Partnership to Better Understand Harvest Methods for Ramps Launched in Michigan

Jim Chamberlains sets up plots to study the sustainability of ramp harvests in Michigan. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.
Jim Chamberlain reviews placement of study plots where ramps have been harvested for commercial purposes in northwest Lower Michigan. Photo by Michelle Baumflek.

The U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) and Virginia Tech are partnering with the newly formed Institute for Sustainable Foraging (ISF) based in Traverse City, Michigan, to study ramp harvesting techniques used by private landowners and harvesters in Northern Michigan. This research will be used to better understand harvest methods necessary to ensure sustainability of ramp populations over time.

Native to the hardwood forests of eastern North America, ramps emerge in moist, shady areas of forests in late March or April, when the plant sends up a circle of smooth broad leaves that die back when the overhead trees are fully leafed out. People collect both the leaves and spicy bulb of the plant as a spring tonic and increasingly, as a culinary specialty.

Jim Chamberlain, SRS research forest products technologist, along with Michelle Baumflek, an ethnobotanist and post-doctoral research associate at Virginia Tech, have installed study plots where ramps have been harvested for commercial purposes in northwest Lower Michigan. These sites will be revisited in subsequent years to examine the effects that foraging may have on plant density, size, and other indicators of population health to help determine how they may be sustainably harvested.

The study’s fieldwork will provide scientific data for the ISF, a non-profit established with the support of Tamarack Holdings, a group of businesses, Michigan foragers, botanists and others. These entities all share a common and growing interest in assuring the long-term sustainability of ramps and other foraged goods. “By adding Michigan, researchers are able to add to their ongoing studies a whole different region of the country, where ramps are native and the population is more prolific,” says Brian Bourdages, the program manager at Tamarack Holdings. “Results from the study will help the ISF to better assess their sustainable foraging standards.”

“The research in Michigan will help provide valuable information on how ramps can be grown and harvested sustainably there and in other forests,” says Chamberlain. “I am really excited about this partnership with Virginia Tech and the Institute for Sustainable Foraging and how it will expand our knowledge of ramp conservation and management.”

Baumflek spoke of her excitement at seeing the prolific nature of the ramp patches in Michigan. “In the mountains of North Carolina, where I’ve been doing much of my work, ramps rely on mesic cove habitats, which limits their distribution to smaller, steeper and more confined areas than here in this part of Michigan. It’s amazing to see such large and healthy populations of ramps covering the forest floor.”

“It is also important to acknowledge that our field methodology was adapted from research by SRS research plant ecologist Joan Walker in western North Carolina,” said Baumflek. “Walker has been monitoring ramp patches that are subject to gathering pressure on federal forest land for over 15 years.”

John Munsell, associate professor and forest management extension specialist in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, had this observation about the study’s expansion, “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 to move in a fundamental direction toward sustainability and we are well on our way.”

For more information, email Jim Chamberlain at jchamberlain@fs.fed.us.

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