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What's Hot Under the Covers


by Tanya Irwin, Thursday, May 29, 2008

WHEN THE KARDASHIAN-JENNER FAMILY got chickens on an episode of the E! reality show "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," I watched with fascination. After reading about Martha Stewart's well-heeled Bantams and their marvelous chicken coop, it's always been a secret fantasy of mine to keep chickens. Things didn't go so well for the Kardashians, but they might have been a little more prepared if Kris had picked up a copy of MaryJanesFarm.

Deborah Needleman, Domino's editor in chief, says the magazine is "part Martha Stewart Living, part Oprah magazine, part Organic Style, part Nation, part Ladies' Home Journal ... full of tips, ideas, and information." Her quote is on the mag's Web site and I couldn't say it better myself, so I'll borrow (with attribution, of course!)

The magazine really pops at the newsstand. You don't see too many covers with women wearing cowboy hats and plaid shirts, for one thing. The masthead proclaims the magazine to be "The American Organic Original" (the phrase is trademarked, incidentally.) A diehard devotee to all things organic, I was intrigued.

It's a refreshingly uncluttered cover with plugs for only four stories, all which sound appealing to a city girl with a longing for a simpler life. Cover copy includes: "Welcome to the place where your farm girl dreams take flight, where life is simpler, healthier and much more playful." Sign me up for that.

Despite its homespun feeling, the magazine has some big advertisers including Dansko, Numi Tea, Aubrey Cosmetics and Organic Valley, which seems to be a prime sponsor with the inside front cover, back cover and sort of an advertorial piece near the front of the book. The article: "Organic Valley Farmer Does It All" is a well-written and compelling read. The author follows OV farmer Gloria Varney through her day in Turner, Maine. There's a 1/6 page ad at the end inviting readers to explore the company's Web site and join its Farm Friends program. I write so much about the blurring of content and advertising and this piece really does a nice job with the concept.

There are a lot of sewing and craft projects in the magazine, which is not really my thing, more due to lack of time than interest. I *wish* I could devote a week or more to making the pillows, duvet cover, table runner purse, storage unit skirt, apron curtain, napkin valance, journal and book cover, doily room divider, embroidery hoop food covers, shelf edging, lavender eye pillow and plastic bottle purse... whew!... that the magazine contains instructions for. More my speed is the section that has REALLY simple projects, like, put a fork handle down into a jar and voila, you have a Fork Recipe Holder. Works for me! But those who are put off by not having an article to read on every page may be turned off by this. The old joke about Playboy, "I get it for the articles," applies here.

The newsroom section is said to be for "women who dare, women who care, women who share." The collection of news snippets a la Utne Reader or The Week is nicely done. It's not all about farm life and organics but would appeal to anyone with an interest in living better and enjoying life more.

The photography and art direction in MaryJanesFarm is lovely and calming to the eye. Poems and quotes are interspersed between stories. But even though that may sound hokey, it's actually kind of hip. You won't see Rumi quoted in too many magazines, I'd venture to say.

A new feature, "Every Woman Has a Story," will focus each month on a different subscriber to the magazine. I love personality profiles, both reading them and writing them, so this was a good one. First up: Brenda Yates, a 20-year veteran of the Spokane, Wash., police force. She and her husband hope to retire eventually to a small farm, but in the meantime, she's got the "farm girl" mentality even while living in the city and doing what has to be one of the hardest jobs on earth.

That piece fits the very premise of the magazine, which is that anybody can be a farm girl; it's more about attitude than experience. Founder and executive editor Mary Jane Butters has been an organic farmer "forever," serving early on as chair of Idaho's Organic Advisory Board and helping draft some of the very first legislation in the U.S. for what constitutes organic today. She's also been a spokesperson for Physicians for Social Responsibility and founded a nonprofit, the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute.

A piece by staff writer Rebekah Teal describes how she first stumbled across MaryJanesFarm two years ago in the grocery store and gives good insight on how the magazine holds more mass appeal than you might think. A lawyer, Teal said that while she's enamored with the magazine, she has no desire to leave city life to become a farmer. What attracts her to Butters (who has authored several books) and the magazine is the way of life it promotes and the idea that "if you want to do it, you can do it." Maybe I will get those chickens some day!

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