Professor at VT, had this observation, “This partnership is significant not only for improving ramps harvesting but more generally because of what it achieves among the agencies, industries, and institutions focusing on non-timber forest products. Stakeholder cooperation is necessary for sustainability and we are well on our way.”