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Farmgirls Rock

$1.35M Book Deal Shines Spotlight on Rural America

by Sabrina Jones

What’s in your purse, ladies? A crescent wrench, pocketknife, recipe? How about a mending kit, fishing license or nail polish? According to MaryJane Butters, possessing any of these items skyrockets you to the status of true-blue farmgirl.

And these days, being a farmgirl is pretty darned cool.

The book signing for MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook was held May 26 at the Whitman County Public Library in Colfax and, if any of those items happened to be handy in your purse, you were rewarded with a variety of products made in rural America. Lip balm and hand soap from Louisiana, aprons from Oakesdale, cotton-covered pillows from Kentucky and a sunflower-shaped chocolate treat from Kansas. All produced, marketed and sold by people and businesses MaryJane has discovered in small towns throughout the nation.

“Everything I sell or give away is made in rural America,” she said. “I want to promote the good things that can be found in the smallest of places. I encourage people to visit their websites and financially support their businesses.”

Born and raised in Utah, MaryJane moved to Idaho when she was 19 years old to work for the U.S. Forest Service in the Brown’s Creek Lookout Tower located near Weippe, Idaho. She spent the next three decades raising her two children (without any indoor plumbing), working a variety of jobs, while staying true to her self the whole time. A quiet spirit, MaryJane is a woman who promotes the value of simplicity, regardless of whom you are or where you live.

“To me, community means having a coat from the storm,” she said. “You can create community anywhere, from a neighborhood in an urban city to having the small-town mayor move your freezer off your flatbed with his forklift. That really happened to me when I moved to Kendrick, Idaho, years ago. Actions like those imply community – and every time they happen, I have to fight back the tears.

“So many women could do what I’m doing,” she said. “City women are learning how to knit and crochet while rural women are learning how to be profitable in a number of creative ways. I think the feminist movement created unspoken rules that devalued the traditional, stay-at-home woman. I think what I’m doing is sort of a course correction. A woman can really do anything she wants to do – she can be a carpenter, a stay-at-home mom or someone who builds houses. We still have subjugation in the world but, I think as we deal with it, we should all have fun and honor the things that are important to us.”

MaryJane sees the wealth of creative energy found in women’s hearts and encourages them to find value in that energy.

“Women love their houses,” said MaryJane. “We can put a basket on a table, step back, take a look at it, move it a little bit this way or that before we’re convinced it’s perfect. And the whole time men are watching us and saying, ‘I just don’t get it!’ But those things are fun for us and we need to be proud of them.”

So how does someone like MaryJane, who steadfastly remains faithful to her organic way of life, stay true to herself in spite of a $1.35 million book deal and a two-month publicity tour across the country?

“Being a farmgirl is really a condition of the heart,” she said. “I’m okay with it now because I’ve made some good decisions on how big I’ll let it get and how I want to share my ideas. I’ve turned down some big TV offers that were worth millions of dollars because I want to be visible and have forums to honor the wonderful things that women do. All the women between the east and west coasts haven’t had a voice. Martha Stewart isn’t a voice for all those women. There was pressure for me to write this book so it would appeal to urban women. I said, ‘No, when I sit down to write I’m talking to Family Circle women, my mother, my sister, my aunt and other women that I know. I don’t know how to talk to a city woman; somebody else can tackle that.’ If they want to peek in on what we’re doing, that’s fine. I actually think that as you go around, there isn’t a voice for the everyday woman. There’s pieces of it out there through movie stars, cooking and home improvement shows, but there’s no one saying, ‘Yeah – Colfax! Yeah – Oakesdale!’ and that’s really what I want to celebrate.”

MaryJane fondly recalled a time she was invited to attend a meeting of the Lacrosse Farm Women’s Club. She and five of her employees jumped into her pickup truck and made their way to the meeting.

“The depth of life experiences in that room was just amazing,” remembered MaryJane. “We had a wonderful time discussing and reflecting with each other. As we were leaving, they sent us home with some embroidered dish towels and $20 to cover the cost of our gas – I loved that! And I think of all the people that just drive right by towns like Lacrosse and don’t begin to realize the incredible wisdom that dwells there.”

According to MaryJane, staying true to your self is something anyone can do with a whole lot of persistence – and a husband who doesn’t roll his eyes.

“I have a dear husband who is patient, who has always been there for me and has never once rolled his eyes at any of my ideas,” said MaryJane. “I remember him saying, ‘You want to publish a magazine? Well, okay.’ And the reason I wrote this book all started with my magazine, which was actually just a mail order catalog that got a little out of control!”

Equally as important as staying true to your own self is remaining faithful to your small town values.

“I think what I’m selling – and other farmers can do it and women are being really imaginative about it – is agri-tourism,” said MaryJane. “Promoting your rural lifestyle is kind of a great root crop these days. I think all of us rural people are sitting on a gold mine because city people are hungry for something more than food. So if we can be clever, and women are being especially imaginative, great things will unfold themselves. As proof, one of my neighbors has the last remaining example of pure Palouse prairie. She collects rare seeds from these nearly extinct plants and is creating a greenhouse for them. When a wealthy person moved in and bought 400 acres next to her, she sat him down, asked him to give her 160 acres, pay her handsomely, and she would take it out of farmland and convert it into the most amazing original prairie he’d ever see. And you know what? He agreed and now they’re both satisfied. I’m seeing that across the country – rural women coming up with great ideas. I want to really give them permission in a big way.”

Can’t Get Enough MaryJane?

MaryJane is currently working on four ‘how-to’ supplements that will feed into the chapters of her just-released book. The first is expected to be published this fall, with the second coming out in the spring of 2006.

“We’re calling them workbooks because they’re filled with apron patterns, recipes, crochet projects and other really fun stuff,” said MaryJane. “After reviewing my book, the editor from Family Circle magazine called to ask if they could put three pages from the book into their next issue, which is on the stands now. She really got the concept and was very excited about it.”

MaryJane will also begin writing a second book, due to come out when she’s darned good and ready, I’d guess.

Spend the Fourth of July Weekend with MaryJane

The year 2004 saw MaryJane’s first-ever Farm Fair. More than 1,200 people attended the two-day event full of vendors; u-pick garlic, strawberries, peas, flowers and more; poetry readings; self-guided tours; and strawberry shortcake to name just a few. MaryJane expects an even larger turnout for this year’s festival. New this year will be the Farm Girl Campout Sunday, July 3 – call to reserve your own sleeping bag spot before they’re all gone! For more information and inspiration, please visit her website at www.maryjanesfarm.com.

Joseph Barron and his Historic Flour Mill

After working side-by-side for several years with Oakesdale’s flour mill owner Joseph Barron, MaryJane had the opportunity to purchase his mill and equipment. Today, the mill is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I mentioned to MaryJane I had met her years ago at Joseph’s mill when I went to purchase some whole wheat pastry flour with my mom. At that time, MaryJane had not yet purchased the mill, but was there to help. A few months later, I returned with my husband to pick up yet another bag of that oh-so-healthy flour. My husband asked, “So, did you find a buyer for your mill yet?” to which Joe quickly replied, “Yeah, that hippie lady from Moscow bought it,” of course, implying none other than MaryJane.

“I remember one day I decided to clean his ‘ORGANIC’ stamp because it was pretty clogged from so much use,” remembered MaryJane. “I had also noticed that sometimes Joe would mix non-organic flour with the organic flour, so I took this cleaning bit as an opportunity to mention that we need to be careful which bags we mark as ‘ORGANIC’. I remember he looked at me kind of funny and said, ‘Yeah, but those hippies just love that organic stamp!’”

Local St. John talent featured in MaryJane’s Lifebook

Staying true to her rural roots, MaryJane promotes and encourages her readers to patronize small-town businesses across the United States – and St. John is no exception.

Open to page 109 in MaryJane’s new book and you’ll find an excerpt on A Touch of Elegance, the St. John home-based Victorian tea and luncheon business owned and operated by local businesswoman Barb Kile. MaryJane included a side note at the end of the article, stating that “Barb Kile and six of her friends came to my farm for a tour and luncheon. We got to show them my book as it was unfolding, hear their suggestions and ideas, and make new precious farmgirl connections.” She concludes by including Barb’s business phone number for anyone who’s interested in learning more about her services.

A mere 103 pages later, you’ll discover that St. John resident Jim Gisselberg knows more about sewing machines and their parts than most people know about knots, seams and hems. MaryJane tells her readers that “Jim’s Sewing Repair Service of St. John, Washington, can dig up hard-to-find bobbins, parts, and original manuals for vintage sewing machine enthusiasts, and even tell you a bit of history about your machine.” And in all fairness to Jim, she also provides his telephone number.

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