Richard Rominger, deputy secretary of agriculture during the Clinton administration and former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, died Sunday of a heart attack suffered at a restaurant in Winters, Calif., his home town. He was 93.
Rominger was a pioneer in both commercial conventional and organic farming on a 6,000-acre family operation in Yolo County, north of Sacramento and Davis, the site of the University of California College of Agriculture, where he graduated in 1949 and maintained a lifelong cooperation in agronomic research and education.
He collapsed at the restaurant as he was arranging to buy meals for donation to needy families every week, said Linda Delgado, his former executive assistant at USDA. “With great humility, humor and brilliance, he set the example of how to live a life of grace, generosity, kindness, and deep respect and care for fellow humans, food, agriculture and the planet,” she said.
Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman called Rominger “a person of great humility and one of the most decent people I’ve ever known. He did did not need to be in the limelight. He ran the department and I was the public face. I had unequivocal trust in him.” Their relationship was “rare in most cabinet departments” in Washington, he said.
Kathleen Merrigan, deputy USDA secretary during the Obama administration, called Rominger “my friend, teacher and mentor. He modeled the best of American agriculture, both on the farm and in the halls of power.” She said he was committed to sustainable agriculture and a strong supporter of the biopesticide industry,
Among his numerous honors, Rominger (shown in California DFA photo above) and his wife Evelyne were awarded the 2019 UC Davis Medal, the highest honor the university presents to an individual.
He served two years on the University of California Board of Regents and was a member of the UC Davis Foundation Board. He also served on the University of California President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources and the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment. He received the Cal Aggie Alumni Association’s Jerry W. Fielder Memorial Award in recognition of his service to UC Davis.
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Rominger chaired the board of the American Farmland Trust and was chairman and shareholder at Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc., Oryzatech, Inc., and Ag Innovations Network, Inc. He was a founding member and the first president of the Yolo County Land Trust. He has also served on the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment. Rominger received the Distinguished Service Award from the California Farm Bureau Federation in 1991.
The Rominger farm now is operated by the fifth generation, with his sons Bruce and Rick in charge. They were awarded the 2019 Leopold Conservation Award by the Wisconsin-based Sand County Foundation, which encourages farmland owners to follow conservation principles.
Rominger Brothers Farms and its more than 25 employees produce up to 12 different crops including almonds, walnuts, tomatoes, rice, sunflower seeds, wheat, corn, safflower, wine grapes, grape rootstock, oat hay and onion seed and markets most of the crops through processing and wholesale companies. They also promote agritourism, opening their oak woodlands to horseback riders.
In addition to his widow, Evelyne and sons Rick and Bruce, he is survived by a daughter, Ruth, four granddaughters and three grandsons. His son Charlie died in 2006. Friends may send condolences to the family at 28681 Country Road 29, Winters CA 95694-9058.