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Idaho farmgirl makes it big selling organic foods
Monday, November 8, 2004
Alyson Oüten
Idaho's News Channel 7

MOSCOW -- A true Idaho farmgirl is finding fame in her rural roots and sharing her old-fashioned philosophy with the masses.

Fifty years ago, what MaryJane Butters is doing today would have been considered quite normal.

She runs a small organic farm outside Moscow, Idaho. She gathers fresh eggs for breakfast, cooks in an outdoor kitchen and uses an outhouse as her master bathroom.

"I put both my kids through cloth diapers using a wringer-washer and an outhouse," said Butters.

In the fast-paced, high-tech world of today, this back to basics lifestyle is turning MaryJane into a bit of a phenomenon and capturing the attention of the national media: “House and Garden” magazine and “The New Yorker” recently published articles on MaryJane, and, the day we visited her farm, a crew from “Country Home” was aiming to do the same.

"Everything she does kind of embodies everything we are at Country Home," said Lisa Holderness with “Country Home”. "She's an independent female farmer, following her dreams and doing it in a way that it helps the earth."

The "earth friendly" facet dates back a long way with MaryJane. Her farmgirl roots run deep, as does her passion for nature.

In the early '70s, she was one of the first female wilderness rangers for the U.S. Forest Service. A trained carpenter, she went deep into the Idaho wilderness helping to build bridges by hand. A remote existence she still craves today.

"I've never gotten over my need for quiet, absolute quiet," said Butters.

That need for nature led MaryJane to the Palouse in 1985 where she bought a remote five-acre farm. With no indoor plumbing, this single mother of two managed to raise her young children and a bounty of organic crops.

Despite MaryJane's green thumb, it was actually a neighbor's crop that launched her culinary career. A fellow farmer was struggling to sell his organic garbanzo beans; MaryJane bought a 50-pound bag and began experimenting.

"I looked at what was for sale in the stores and I thought, hmmm, falafel, ground up garbanzo beans," said MaryJane Butters. "I played with the herbs and spices it would need and started selling it locally to restaurants and our co-op. I sold maybe 5 pounds a month and now I sell hundreds of pounds a month," said Butters.

During the experimental phase, her kids dubbed it "mom's awful falafel"...a recipe that ultimately lead to an award-winning creation and the genesis of MaryJane's Organic Foods.

Gary Salzman-KTVB

MaryJane Butters lives on five acres near Moscow, Idaho. She recently began a bed and breakfast experience on her property that lets overnight guests stay in canvass tents.

"I decided to put a face to food and to brand myself and, that's when things started cooking," said Butters.

MaryJane next launched a self-titled magazine, shooting her own photos and writing about the simple things in life: sewing, cooking, gardening, reaching out to rural America in particular. Last year, she optimistically printed 5,000 copies of her first issue and almost immediately sold out.

"After 9/11 there was just this shift, people wanted to stay home, embrace their home life more and our culture just always looks for a spokesperson - that happens to be me, right now, for those things," said Butters.

The magazine made its way to a New York publishing company, which, this year, offered MaryJane a $1.3-million book deal. She's currently editing her farm-lifestyle book expected out next fall.

"It wasn't anything I set out to do,” she said. “All I really wanted to do was pay my bills."

MaryJane says the prospect of fame and fortune is inconsequential. It took her 20 years to garner this attention and success and she knows it can disappear in a flash, but the farmgirl will be there forever.

"I've reinvented myself many times trying to figure out how to make a living doing what I wanted to do and that's everybody's challenge," said Butters. "I'm liking my destiny these days, it's good," said Butters.

This summer she opened her farm to overnight guests by building and artfully decorating canvas wall tents, creating a unique bed and breakfast experience.

"I've always loved wall tents, it's such a romantic thing, these wall tents, so I did it for that reason, just something I can give people a way in which I could share my farm," said Butters.

For a woman who spent years as a remote wilderness ranger, this organic, outdoor environment is part of MaryJane's identity, it's a lifestyle she gladly shares with friends, family and visitors.

But, it's also an existence; she very much needs for herself.

"It's a daily life that I want, it's a routine that I want. I want to hear certain things, I want the sunlight, I want a certain amount of peace in my life, campfire time, I'm pretty lucky," said Butters.