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Ramps are in season in Berkshire County, but is overforaging a problem?

Sustainable Food Trend May Be Putting Ramps at Risk

By Nichole DupontiBerkshires Staff
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SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Foraging, the act of searching for food (usually in the wild), has long been a mainstay of food cultures around the world.

Recently, thanks to the resurgence of sustainable farming and the farm-to-table movement, foraging has regained its popularity. In fact, many area foodies and restaurants including Nudel in Lenox, the Old Inn On the Green in New Marlborough and Mezze Bistro and Bar in Williamstown often highlight the wild harvest when creating their notable seasonal menus. Ramps, wild watercress, fiddle head ferns and many varieties of mushrooms are among the abundant wild harvest available in the area's many damp, wooded areas. The art of foraging and cooking with foraged food has been featured in Berkshire Grown's annual "Farmed and Foraged" event held in May.

But how long will the wild bounty last?  According to ethnobotanist Lawrence Davis-Hollander, president of and former director of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, foraged food, particularly ramps (or wild leeks as they often called) are at risk of depletion as commercial foragers cash in on the locavore trend.

"It's the most ironical question," Davis-Hollander said in a phone interview. "There are two major food movements running through this county right now. One is the heavily industrial-based processed food trend. The other is the locally grown, sustainable, supposedly environmentally friendly food movement – the farm-to-table movement, as it's often called. Unfortunately this idea of foraging has morphed into 'what can we get out of ramps?' It's become commercialized in many circles. Like anything else, if you start harvesting millions of them, how long are they going to be around?"
Part of the problem with ramp foraging, Davis-Hollander pointed out, is the method by which foragers extract the ramps from their wild habitat. He said that many foragers rip up the entire bulb, wholly removing the ramps from the ground. This practice, he said, is not sustainable and will inevitably lead to ramp depletion.
"It takes seven years for a ramp bulb to get to a mature size," he said. "People are taking mature and immature bulbs right out of the ground and not replacing them with anything. They are not being harvested with any care. Entire patches of ramps are being completely decimated."

Photos by Austin Banach
Local forager Austin Banach, cheesemonger and fishmonger for Rubiner's in Great Barrington, said that ripping up ramp bulbs, aside from being unsustainable, is not an efficient method, especially for larger forages.

"I used to take up the bulbs but when I got them to my kitchen to wash them it was a complete mess," he said. "The dirt would clog up my sink and it just wasn't worth it. It's easier to cut them. Yes, supposedly the bulb contains the most 'spice' so to speak, but the taste of the ramp is so garlicky and distinct it really doesn't matter."

While Banach now forages strictly for his personal kitchen, there was a time when he was out foraging ramps in order to provide seasonal offerings for the restaurant he used to work at. He said that foraging is a relatively common practice among area chefs but that he has not noticed any visible depletion in his ramp hauntings.

"Sure, one weekend we'll sell ramps here or have a special ramp dish," he said. "I know at Nudel that they always come up with ramp dishes. Eventually you just get sick of ramps because everybody's got them. But it's not in mass quantities and it's not for a very long period of time."

There is no shortage of ramps now, Davis-Hollander said, but if they are overharvested they may suffer the same fate as another wild edible that used to grow abundantly in New England – American ginseng (panax quinquefolius L.)

According to the USDA NRCS Plant guide, American ginseng "has been depleted by over-collecting for commercial purposes." The report goes on to say that many states "have a permit process instituted for collectors in the wild. Certain U.S. ports have been designated by the USDA, APHIS as ports through which ginseng can be exported. The Canadian Museum of Nature (2000) considers it a species at risk."

Who's to say, asks Davis-Hollander, that ramps will not follow suit?

"A great parallel and another example is the disaster with [American] ginseng," he said. "Ginseng may have been as abundant as ramps are now but they're never abundant anywhere anymore. They're not plentiful; we did that. People have been harvesting ramps for hundreds of years, that's not the problem. Commercializing is the problem."
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Berkshires Beat: Berkshire County Youths Joined Amplify 2019 Program

Music in Common

Berkshire County youth Darby Taylor, Hailey Peters, Maddy Bronson and Olivia Davis participated in Music In Common's "Amplify" program in Sheffield, Mass., this summer. Amplify is a two-week residential program in which musicians perform songs written by Music In Common youth from around the world. The Amplify group performed three concerts throughout Berkshire County to culminate the program.

Eight musicians, ages 15 to 20, arrived in the Berkshires on July 7 from California, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts and immersed themselves in a rigorous two-week residential program in which they learned nine songs, culled from more than 50 songs written by youth in previous Music In Common programs. The participants also wrote an original piece, "Shine Through," about staying true to self. They performed the songs at three concerts across the county. All Music In Common’s Youth Produced songs and videos can be viewed on MIC’s YouTube Channel.

This year's participants were selected based on auditions in California, Massachusetts, Georgia and online. The Amplify program is Music In Common's only program that selects participants through auditions. This is the second year in a row that Music In Common produced the Amplify program. "It's heartwarming to empower a new generation of musical talent and leaders," said Todd Mack, executive director at Music In Common. "They believe, as we do, that music offers humanity a common language through which we can realize peace and understanding."

Music In Common is a nonprofit organization that empowers youth against hate through collaborative songwriting, multimedia, and performance. The organization’s mission is to strengthen, empower, and connect communities through the universal language of music. Mack founded Music In Common in 2005 originally as an informal backyard jam called FODfest, inspired by the life of his friend and bandmate Daniel Pearl, the late Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in 2002. Fueled by a resonating belief in music as a universal language, that backyard jam has grown into a global nonprofit organization with innovative community-building programming that serves as a call to action in communities around the world. To date, Music In Common has produced programming in more than 300 communities across the United States, Middle East and Far East and operates multiple programs locally, nationally and internationally.


Support group expansion

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is expanding its Healthy Hearts Support Group to include anyone living with a chronic condition. Meetings are held from 10 to 11 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month on the third floor of the West Wing of the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, 100 Hospital Drive in Bennington, Vt. Free valet parking is available, and signs are hung to direct attendees who enter through the Main Lobby.

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