Lifestyle

Catskill Mountain farmer challenges campus critics who say foragers are ‘destroying the Earth’

Rick Bishop has spent decades foraging for ramps in the Catskill Mountains, guided by the country wisdom he learned long ago from an old-time woodsman.

“He told me that ramps clean the winter right out of your blood,” said Bishop, a farmer, forager and owner of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in Roscoe, New York, to Fox News Digital. 

Ramps are a perennial flowering plant from the allium (garlic) family, often called wild leeks. They’re one of the earliest greens of spring.

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They proliferate in the wild, notably in heavily wooded areas from West Virginia and up the Appalachian Mountains to New York and into New England. 

“Foraging ramps is just part of the culture in places like West Virginia and the Catskills,” said Bishop.

Ramps, also called wild leeks, are shown being harvested in a forest near Baroda, Michigan.  (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

But every cultural tradition these days is facing college campus ramp-age

Even foraging. 

Turns out that gathering food to eat from the abundance of the woods, a tradition as old as humanity, is no longer politically correct.

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“It’s like the 20-year-old NYU and Columbia students are coming at me and they’re just absolutely positive that I’m destroying the Earth,” said Bishop.

The “fevered urban criticism” has reached the ears of the officials in New York City who inspect the city’s farmers’ market vendors. 

Ramps at farmer's market

Ramps or wild leeks come from the garlic family and are often foraged early each spring in the mountains of the northeastern United States. (Rick Bishop/Mountain Sweet Berry Farm)

No action has been taken or threatened — but Bishop has felt forced to write a vigorous “defense of digging” that he’s shared with inspectors. 

“Ramps clean the winter right out of your blood.”

He also shared the information with his staff. They may need to defend their actions of sourcing ramps organically from the forest floor of remote upstate mountains if scolded by Ivy League environmental scholars who are studying gender-equity agriculture. 

“The Catskills have a unique ecology that allows the ramp population to thrive when digging them,” Bishop wrote. 

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“The ramp seeds fall into the leaf litter every year in July and lay dormant until they get incorporated into the soil. I assure you the digging and incorporating seeds is sustainable … I urge you to support other farmers who dig sustainably.”

Bluegrass Kitchen

Ramps, pickled onions and bleu cheese with stone ground mustard at Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston, West Virginia. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Foraged ramps still have plenty of fans in the kitchens of A-list New York City restaurants. 

Bishop said he counts celebrity chefs such as David Chang, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio among those who covet his seasonal, rustic, organic, wild, all-natural and hand-harvested ramps.

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“Stronger than a leek, and more pungent than a scallion,” as Bishop describes them on the Mountain Sweet Berry Farm website. 

The entire plant is edible from bulb to stalk to leaves. 

Chef Daniel Boulud

Chef Daniel Boulud cooking before the New York City Wine & Food Festival in October 2017.  (Kris Connor/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

“The bulb is kind of sweet onion-y and it gets more garlic-y as you get to the top,” said Bishop, who professes an insatiable appetite for ramps, morning, noon and night.

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He enjoys omelets with salt, pepper, Parmesan and finely chopped ramps; steak served with fresh ramps; pasta with ramps “sautéed lightly in good olive oil” and his wife’s ramp-potato au gratin

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