The 2017 Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence is dedicated to the memory of David Ronniger

David RonnigerThree eulogies written by Michael Pilarski, Laura Lanfear and Michael Billington. 

David Lee Ronniger,  
December 1, 1944 – July 2, 2017.

A Dedication by Michael Pilarski

David leaves a large legacy.

David never took a permaculture course or called himself a permaculturist but he taught us lots.  He was an agricultural giant and an important person in the Hot Springs community.  We will miss him.

Millions of plants are alive due to his Native Seed Foundation, a seed business for native Northwest plants which specialized in shrubs.  David was one of the Northwest’s biggest native seed suppliers for the decades he was in business.  Many tons of seeds were cleaned out by David. He would process thousands of pounds of berries of serviceberry, elderberry, Oregon grape, currants, rosehips etc. each year.  These were sold to nurseries around the US and also used for reseeding programs after wildfires and disturbances.

Millions of people have been fed due to his business Ronniger’s Potatoes. Started in the early 1980s, David built up his seed potato business to host the largest selection of potato varieties in the US.  He introduced many new potato varieties to the public and we continue to enjoy those varieties today. David was a great farmer and he really knew how to grow potatoes.  Besides growing potatoes David grew many other kinds of crops over the years.  His main farming took place in North Idaho at his home farm outside of Moyie Springs, Idaho, but he actively farmed vegetables at his new postage stamp farm outside of Hot Springs Montana to supply his store Camas Natural Foods.

In the 1970s, David started the first natural food store in Salt Lake City and built it up to a successful business before selling it and moving to north Idaho.  Years later David started up Camas Natural Foods store on Main Street in the little town of Hot Springs, Montana.  David ran the store with his partner Linny Gibson until his death. It was (and is) a great place to buy healthy food and to bump into like-minded friends. The store, bakery and deli has fed many locals and non-locals over the years. Every town and city should have a natural food store in it. [Stop by the store when you’re in town for the INPC].

David was one of the best huckleberry pickers of his day.  20 gallons of hucks a day at times.  He bought a part interest in a huckleberry products business so that he would always have a ready buyer for his picking.

David was a great builder and over the years built several houses, large barns, sheds and root cellars to house his tons of potatoes. Stoutly built.

David was also a family man with two sons and a daughter. His son Simon runs the north Idaho family farm.

David knew how to work and was a man who never stood still until his final days. I lived with David in 1978 at a hippie commune called God’s Garden outside of Moyie Springs, Idaho. David and I organized and did many things together over the years and were good friends ever since we first met.

David enjoyed fishing and took time out from his businesses to go fishing. Now he is fishing in heaven.


David Ronniger, by Laura Lanfear

David Ronniger grew up in the Federal Heights neighborhood of Salt Lake City. After high school he joined the Marines.  when his father, who was an OB/GYN doctor died; David, his mother and his younger brother and sister opened Whole Earth Natural Foods in 1971.  In 1977 David left Salt Lake City to pursue his dream of being a farmer. His siblings, Molly and Steve continued to run the store until 1985.

David ended up with a farm in Moyie Springs Idaho and put in nearly 40 years of work there. One winter in the early days of his farming career, he was given a bag of unusual potatoes. With his uncanny knack for predicting upcoming agricultural trends, he held onto the potatoes all winter studying up on the long forgotten varieties and making plans to begin multiplying them during harvest. His crop turned out to be a bumper crop that year and Ronniger's Potato Farm was born. He changed Idaho from a monoculture potato crop to a cornecopia of variety. David was instrumental in introducing over 200 varieties of certified organic seed potatoes and 10 varieties of fingerling potatoes. His customers were on the forefront of potato history.  Ronniger's Potato Farm achieved something close to rockstar status in the world of agriculture.  There are dozens of articles written about him and his farm in magazines like Martha Stewart's, the New Yorker, Rocky Mountain Gardening, Hobby Farms, Montana Health Journal, National Gardening and Harrowsmith Country Life, just to name a few.  

But that's not all David is famous for.

In 1990 he got a Haflinger horse from a friend who was downsizing his own herd. The Haflinger is a small sturdy horse with a friendly nature and David used them in his fields. 15 years later David was the second largest breeder of this horse in the US.

David was one of the few people in the western United States who knew how to process the indigenous seeds of the area. He started off by collecting conifer seeds for Christmas tree farms across the country and soon started harvesting seeds for small trees and native shrubs. He collected seeds in Montana, Idaho, Washington and British Colombia forests for species such as quaking Aspen, bunchberry dogwood and Rocky Mountain Maple to ensure their continued existence.   He processed hundreds of thousands pounds of seeds.

David's days on the farm were long and he didn't hire much outside help. He prided himself on being self-sufficient and conscious of the environment. He would reuse and recycle. He went to auctions and rebuilt his farm equipment. He had his own sawmill and cut the lumber for the buildings that he built. He had old bikes which his workers used to get around on the farm.

The farm in Idaho is being continued by David's son Simon and family

David wrote that he "retired to Hot Springs".  During this retirement he remodeled and opened Camas Organic Market and then later added a large addition. He developed his little farm so he could provide his community and all the visitors with locally grown produce. He built a large root cellar and added a high tunnel greenhouse. He wrote that his intention was to set a precedence in Hot Springs for this community and other communities, families and individuals to see how simply we can live and appreciate the wisdom in smallness. He believed people must learn to grow a garden, learn about nutrition and start meals from scratch.  He wanted the store to be a place for people to come together and share what they are learning and growing.

Quote; "What I really want to see is an explosion of awareness. The only way to help people change their way of thinking is through education. Information is everywhere these days, but first person accounts, actually seeing how to make it happen... that's what hits close to home".

Certainly anyone who appreciates high-quality vegetables, plants and even horses can agree that our community's produce selections and our entire nation's agricultural selections and are a lot better off because of David.

David Ronniger, we thank you.

David Ronniger, by Michael Billington

I was burdened and blessed to be close to David throughout the process of his life slipping away.  I was there as often as I could through two surgeries and way too many days in a hospital.  And after being close enough to witness that degree of hardship the first thing I have to say is: Thank you Linny.  Your unrelenting kindness and care for David is a true measure of the quality of your person.  Thank you for putting yourself at your own edge to care for such a great man.  Since David cared for the community, and you cared for David, I believe it is this communities responsibility to help care for you.  If we want to honor David, then we should support Linny.  May the energy you expended stewarding such a bright soul come back to you ten fold.  Lets send her flowers, cook her food, anything we can do to bring balance to her efforts.  Thank you Linny.

Even to the very the last breath, David lived with determination.  Never once did he give the impression of defeat.  The last chapter of his life was consumed by the drive to get back to Idaho and I am greatful to have witnessed his return.  We put his body in a hole dug by his second favorite tractor, in a Pasture that once housed his herd of world class work horses.  His body lies beneath a willow tree that we planted to one day provide basket material that will carry a piece of him.  The man who has given so much on behalf of the earth has now given his final offering of his own flesh.  David, may god guide your spirit to unite with Marley [David’s dog] in your proper places.  If it is right for the path of your spirit, may you still linger amongst this world to guide the hands of the farmers, to sharpen the eyes of the fisherman, to hone the minds of tool innovators, and to guide the path of those working to heal themselves.  We will miss your presence but I would like to believe it remains in some way.

I studied David very closely for two years.  I did so because I believe in him.  I met him 5 years ago when he delivered a load of logs to a strawbale building I was helping with.  When I met him all I could think was “who the heck is this man?”  I discovered that answer very well in the subsequent years.  He was a living encyclopedia of dying skills and knowledge.  Soon I learned he was the man who opened the first health food store in Salt Lake City, he was the man who set up the speakers for some of the first rock concerts, he was the man who built a metal fishing boat when he was 13, he was a pioneer organic seed potato grower in the united states, he was the man who built a building every year, he was a pioneer for native seed reclamation work and he was the man who raised a herd of rare work horses.  Carpentry, Farming, Milling, Fishing, preparing food… the list goes on.  There are many who are a jack of all, master of none… but not many who are a master of most, jack of some.

 In a world of mediocrity David shined like a candle in the dark.  Most of his actions were like a luminary for guiding right living, A beacon for a new generation hungry for the path back to eden.   David was blessed with the rare combination of earth based intelligence, heart, drive, curiousity, and a disposition for action.  Many people break trail for the glory but few people are willing to break trail simply for the experience.  David was hard wired for discovery.  His resting state was active.  He did his best to pay attention to God’s will, and act on it.  He once told me that he ”wasn’t sure if the idea’s that came to him were his own or god throwing him a bone”.  Many days when we awoke to live out the day in working unison, he would tell me of a dream he had and how he had to follow up on it.  Most of us dream, few of us carry them out.  Not only did David enact his dreams, he shared them with others.

I asked him once… Why? Why put so much effort into this store, this town, when he could do anything he wanted… he selflessly told me “because this village needs good food”.  I have heard him called greedy and self centered by people of this community and beyond.  I have even received warnings about working with him.  True he was not always an easy man to work with, but if you were humble then he would teach you better ways to do things.  People are quick to criticize what they don’t understand, especially if comparing themselves to another’s greatness.   He knew that money had the power to create action and that by generating money we gain the ability to fuel the action we wish to see.   I do not believe he was self centered, he was focused and had purpose.  At times his walk required him to put his priorities before others, but the core of those priorities was service to humanity and earth.

This community called on David constantly.  One of David’s greatest insights on how to achieve things was to “not put down your hammer”.  What he was saying was that while you wield the hammer in your hand, do everything you can do with it before you put it down.  Despite this philosophy, on a daily basis he would selflessly put down his hammer to get someone a battery charger, loan them money for a truck, aid them with tractor work, answer their questions, or order them something they wanted.  He did this out of good nature, out of service.  Because he knew it takes a village.

Early in our close friendship I asked him “why did you choose to live in Hot Springs?’ he said “because people come here to heal and I want to help, and I could use a bit of healing myself.”  Later, when he asked me the same question I told him the simple truth “because you’re here.”   He put immense effort into helping this community to grow and heal, I pray that this community amplifies those efforts and carry them forward.  David once told me “It’s easier to take then to give, but its more fulfilling to give then to receive.”  If this community wants to honor the life of such a great man, then embodying this insight of his is a great step towards creating a living legacy.

He said that simple minds talk about people, mediocre minds talk about events, and great minds talk about ideas.  Some people talk fast and take little action.  Some people don’t have conversations, they talk you into submission.  David emphasized to me how it seems like people today have forgotten how to speak with each other.  He would say ”it’s a back and forth; listen... respond.”   He felt that a quiet peaceful meal time was one of the best arenas for this kind of connecting.  In that way, Camas [food store] to me can serve as something like a church… a way to bring people together in a good way. He believed in this community and he would demonstrate this faith and dedication through his form of speak: action.  He walked in full stride and left a wake of examples, demonstrations, and inspiration.  When he spoke it was a volley where he would hold nothing back and offer what he knew.  He would ask sincere questions hoping for sincere answers.  And even though he always thought he knew a better way to do things, he was still always interested in being taught something new.  I thank Dave for demonstrating so much realness and authenticity.

When debating coming to this [David’s memorial] I asked myself what is the purpose of this gathering? To remember a good man?  to celebrate and honor his life and contribution?  Why would I go?  I have held his hand through this process, what more can be done?  Then I saw that this isn’t about me or any one of us.  I realized that this is not for David either.  David has no more needs, he is finally at a well deserved peace.  This is for the communal organism, it’s about the community coming together to heal, to grow, and to remember David’s way of life so that we may work to adapt it to our own.  David’s memory can be a candle for the dark corners of this community.  With David’s example in mind, this community can become a better version of itself.  He has taught us all what is possible when health and hard work come together, now it is our responsibility to embody the wisdom he demonstrated through his actions.