MaryJane Butters

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MaryJane Butters (born May 6, 1953) is the internationally recognized organic farmer, book author, environmental activist, and food manufacturer behind the self-titled MaryJanesFarm magazine.[1] Working from her family farm in Moscow, ID, and through her websites, Butters has achieved success through a variety of business ventures relating to the domestic arts, organic farming, and a grassroots self-sufficiency movement directed at creating a rural revival.[2]

Butters is now a fast-growing lifestyle brand with media mentions in outlets such as the Food Network,[3] PBS, NPR, House & Garden, Country Living, The New Yorker, Country Home,[4] The Chicago Tribune, Vogue,[5] and other national publications. Her farm and business were famously immortalized in a large spread in the December 1995 issue of National Geographic.[6]

Early life[edit]

MaryJane Butters was the next to the youngest of five children born to Mormon parents Allen and Helen Butters.[7] Her 1950s upbringing is often described as “unconventional” because the family raised their own food, made their own clothing, and “went nomadic on weekends, setting up camp in the wild to fish and hunt for their meat.”[8]

Butters credits her father, a “home teacher” for the LDS church, with teaching her carpentry and organic gardening, and her mother, a leader in the neighborhood women’s Relief Society, with teaching her homemaking, fishing, and camping.[9] "It seems that everything we did involved food," Butters has said, and every year, her family preserved a basement of food with cans brought home from the can factory where her father worked.[10] Sara Devins, a colleague and childhood friend, described the family as “independent and practical in every sense of the word.”[11]

MaryJane harvests corn at her farm in Moscow, ID.

In 1971, Butters graduated from Ben Lomond High School in Ogden, Utah.[12] She worked at a short-lived secretarial job until she could find outdoor work. In 1972, Butters took a job in a mountaintop lookout tower in Weippe, Idaho, as a Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association fire watcher.[13] When her job ended, she enrolled in the forestry program at Utah State University, but walked out in the middle of her art history course, never to return.[14] In 1974, Butters became one of three women to be the first female wilderness rangers in the U.S., and she maintained trails and cleaned sheepherder camps in the Uinta Mountains of northern Utah.[15] After that summer, she earned her carpentry proficiency certificate and was hired as the only woman on a crew building houses at Hill Air Force Base.[16] Early in 1976, Butters became the first woman station guard at the Moose Creek Ranger Station, the most remote Forest Service District in the continental U.S.[17] It was here that Butters met Emil Keck, the legendary fire-control officer and construction-crew chief who lived at the wilderness station year round. Keck became her mentor and the namesake for her second child. Butters has said of Keck, “He taught me how to work hard, and how to make work my life.”[18]

In 1978, MaryJane and her husband, John McCarthy, became ranch hands on the 30,000-acre Hitchcock Ranch in Idaho’s rugged Hells Canyon region. Their first child, Megan, was born In 1979, and four years later, on Emil Keck's birthday, their son, Emil, was born.[19] In 1986, she bought her remote, five-acre “Paradise Farm” in Idaho’s Palouse region.[20] Her marriage ended in divorce shortly after,[21] and Butters spent the next years raising her children on her own with no indoor plumbing, no television, and only wood heat.[22] She supported the family on homegrown crops and a seamstress’, upholsterer’s, and carpenter’s salary.[23]

Personal life[edit]

In 1993, Butters married farmer Nick Ogle, whose 600 acres bordered Paradise Farm on two sides.[24] The tracts of land were united, and Ogle oversees Butters’ dried-food business, Paradise Farm Organics, Inc.[25] Butters’ daughter, Megan, married Lucas Rae in 2004, and both now work on the family farm, along with Nick’s son, Brian, and Brian's wife, Ashley. Ogle, an official Universal Life Church minister, performed the marriage ceremonies for Brian, Emil, and Megan.[26] Butters is a grandmother of six.

Butters no longer self-identifies as Mormon and has publicly stated that she shuns all labels. “They’re divisive,” she said. "I want to be a member of the ’church of each other.’ I want to honor all people, all cultures. I can't participate in that ‘I'm a member of a church, and I'm right,’ thing.”[27] Butters credits her farmhands and employees with providing the love and connection she needs and said, “For church, I have shareholders.”[28]

The Farm[edit]

In 1986, Butters responded to an ad for a remote, five-acre homestead and farmhouse at the base of Paradise Ridge in Moscow, Idaho. She eventually purchased the land sight-unseen for $45,000,[29] and made the downpayment mostly from cash she’d kept in an old coffee can.[30] The 1905 farmhouse burned down in a 1996 fire,[31] forcing Butters and her children to move into an outbuilding until they could afford to rebuild. The farm continues to be the headquarters for Butters’ empire, and the site where her books, magazine, and websites are generated.

MaryJanesFarm is located in Moscow, ID.

Paradise Farm Organics, Inc.[edit]

At a town meeting in 1989, Butters met a fellow farmer who grew organic, pest-resistant “desi” garbanzo beans that had proven to be unmarketable. Butters bought and experimented with the beans, eventually arriving at a dried falafel mix that she began to market under the Paradise Farm label in 1990.[32] She began marketing other under-used organic crops and incorporated her food business in 1993 under the name “Paradise Farm Organics, Inc.” Today, she grosses over $1 million annually from her line of over 60 dried organic foods.[33] Butters is the company’s president, and her husband, Nick Ogle, oversees production. In 1997, the company reached an agreement with Mountain Safety Research, a division of REI, to label and market her products.[34] Butters’ food is now sold through her websites as well as through REI. Her backpacking line is also labeled in French and sold to stores across Canada by Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).

By 2001, the black-and-white food catalog she had been printing since 1996 had evolved into a self-published magazine, MaryJanesFarm, and customers placing food orders over $50 received free subscriptions.[35] Butters has since branded her farm and her food line with the name “MaryJanesFarm,” and said of the change, “By branding yourself, you can be your product as a farmer and create loyalty and trust."[36] In 2007, the company turned its first profit.[37]

Shareholders[edit]

In 1993, Paradise Farm changed its name to Paradise Farm Organics, Inc. to reflect its incorporation. In 1999, Butters took Paradise Farm Organics, Inc. public in an initial stock offering. Shares in the company were valued at $9 per share with a minimum purchase of 600 shares.[38] At the time, the company was attempting to raise $500,000 to build a facility for shipping dried-food orders, and was still reeling from the loss of Butters’ farmhouse in a 1996 fire, which had left her with $100,000 in credit-card debt.[39] She successfully raised the funds with 45 investors, who currently receive dividends in the form of fresh produce, free-range eggs, and stays at her bed & breakfast.[40] Butters has gone on the record as preferring supportive shareholder relationships to bank loans, which tie farmers to prolonged obligations with legal entities that have no interest in the future of small farmers.

MaryJanesFarm Magazine[edit]

Butters’ internationally recognized, self-titled magazine has a circulation of 135,000[41] with over 5,000 points of sale, including Walmart, Whole Foods, and Barnes & Noble.[42] The publication is an organic-focused lifestyle magazine based on farm life with MaryJane.[43] The periodical began in 1996 as a black-and-white mail-order catalog for Butters’ line of organic dried foods. As Butters began to intersperse gardening articles, recipes, farmer bios, homemaking projects, photography, and essays throughout the catalog, it evolved into a glossy, magazine-sized publication.[44]

Cover shot of MaryJane Butters of MaryJanesFarm Magazine Oct/Nov 2011, 'Imagine a Place' issue.

In 2001, Butters launched the self-titled magazine, providing all her own writing and photography. She printed 5,000 copies of the first issue and immediately sold out.[45] After publishing nine issues on her own, Butters approached Belvoir Media Group in 2008, and the publisher partnered to re-launch the magazine on a bimonthly basis.[46] Belvoir targeted the publication at environmentally conscious, health-savvy women between the ages of 25 and 49. Organic and green-minded advertisers include Mountain Rose Herbs and Eden Foods.[47] Butters serves as editorial director of the periodical, which Deborah Needleman, former Domino magazine editor in chief, described as “part Martha Stewart Living, part Oprah magazine, part Organic Style, part Nation, part Ladies' Home Journal ... full of tips, ideas, and information."[48]

The magazine’s website serves to connect readers in the “Farmgirl Connection” chatroom that Butters created and to sell her product lines. Aside from organic dried foods, the site sells products for home and garden, crafting items, clothing, quilts, bedding, and other household goods.[49] Some of these items are made by artisans in Project F.A.R.M. (First-class American Rural Made), the organization Butters created to revitalize rural business.[50] In addition, close to 1,000 stores in North America, including Belk, Bon Ton, and Sears Canada, carry Butters’ line of bed linens. Butters also has a retail store of her own. The MaryJanesFarm store opened in 2008 at 210 E. Sherman Ave., #127, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.[51]

The Farmgirl Connection Chatroom and the Farmgirl Sisterhood[edit]

One of the most popular parts of Butters’ empire is the “Farmgirl Connection” chatroom, which connects current and aspiring women farmers who want to share stories and trade advice. Butters has said that the chatroom is her attempt to replicate the support system she witnessed between her mother and other Mormon women in Utah.[52] One of the foundations of the chatroom, and of Butters’ business, is the term “farmgirl,” which she has defined as a “condition of the heart.” When asked about the term, Butters has explained, “If you knit scarves, you’re a farmgirl. If you grow a pansy on your fire escape, you’re a farmgirl. If you have a fantasy about producing something with your hands, you’re a farmgirl.”[53]

Butters has drawn her fans into a community she calls the “Farmgirl Sisterhood.” Farmgirl Sisters can start local chapters; gather to work on projects; and earn “Merit Badges” for a variety of domestic skills and handicrafts, such as crocheting, community service, and going green. Over 17,000 women now congregate on the chatroom, and nearly 5,000 women have joined the Farmgirl Sisterhood.

MaryJane’s Newspaper Column, “Everyday Organic”[edit]

For three years, Butters wrote a weekly syndicated newspaper column titled “MaryJane’s Everyday Organic,” distributed through United Feature Syndicate, a division of United Media.[54]

The column provided concrete suggestions for green and organic living and was directed at current and aspiring women farmers who want to bring parts of farm living into their daily lives. The recipes, projects, and attitudes emphasized are those that espouse a back-to-the-land mentality.[55]

MaryJane poses with products from her brainchild Project F.A.R.M. (First-class American Rural Made), for a feature in More magazine.

Books and Special Publications[edit]

Butters is the author of three Random House books: MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: For the Farmgirl in All of Us, MaryJane’s Stitching Room, and MaryJane’s Outpost: Unleashing Your Inner Wild and a two more, Glamping with MaryJane, and Milk Cow Kitchen, published by Gibbs-Smith.

Butters’ first book deal is something she credits to Lois Weisberg, Chicago's former Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and celebrated people connector featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s 1999 New Yorker article, “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg.” Butters sent a letter with her ideas to Weisberg, who saw their potential and forwarded the letter onto a New York agent. The agent expressed an interest in a book,[56] but Butters held off until her food sales dropped substantially following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and resulting economic decline. At the time, her bank account was overdrawn by $15,000 and the bank was threatening a sheriff’s auction.[57]

In Fall of 2003, Butters signed a Random House book deal of $1.35 million for MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: For the Farmgirl in All of Us. The book was published on May 24, 2005.[58] Butters said the book was designed to be an uncomplicated manual for all things “farmgirl,” including making a wall tent, sewing a French seam, and staying in a lookout tower.[59] A volume including over 600 photos and 416 pages came together at the farm instead of in New York, per Butters’ insistence.[60] The book’s promotional tour included New York, Illinois, Vermont, Missouri, Indiana, and the Northwest.[61]

MaryJane's Stitching Room was published on May 1, 2007, by Clarkson Potter, a Random House imprint. It includes essays and patterns relating to stitching handicrafts, including doilies, christening gowns, quilts, embroidery, and a how-to section on the basics of crochet.[62]

MaryJane’s Outpost, published by Clarkson Potter on June 24, 2008,[63] is a romanticized and feminine look at camping, farming, and outdoor activities.[64] Projects include building willow furniture, sleeping in outdoor canopy beds, using outdoor bathtubs, fishing, and hunting. The book is divided into three major sections: "Outbound" … going out to the yard, engaging children in the outside world, making natural gifts and creating family rituals, such as the simple act of having tea outside; "Outrigged" … weekend camping and picnics, enjoying fishing or hunting; and "Outstepping" … backpacking, enjoying wild foods, being safe in the water and wild, and outdoor jobs.[65] The New York Times Book Review had this to say: "MaryJane Butters was once a single mother of two and a forest ranger, among other tough jobs. She is now an organic farmer, a grandmother, and an activist, living on a farm in Northern Idaho ... MaryJane’s Outpost: Unleashing Your Inner Wild is her third book, and it’s a dilly. It lures readers outdoors with its Ralph Lauren styling (Ms. Butters’s long blond braid and handsome weathered face are complemented by an atmospheric tractor) and instructions on how to do all sorts of things, like make willow furniture and build an outdoor bed or bathtub ... Ms. Butters has a way with words: Glamping, or glamour camping, one of her pet concepts, is about “the juxtaposition of rugged and really pretty, grit and glam, diesel and absolutely darling,” she writes."

Glamping with MaryJane, a go-to guide for putting glamour into camping, followed in September 2012, published by Gibbs Smith. Glamping - unleashing your inner wild while wearing a pair of fishing-lure earrings - is for every woman (or man!) who ever had a get-away-from-it-all fantasy (with a few frilly embellishments thrown in).

Milk Cow Kitchen was published June 2014 by Gibbs Smith. It is one-part cookbook and one-part cow care, with 15 step-by-step cheesemaking recipes, 75 farmstyle recipes, and everything you need to know about backyard cow keeping.

In addition to authoring her own books, she wrote the introduction for the second edition of Traditional American Farming Techniques by Frank D. Gardner.[66] Butters also wrote forewords for Costco’s Household Almanac, Women of the Harvest: Inspiring Stories of Contemporary Farmers, and Traditional American Farming Techniques.[67] Butters was also featured as a bread-baking expert in the book The Experts’ Guide to Life at Home.

MaryJanesFarm Bed & Breakfast[edit]

Butters, who coined the term "glamping," opened a bed & breakfast on the farm in 2004.[68] Guests stay in “almost surreally charming” canvas wall-tents furnished with hardwood floors, woodstoves, vintage iron beds, romantic bed linens, organic cotton sheets, outdoor heated clawfoot tubs, and outhouses.[69] Butters has used her bed & breakfast to diversify her business and promote the agritourism industry[70] as well as the romanticized notion of glamour camping which she coined “glamping,” a term now widely used in the media. Butters’ brand and merchandising rely on the notions of “glamorous camping” and feminized outdoor activities in a marketing approach she has described as “the juxtaposition of rugged and really pretty, grit and glam, diesel and absolutely darling.”[71] The bed & breakfast is open each year between May 1 and September 30, and the nightly rate includes a multi-course organic breakfast and free access to her you-pick gardens.[72]

Pay Dirt Farm School[edit]

MaryJanesFarm is located on Paradise Ridge in Moscow, ID

In 1995, Butters founded a not-for profit organization called Pay Dirt Farm School, designed to teach the business of organic farming to new farmers.[73] Skills taught include chopping firewood, budgeting, composting, biofuel production, food preserving, and craft selling,[74] and the curriculum is customized to the students’ interests.[75]

The U-Pick Country Club[edit]

Butters also runs a u-pick membership organization every growing season (June 1 through September 30). For a $100 fee and the cost of produce, a household is given permission to collect produce and eggs from the greenhouses, fields, orchard, and chicken coop during daylight hours, seven days a week.[76] Members can also gather flowers, picnic on the farm, or visit animals. Butters’ goal in starting the country club, according to son-in-law Lucas Rae, was to give others a chance to live out their “farm fantasy” and educate families about the source of their food.[77] Butters has also said that she wants to combat the culture of convenience food, which has “created a nutritional famine”.[78]

MaryJane at her farm in Moscow, ID.

Historic Schoolhouse[edit]

MaryJane Butters and her husband, Nick Ogle, serve on the board of a group dedicated to preserving the historic schoolhouse where Ogle’s mother attended classes.[79] The school and the half acre of land it occupies are owned by members of the Blaine Community Association, and the space is used during the summer for parties, weddings, dances, and Quaker services throughout May, June, July, and August.[80]

Historic Flour Mill[edit]

In 1997, MaryJane Butters and her husband, Nick Ogle, bought the organic flour business owned for 40 years by Joseph Barron in Oakesdale, Washington.[81] The mill was the only one left of the many mills once standing in the area. The deal included an electric grinding mill machine and an old, four-story mill building with original equipment.[82] The grinding mill was moved to Moscow, Idaho, and is used by Butters to grind flours, cereals, and legumes for her line of dried organic foods. The historic mill building, built in 1890, is maintained in its original location. Butters has invested over $300,000 of her own funds toward restoring and preserving the mill.

Activism and awards[edit]

MaryJane Butters feeds livestock on her farm in Moscow in 2005

Butters discovered a calling to environmental activism in May 1986, when the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine dosed the Pacific Northwest with radioactive contamination.[83] Butters called a public meeting to discuss an unsafe reactor similar to the one at Chernobyl at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in nearby eastern Washington. She founded the Palouse-Clearwater Hanford Watch and succeeded in having the reactor shut down. She then founded and became director of the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute, taking on broader issues like water quality and transportation.[84] The group began to discuss and address agricultural issues as well, marking the beginning of her public activism for organic farming methods. Between 1986 and 1990, under her leadership, the Institute’s annual budget grew from $30 to $100,000 and garnered grants from national nonprofits.[85] In 2011, PCEI celebrated their 25th anniversary of commitment to regional environmental issues.

In 2001, Butters received the Idaho Progressive Businessperson of the Year Award[86] in recognition of her efforts toward “social, economic, and environmental justice in Idaho,”[87] In 2002, The Moscow Chamber of Commerce awarded Butters the Small Businessperson of the Year award for her business achievements, especially in light of the successful launch of her magazine.[88]

In March 2003, The Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) Administrative Council appointed Butters as their Organic Farming Representative and charged her with awarding over $4 million in grant funds to farmers, research, and nonprofit organizations in the Western U.S.[89]

On March 14, 2008, Butters was recognized for her environmental activism with the Cecil D. Andrus Leadership Award for Sustainability and Conservation, awarded by four-term Idaho Governor and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.[90] Andrus stated, “MaryJane Butters exemplifies the best of rural America—tireless commitment to stewardship of the land and community, relentless entrepreneurial drive that recognizes no barriers, and boundless creativity and can-do spirit that inspires all who meet her and buy her products.”[91]

Butters has served a term as chair of Idaho’s Organic Advisory Council,[92] as well as chair of Moscow’s Health and Environment Commission. She helped to draft the first U.S. legislation denoting organic standards, and served as a spokesperson for Physicians for Social Responsibility.[93] Laura Johnson of the Idaho Department of Agriculture has called Butters “a pioneer for organic production in Idaho.”[94]

Butters has also used her website and sales to support various causes. Some of the products sold on Butters’ website are made by artisans with Project F.A.R.M. (First-class American Rural Made), an organization Butters founded to help revitalize rural business.[95] She organized a weeklong effort to raise funds for Courageous Women, a Haitian program designed to help homeless women and children after the 2010 earthquake.[96] Butters also donated 20% of sales between March 17, 2011, and March 24, 2011 ($4,485), to the Japanese Red Cross following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan[97] and 20% of sales between November 7, 2012, and November 14, 2012 ($2468), to the American Red Cross following 2012's super storm Sandy.

In December 2011, Butters learned she had been instrumental in building a library on the tiny, remote Pacific island of Rota. The people of Rota, who have no newsstands or bookstores, had been without a community library since December 1997, when Super Typhoon Paka hit the Pacific island, devastating their newly completed library. Due to an overwhelming response to a story in MaryJanesFarm magazine, readers sent over 10,000 books to Rota, resulting in a fully stocked, renovated library.[98]

In 2011-2012, More magazine, a women's lifestyle magazine, featured 10 women, each with a full-page article throughout the year, in a year-long campaign detailing companies started by women who were intent on creating jobs for other women. Butters was chosen for her Project F.A.R.M., as many of the project members' retail products on her website and her retail store “come with a face” so that the shopper can meet the person behind the product. Readers were invited to vote for one of the 10 women to receive the magazine’s Job Genius Award and a $20,000 donation to help her organization’s continued efforts.[99]

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  98. ^ Magazine readers fill library shelves on remote Pacific island.
  99. ^ Learn about More magazine's "job geniuses"—women who created organizations that help other women find jobs.

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