RICHWOOD — Bob Henry Baber said he got emotional when he saw a large crowd of people packed into the cafeteria of Cherry River Elementary School in Richwood Saturday.
Saturday marked the town’s Feast of the Ramson — an annual festival and ramp dinner held in the town dating back to 1937. Each year, visitors from across the state, region and as far away as Canada gather in Richwood to celebrate the town’s famous ramps.
But this year was different.
Baber, the mayor of Richwood, said this year showed how resilient the close-knit community is. This year marked the first Ramp Festival since the June 2016 flood, which brought millions of dollars worth of damage to the Richwood community.
“Our whole town has PTSD from the flood, really,” Baber said. “But then you have an event like this. There’s volunteers out here cleaning a ton of ramps, you’ve got people from all over the state here, music, culture.
“This is West Virginia right here. This is guts and grit and beauty and ramps,” he said.
The feast of the Ramson is typically held at Richwood High School. Due to flood damage, the school is closed, and the festival had to switch venues.
But that wasn’t going to stop anyone.
“It started officially at 10:30 [a.m.], but we actually had to open the doors at 9:30 because we had so many people lined up outside,” said Mary Jane Williams, president of the Richwood Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber of commerce sponsored the event.
Ramps are known for their oniony flavor and scent, which greeted guests before they made it through the door.
At last count, Williams said volunteers had spent most of the month cleaning and preparing nearly 1,500 pounds of ramps — just for Saturday’s festival.
A continuous line of guests of all ages streamed through the cafeteria throughout the afternoon — all eager to enjoy the Richwood delicacy.
Richwood’s proximity to the Monongahela National Forest and other wooded areas makes it the perfect destination to forge for the wild vegetables, Williams said.
“We’re the official ramp capital of the world here,” she said with a smile. “We always try to claim that.”
Inside the school cafeteria guests sat at long lunch tables with trays of bacon, ham, pinto beans, oven potatoes, cornbread and, of course, ramps. Several musicians played their guitars or banjos, performing songs like “Country Roads,” and an original, “Ramp Song.”
Barbara Strugill drove nearly three hours from her home in Mingo County just to get a taste of ramps from Richwood. Saturday marked her sixth trip to the festival.
“There’s some places at home that grow them, but it’s hard to get them,” she said. “They just have a particular flavor to them. It’s just so good. ... If you don’t know what ramps are then you need to get your hind-end up here and figure it out because they’re the best things you’ll ever eat in your life. It’s just a lot of fun, a lot of down-home good people, a lot of food.”
Sturgill attended the festival with her friend Charles Runyon, who had never made the trip to Richwood for the festival before.
Sturgill and Runyon said they were impressed at how the community banded together for the festival — even after the floods nearly a year ago.
“It means a lot that they’re still opening the doors to people in other communities, even after their own community was hit so hard,” she said.
More than 60 arts and food vendors set up in City Hall, the public library and the Richwood Fire Department building — offering festival goers everything from hand-made jewelry and wooden gifts to jams, jellies and even ramp salad dressing.
Williams said volunteers were expecting to host as many as 1,200 people for the festival, showing just how far the town has come in nearly a year since the flood.
“We have banded together on a variety of things since the flood occurred. ... Once the shock of the flood was over, we found we were not going to let it get us down,” Williams said.
“We were not going to let the flood stop us — and we’ve been continuing that ever since. When the Ramp Festival came around, you know, nothing has changed. We’re just working harder to make it happen.”