Aging, declining population leading to drop in ramp dinners

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Aging, declining population leading to drop in ramp dinners
A patch of spring ramps thrives in a forest in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Anne Johnson)

A decline in population across West Virginia may be contributing to a drop in traditional spring ramp feasts, despite increased interest among tourists and younger generations.

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The fluctuations are apparent, though not quantifiable, says the publisher of West Virginia Explorer Magazine, which produces an annual online .

David Vincent enjoys a ramp dinner at the Richwood Ramp Festival.

"I was saddened to talk to many organizers this year who say they're ending the tradition because of a lack of volunteers," publisher David Sibray said.

"In some cases, the congregations at churches have aged, and elderly church members are no longer able to manage the dinners.

"In another case, a volunteer fire department just didn't have the manpower to manage but hopes to bring it back next year."

Sibray said the decline is only anecdotal and is based on the number of organizations that respond to the magazine's annual call for event updates.

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"There could be new ramp dinners, the organizers of which hadn't alerted us, and certainly there are dinners that we just don't know about," he said.

"Especially where elderly congregants are concerned, they don't use social media, though we also put out an annual request through newspapers and other media."

Annual ramp dinners have been celebrated in the eastern U.S. since Europeans first settled the region and have remained robust in the mountains where isolated settlements depended on the plant as a first spring green, he said.

Also known as , the plant's bulbs and young leaves are dug up in early spring from patches that harvesters usually keep secret, though the plant grows liberally in the Appalachian Mountains without cultivation.

Over time, the harvest became the focus of traditional community feasts that in the 20th century served as fundraisers for non-profit organizations.

West Virginia’s population declined by 12,000 residents in 2019, which brings the state’s total population down to about 1.78 million. The state’s population peaked in the middle of the last century with approximately two-million residents. It now claims 1.8 million.

Many younger residents have left to seek work outside the state, in which employment has gradually declined.

To submit information on a ramp festival, email editor@wvexplorer.com, and include contact information, including a phone number, if possible. The guide, to which updates are continuously being made, .

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