Camas Foods owner David Ronniger
By Therese Wood
Not many health food store owners grow the food they sell, but David Ronniger is an exception. His passion for growing organic vegetables has landed him accolades in many national publications over his more than 40 years as an organic farmer.
After operating Salt Lake City’s first health food store for six years, Ronniger moved to northern Idaho in the 1970s and established an organic farm that evolved into a seed potatoes business that offered more varieties of seed potatoes than any other company in North America. Articles in magazines like National Gardener, Sunset magazine, Time and even the New Yorker have touted the unique and pioneer spirit that embodied the farm and its simple black and white catalog Ronniger created to sell his more than 200 varieties of seed potatoes.
Camas Foods Organic Market in Hot Springs Montana
A basket of Ronniger’s small gourmet potatoes looks like fall cornucopia of purples, reds, oranges, yellows and blues. His varieties have names like German Butterball, Purple Peruvian, Yukon Gold, Russian Bananas and French fingerlings. By the 1990s Ronniger’s potatoes were being shipped nationwide to New York, Florida, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 2011 Ronniger moved to Hot Springs, Montana, and passed along the Idaho farm to his son.
The lure of some of the world’s most restorative geothermal waters brought him to Hot Springs, but he is not one to sit back in retirement. So, he opened the Camas Organic Market on Main Street in downtown Hot Springs with his partner Linny Gibson and now they run the store, in addition to growing vegetables to supply it. He continues in his passion for holistic living, herbal treatments, fresh organically grown food and community service. Although the store is of a modest size, it features an impressive variety and quality of everything from bulk foods, to spices and cleaning products. A cafe and bakery in the back is the added attraction that keeps the locals and Hot Springs guests coming through daily.
Ronniger’s commitment to preserving nature’s gifts through seeds led him to establish the Native Seed Foundation, which collects and processes over 30 species of seeds of wild trees, shrubs and grasses from the Northwest that may be on the verge of endangerment. His philosophy of living in harmony with the natural world and enjoying the vital energies it offers daily is one that is coming full circle. “We need to examine what is shaping our fast-moving food culture and the future of health and wellness,” Ronniger said. “It is all of us, the consumers, who can change the course and move toward the quality of food we deserve.
Consumers are coming to appreciate that there is wisdom in smallness as we savor that less is more. Buying locally offers the quality taste and nutrients of fresh picked fruits and vegetables.” •