Idaho People Profile – MaryJane ButtersCommunity Magazine, July 2005
By Ali Monson
A farm girl turned nationally recognized author and rural revival leader, MaryJane Butters is bringing her grassroots message of self-sufficiency to the masses.
The Ogden, Utah native grew up on a farm, where her love for gardening, stitching, canning and other homespun pastimes developed. Butters was raised in a household that thrived on self-reliance — a trait that undoubtedly has defined all aspects of her life.
Now the Idaho woman is sharing her passion for all things rural via her recently released book “MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: For the Farmgirl in All of Us.” Drawing on Butters’ rustic background, the text centers on activities that represent a return to the simplicity of yesterday. “It’s a kind of practical roadmap for farm girls and wanna-be farm girls of all types,” she explains. “The book is a reminder of the rurally domestic things women used to do before fast-paced convenience took over.”
Butters’ story has become an inspiration to women across the country. Her diverse experience includes a stint with the U.S. Forest Service and brief coursework at Utah State and Weber State universities. However, she eventually returned to her true passion: the day-to-day grind of farming. As a struggling organic farmer near Moscow, Idaho, she developed a mail-order catalog to solicit interest in her locally popular goods. The black-and-white newsprint publication later evolved into a magazine, MaryJanesFarm, when Butters invested in a digital camera and added editorial content to the catalog’s pages.
Now one-third of the magazine details goods, products and accessories available through MaryJanesFarm. Non-food items include hat stands, wire baskets, aprons, etc. — all hand-crafted in rural America.
Three years ago, a publisher contacted Butters with a 7-year contract to publish and distribute the magazine via big-name retailers, including Borders, Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. While gaining popularity among readers, MaryJanesFarm also caught the eye of a literary agent in New York City, who approached Butters about writing a book. “Why would people want to read about my life?” she asked herself and the agent. “I just want to sell food.” The self-made magazine editor also claimed she had no writing skills, but the agent insisted her heart-felt prose would sell books and engage readers.
Still hesitant about adding the title of author to her farm girl resume, Butters declined the invitation and continued selling food and magazines. But when the economy took a hit with the terrorist attacks of September 2001, so did Butters’ financial state. It was then that she decided the only way out of the red would be to pursue a book deal.
Butters eventually signed a contract with Random House — a deal that paid $1.35 million upfront. With help from her newly hired “food stylist” Julie Bell, Butters created a book of more than 600 photos and 416 pages. Although Random House was prepared to create the book in New York, Butters insisted the publication be completely authentic. So she and Bell took ownership of all the photography on their home turf — on the Butters farm in Moscow.
Butters says her book carries a message that transcends food and farming. The text urges a more authentic, wholesome lifestyle — in attitude and action. Specifics include guidance for building a greenhouse, hosting a town event, chopping firewood, caring for a flock of chickens and making butter.
Butters has four more books in the works, which will focus on specific niches of rural living. For more information about “MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: For the Farmgirl in All of Us,” visit (www.maryjanesfarm.org).