Growing up in middle of no where West Virginia I have always had a love of the forest and natural living. That being said I have studied edible wild plants almost obsessively since a very young age. Today I can walk into the woods and spot many different wild foods on any given day. I used this knowledge in many of my survival classes that I offered at summer camps for the kids. One of my all time favorite wild edibles and the subject of this article is the "Ramp" or wild leek.
Being from Richwood, West Virginia, home of the Ramp festival I have had these little beauties served up to me my whole life. In the spring these are the very first thing to poke their heads up. The ramp is a type of wild onion with a smell similar to garlic. They make a great addition to many different foods. So just how is a small wild onion a treasure, you ask? Well it all has to do with the ramp festival. Around April of every year the feast of the rampsen is held in my home town. Believe it or not people come from all over the country to eat these stinky little things. This is where the money making comes into play. During the time just before the festival and even during, you can sell them to all the dinners and even the local grocery store (FDA approval be damned) for around 5 dollars a pound. While 5 dollars is not a whole lot of money it has been my experience that you can walk out of the woods at the end of the day with a 50 pound feed sack full of them. If you bring friends or family it is possible to haul in even more than that. You could conceivably pay for your whole trip and have a few bucks left over. For those who want to do their own business you can get a permit fairly cheaply to open your own table during the festival and sell them directly to fellow tourists for even more money than what you would have made selling to the stores and dinners.
The only thing you really need to collect them is a sack. When you find the onions grab them firmly at their base and gently pull them up. They love soil that has a low ph so the dirt is usually loose. Toss the whole plant into the bag. It would be nice if you don't take the entire patch. That way at the end of summer when they drop their seed the plant will be able to repopulate the area. They like to grow in moist forests but will also grow in dry forests. Once you've brought in your ramps to sell I would recommend saving some for yourself so you don't miss out on a local delicacy. My favorite recipe for them would have to be fried potatoes with ramps. You simply chop up the bulb and throw it in the pan with your potatoes as you fry them. They can also be put in hamburger meat to give it a very distinct flavor. the leaf can be used in salads and salad dressings.
For those who are easily bored if you lose interest in the festival its self there are many natural attractions in the area. The town of Richwood is a very small town, with only one redlight. People have been saying "In ten years this will be a tourist town" but they have been saying that for like 20 years now. It is situated in some very beautiful country. With plenty of national forest with White water rafting, hiking, rock climbing. There is the cranberry glades nearby as well as Summersville lake, scenic waterfalls and the scenic highway running right through the national forest. The reason the town has not become a tourist hub yet is a lack of money. It would take some one or a group with money and a good business sense to buy up property and convert the town over. more info on the festival can be found at this link.
There is so much to do in this area that a trip for the ramp festival would be lots of fun for the whole family and you may even be able to pay for the whole vacation by digging ramps and selling them.