FLAG POND — Flag Pond Ruritan Club President Richard Waldrop said the 28th annual Ramp Festival was timed perfectly with ramp-growing season in the mountains of Flag Pond this year.
“There are more of them this year,” he said. “They are not as big, but there are more of them because it’s been a good season for them. We’ve had a pretty good year for the ramps this year. Last year it was just a bad year.”
He said the wet weather helps them thrive, and they were plentiful compared to the limited selection last year.
“You gotta have ramps,” Waldrop said. “They are the main ingredient because if you don’t have any ramps, you can’t have a ramp festival.”
First-time festival attendee and Alexander, N.C., resident Geoffrey Barndt has developed a special bond to the ramp, also known as the reeking leek.
“I think the ramp is something that you can’t find anywhere else besides the mountains — it’s so unique to the mountains,” Barndt said. “If there is a symbol for the southern Appalachian mountains, the ramp is it.”
Barndt, who attends ramp festivals all over the region, sold ramps for a living after he got married in 1993.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” he said about attending ramp festivals. “I’m stoked. I’ve always wanted to come to this.”
Ten years ago, he won third place with a personal record of 77 raw ramps in 3 1/2 minutes at the White Top Mountain Ramp Festival.
This year, Barndt won second place in the Flag Pond ramp eating contest, where contestants had to eat five ramps in the shortest amount of time.
Compared to all the other ramp festivals he has attended, Barndt said Flag Pond embraces the vibe he expects to find in a small town and close-knit community. He said it reminds him of home.
“The thing I like about these festivals is that everybody from the community comes and it’s just real down home,” he said.
Working hard for the community is one of Waldrop’s favorite parts of organizing the event.
“It’s just something we try to do for our community to raise money to help people in the community,” Waldrop said. “Every penny we make goes back to the community in some way.”
Another reason Waldrop likes to be involved is to watch people gather at the old Flag Pond School.
“It’s just an enjoyment to see people come out and enjoy themselves and fellowship with one another,” he said.
Roy Ramsey, the oldest member of the Ruritan Club that started on his porch up the road from the old Flag Pond school, said he hopes the Flag Pond ramp tradition continues for many years.
“We love to get together like this,” Ramsey said.
Although the Ruritan Club hosts the event, Waldrop said it takes community-driven Unicoi Countians to complete all tasks.
“We couldn’t do it without the community, to tell you the truth,” Waldrop said. “It’s too big for us to try to do as a club. Eighty percent of what you see now is volunteers.”
Waldrop said he was thankful the sun was shining on the mountain when the festival began.
“A good turnout means a lot to us, and to me, too, because you put a lot of work into it and then when they turn out you see the fruit of your labor,” Waldrop said.
“The good Lord blessed us today. I’m glad because if you have a rainy day, people don’t want to come out.”