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Local Home-Grown Business Receives National Attention

Published in the Latah Eagle weekly newspaper November 22, 2001, on page 1 and 16

In 1990, MaryJane Butters started an organic food business at her Moscow farm with one product, a ready-to-eat flavored garbanzo bean meal called falafel. At her home the food became a staple, known to her two children as “Mom's awful falafel.”

Eleven years later, her business has expanded to more than sixty different prepared dried foods—from soups to salsas and from breads to brownies—available on her websites, by mail order worldwide, and at retail stores across North America.

And now she’s getting national recognition for her commitment to organic, elegant and easy prepared foods. In October, the Food Network cable TV channel, with 51 million viewers, sent a three-person film crew to her farm near Paradise Ridge and her production facility in the old Grange Hall in Moscow. A seven-minute segment will begin nationwide airing in the spring.

The “Taste of Home’s Light & Tasty” magazine from Reiman Publications, with one million subscribers, includes a feature on her products in the December issue.

In addition, the premiere issue of her new storefront magazine, a women’s magazine and organic foods catalog with 116 color pages, is now available upon request.

“This is so exciting,” she said. “A few years ago, I could only dream that so many people would be enjoying my foods. This is all I really wanted: a chance to share delicious food with people who care about quality.”

MaryJane’s focus on food is not surprising, since that is how she was raised. She grew up in Ogden, Utah, in the small house where her parents, Allen and Helen Butters, still live today.

"It seems that everything we did involved food," she said. "We had a large garden, meticulously free of weeds. We had every kind of fruit tree plus lots of raspberries, currants, chokecherries and strawberries. We ran our squash vines up the fruit trees, and spent our summers sleeping in a pup tent in the garden next to our chicken coop, pigeon roost, and duck house."

Every year, the family preserved a basement full of food. Her father grew up on a farm, but spent his entire adult life working in a factory that made cans. Consequently, he brought home thousands of empty cans to fill with garden produce. In the cool of the basement, her parents and their five children all took turns cranking the manual can sealer. After graduating from high school in 1971, MaryJane started working as a secretary, but quit a few months later to pursue a job more appealing to her pioneering spirit: watching for fires from a mountaintop lookout near Weippe, Idaho.

Butters continued to select jobs where she was the first of her gender: the only woman on the carpentry crew at Hill Air Force Base, the first woman wilderness ranger hired by the US Forest Service, and in 1976, the first woman station guard at the Moose Creek Ranger Station, the most remote Forest Service district in the continental US, in Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area.

After two years, she left Moose Creek with her husband John to find a farm of their own and start their own family. Their daughter, Megan, was born in 1979, and their son, Emil, was born four years later. Finding that farm took a little longer.

"I envisioned an old farm in northern Idaho hidden at the end of a dirt road. I dreamed of chicken coops, barns, root cellars, fruit trees in bloom, clematis vines, lilacs, wild roses, irises, and gardens," she recalled. "Then in 1986, I saw an ad for a five-acre homestead. It sounded perfect, so I called and bought it sight-unseen. I named it Paradise Farm, since it was hidden at the base of Paradise Ridge, 8 miles from Moscow."

Her world seemed idyllic, but changes were coming. John left as their marriage ended in divorce, and then in May of 1986, the Pacific Northwest was dosed with releases from the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

"I got mad. Motherhood brought out a special activism in me." MaryJane called a public meeting to discuss the threat of nuclear radiation exposure, specifically from the Hanford nuclear facility in nearby eastern Washington. More than 35 people showed up and elected MaryJane president of their new organization, Palouse-Clearwater Hanford Watch.

"It was an intoxicating era, so exciting," she said. "We got involved in lots of water quality, transportation and agricultural issues. But for me it ended at a protest meeting about agricultural spraying in 1989, when I realized that I just did not believe in making change by confronting people in that way."

At that same meeting, MaryJane met a farmer who grew a small hard-skinned variety of garbanzo bean known as desi. The desi beans were an ideal organic crop for the region, since the plants did not need insecticide applications. However, the unusual beans were also of little agricultural value, since there was no established market for them.

"I decided not to be a righteous environmentalist, but to reach across to the farmer. I wanted to design a product that would create a market for that bean," she said. "I experimented with creating falafel, a mid-eastern staple, but relatively unknown food in this country at that time. By 1990, I started marketing it locally."

In 1993, her business was incorporated as Paradise Farm Organics, Inc. "I became interested in working with farmers instead of just blaming them. I realized that if I want the farmers here to grow organic, I need to help them make that transition."

Experimenting, MaryJane ultimately created dozens of other dried ready-to-eat foods using organic ingredients.

During the same time, MaryJane found a partner to share both her business and her life.

"Over the years as I lived here at Paradise Farm, I occasionally caught the brilliant smile and helping hand of my neighbor, Nick Ogle. Nick's 600-acre farm borders mine on two sides. He and his parents still work the ground Nick grew up on. Nick loves flowers. The Paradise Ridge wildflower bouquets he brings me are no longer anonymously left upon my doorstep. In 1993, Nick became my husband."

MaryJane is the company's president, and Nick is in charge of the production facilities. And together they direct the growing of organic herbs, produce and grains at their farm. Their union was immortalized in the National Geographic magazine with a photo that fills page 89 of the December 1995 issue.

The easy-to-prepare, tasty, and organic foods MaryJane offers are what she dreamed of making decades earlier when she first started feeding her own children.

"This is what I wanted years ago for my family: organic dried foods that are both elegant and easy."

The Future of the the Oakesdale Mill

In 1998, MaryJane Butters bought the organic flour business owned for 40 years by Joseph Barron in Oakesdale, Washington. The purchase included both the “new mill,” the small electric mill that Barron set up in his garage in 1960 and used to create his flours and cereal mixes, and the “old mill,” the four-story building with the original milling equipment that is listed on the National Historic Register. The new mill has been moved to Moscow. Barron's organic flour label, Joseph's Natural Grain, has been retired. Flours and cereals milled using Barron's new mill will be used in the production of 60 ready-to-eat organic meals sold by MaryJane Butters’ company. The old mill, which was built in 1890, will be maintained at Oakesdale and opened for tours periodically, MaryJane said.

“The first time I toured the old mill, I felt such reverence for Joseph, his family, and the other pioneers of the Palouse,” she explained.

“There is so much history in that building, in the machinery polished by decades of working hands, and in the huge timbers that hold it together. We are honored that Joseph chose us to preserve this wonderful mill for future generations.”

Third generation miller Joseph Barron was born in Oakesdale in 1909 and started working at the family flour mill full time in 1927. In 1960, he reorganized his business to produce only organic flours and cereal mixes, and was recognized as an organic food pioneer in the Pacific Northwest.

Barron first sold his flours under his Nutrigrain label. After he sold that trademark to Kellogg's, he marketed his flour as Joseph's Natural Grain. Joseph Barron died on October 27, 2000.