RICHWOOD, W.Va. — Ramp dinners in West Virginia are growing in popularity, and their non-profit hosts are benefitting from the burgeoning interest in all things West Virginian, says the publisher of West Virginia Explorer Magazine.
"Ramp dinners have become a much bigger thing all of a sudden," says David Sibray, whose online guide to the Mountain State has been the state's chief promotor of the events for over a decade.
"I was worried about them at one point because their volunteer hosts were growing older, but after covid ran its course, the festivals boomed along with the popularity of so much about West Virginia."
Sibray says that the events that celebrate the return of spring in Appalachia—and the appearance of the leafy wild vegetable, a kind of wild leek—are growing in number and capacity.
Hosts are also finding that they need to confirm event dates earlier to accommodate an increasing number of out-of-state guests who are planning vacations around the events.
Jennifer Smith, who has been coordinating the calendar of ramp feeds for the magazine, says organizations hosting dinners for several consecutive years are reporting more out-of-state guests.
"A few of the hosts we've added to the calendar are only in their first or second year, but people who have been hosting them for years say they're welcoming more people and more guests from surrounding states," she said.
Smith said that to accommodate larger crowds and more tourists, many organizations are also moving their dinners to Saturdays, though many had often hosted on Sundays.
Ramp dinners in the 1800s and early 1900s served as local events that welcomed community members but, by the late 1900s, had become popular fundraisers for non-profits such as churches and volunteer fire departments.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, Sibray reported in an interview with WOWK-TV that he worried the dinners might be endangered, primarily where churches were concerned, as church attendance and the state population had dropped.
However, since the pandemic and the advent of the work-from-home revolution, Sibray says West Virginia's population is increasing, and cultural events such as ramp dinners are becoming far more popular.
"Many people discovered West Virginia during the pandemic and are moving here to take part in our culture, which they find peaceful, affordable, and endearing, and I certainly can't blame them."
Sibray said many fans of ramps worry that the wild-growing plants could be over-harvested but that most organizations who host the dinners have their own ramp patches and depend on harvesters who have a substantial economic interest in maintaining their plantings.
"I am concerned about the over-harvesting of the species, but as near as I can tell, most of the organizations that host these dinners take care to tend and increase their patches," he said.
For more information on ramp festivals in West Virginia, visit West Virginia Ramp Dinners & Festivals.
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