The Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association (SMNPA) is a group of farmers, wildcrafters, naturalists, and enthusiasts who organized themselves in 2000, with the aims of preserving the region’s native flora, educating area residents about the plants and their traditional uses, and helping residents support themselves in the gathering, farming, and use of native plants. The gathering and sale of ramps, native mosses, and other species that one can legally pick, can still be fairly lucrative sideline work for those who are knowledgeable about the plants. The SMNPA offers micro-grants, seeds, and education to area residents interested in pursuing such work.
SMNPA’s mission also has a great deal to do with the folklife of western North Carolina, both culinary and agricultural. Members seek out and preserve the seeds of heritage varieties of corn, tomatoes, and other crops that have been grown in the area for generations. Sometimes unique plant lines are grown exclusively by one — and only one – family, whose members have carefully saved and passed down seeds or cuttings to descendants. Also part of SMNPA’s work is the documentation and preservation of the region’s oldtime farming methods, which in some cases, though the methods may have been abandoned long ago by most farmers, can still prove highly useful today in organic cultivation.
SMNPA maintains a kitchen at the Stecoah Valley Center, where members can experiment with traditional methods of preparing native plant foods. Most recently the group has started grinding meal and drying ramps for a distinctive and delicious cornbread-and-ramps mix, which is sold at the Stecoah Valley Center and by SMNPA.
Particularly dedicated to education, the SMNPA was featured at the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where they provided demonstrations of Smoky Mountains foodways throughout the festival. The group is also active closer to home, where they often make presentations about the region’s folk agriculture and cooking to schoolchildren.
The Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association offers educational presentations about the native plants of Graham County and surrounding areas, about traditional Appalachian farming methods, and cooking traditions in western North Carolina.