Flag Pond Ruritan Ramp Festival celebrates community with ramps

Hannah Swayze • May 12, 2018 at 11:15 PM

In Flag Pond, ramps aren't just a delicacy. They're fuel for a community and a means — and a reason — for celebration.

The small Unicoi County community celebrated its 33rd annual Ramp Festival Saturday afternoon at the Flag Pond Ruritan Club.

“We were just sitting around trying to have a fundraiser for our Ruritan, and we came up with the ramp festival," said Richard Waldrop, president of the Flag Pond Ruritan Club. "First year we had 100. Then it just blossomed from there."

While the original festival may have drawn a crowd of 100, today the event draws a crowd of easily a thousand people. By 1 p.m. Saturday, Ruritan members serving the food said they'd had 700 people come through the food line. The festival started at 11:30 a.m.

The ramp festival featured local bluegrass bands like the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, the Spivey Mountain Boys and The Flag Ponderers, and a craft market.

By far the most popular part of the festival is the ramps. Eight dollars on the day can get you a "Ramp Dinner" that consists of fried potatoes with ramps, soup beans, a pile of bacon, cornbread and dessert.

Why ramps?

"It's a delicacy," said Waldrop.

Ramps are not easy to describe.

They are similar to wild onions or wild leeks, but most people in Flag Pond will tell you they're more like leeks. They grow in the ground and look like small bulbous onions with flat leaves that grow above ground. They taste like a small but strong cross between an onion and garlic.

Ramps grow in the wild. Waldrop said they grow above 3,000 feet above sea level on the north side of a mountain in the spring in the Eastern part of North America. That means ramps are not something you'll find in the average grocery store year-round.

Every year, members of the Flag Pond Ruritan Club go out to different places in the area to harvest them. Some they dig on private property; this year, some were also brought in from Roan Mountain.

How do ramps help Flag Pond?

For 33 years now, the Flag Pond Ruritan Club has been hosting the Ramp Festival and supporting the community with it. The Flag Pond Ruritan uses all the money it raises to support the community.

"(It goes to) people that are sick, and we give away a $1,000 scholarship to the high school. We've helped people with funerals. Everything we get we try to pour it back into the community."

Beyond that, he says that people come from all over now to experience the festival and just visit one another.

But what’s Waldrop's favorite part?

"The fellowship."

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