Laughing Water, the trailblazing force behind the Real Food Store in Helena, Montana

by Laughing Water and Kettle Care Organics Team

When we got an invitation from the  Real Food Market & Deli in Helena to celebrate their 43rd Anniversary, we  looked into the history of the store and got intrigued. Who was Laughing Water, the owner and driving force behind this store?

We wanted to know what it was that got Laughing Water started in this business...

"I’ve had a lifelong interest in health, fitness and personal achievement. I was fiddling with diet and doing yoga an hour a day at age 13. I read Adelle Davis and became a vegetarian in my early 20s and worked in a natural foods collective in Champaign, Illinois, before living in Berkeley a couple of years. I was the main cook in exchange for a three-week yoga workshop at the Feathered Pipe Ranch near Helena, and India Supera, the owner of the Ranch, asked me to stay as the chef, then to help open a natural food store to supply the Ranch and then to run it. I didn’t expect it to last."

Naturally, we were wondering what what has really kept going for 43 years... 

"We’ve done a lot of good over the decades, and that comes from passion, principles and persistence. We had a niche. We helped grow it. And now it’s become mainstream. So that’s a massive success. But it’s incomplete, or even going backwards in some ways. We need to have family businesses and family farms become the main way people get their food. That would mean transforming our food system into one that’s socially and economically just, instead of being at the mercy of huge corporations that read our minds (big data) and dominate our lives."

Do you have a role model? Who and why?

"No. Through the Feathered Pipe Ranch, as well as the natural food industry, I’ve gotten to know some famous people, I’ve seen the price they pay for their success, and I wouldn’t trade places. We’re all human, and I’ll take inspiration wherever I find it."

What gets you up in the morning? What do you like most about your job running an independent Business?

"Mostly I get up so I can do my two-hour yoga practice and eat breakfast early enough to get to work at a decent time. If I stay in bed long enough, though, I can get pretty inspired. I really think we’re at an evolutionary crossroads. The human phenomenon, homo sapiens, is an explosion on any time scale longer than a decade. We can evolve into a higher life form, or this whole mess can collapse. We need to save the planet, and we live in a sick country.

What I like most about running an independent business is that I can make decisions based on that sense of mission."

What keeps you up at night?

"I think lying awake has more to do with physiology and full moons than my thoughts and feelings, but when I do lie awake, I’ve got the whole assortment, from unfinished New York Times crossword puzzles to how and whether I’ll find true love to worrying how to find and retain good employees to sequential models of neural networks to family communication problems to all the maddening little details of living to all the puns and seemingly brilliant insights about mind and reality that pop into my head. So, you know, the usual stuff."

If you could give only one piece of advice to the person reading this, what would it be?


What is your favorite place in Montana?  

"In your heart. With that I mean, that I really do like being in people's hearts. Maybe you may have wanted some thoughts more pertinent to business to business people, but we're people first, and it's a great thing when our businesses can be expressions of who we are."

What are the perks of living in Montana for you?

"Most people and things here, including plants, animals and acts of God, won’t kill me. This does not seem to be as true in other places. I get to live a bikeable and walkable lifestyle. There’s a lot of physical and social space to expand into who you are. And of course there’s the whole backdrop of the natural world so intimately close."

We heard that your name comes from a song that popped into your head one day. We are wondering what the song was and why the name “Laughing Water” stuck with you so deeply.

"No song, but for brevity I’ve told people my name came from a poem of mine that said, “Flush the toilet that is your mind, and hear the laughing water.” That image came from an early 1970s experience (you can imagine the circumstances) of following the sound of a toilet after flushing, as the sound became finer and fainter and took me to a place of pure empty-minded presence.

But I came up with that story after taking the name. Closer to the truth,you can think of it as an aesthetic or spiritual choice, more rooted in the experience of a forest stream and Taoist ideas of effortlessly flowing, taking the shape of whatever surrounding, following gravity and in that non-doing way, being of service and over time, making sharp rocks into round things, round like the cycles of water and life."

Thank you Laughing Water for your time and honesty to respond to our questions. We are very honored to be one of the vendors you carry in your store and to support your mission and vision of a thriving and sustainable community. 

The Kettle Care Organics Team