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The New Face of Organic Living

by Erin Ryan for Boise Weekly, December 2002

Poor health, collapsing standards and grim international politics have nudged the American public back to its roots. The pace of life has overtaken the experience, and people are focusing more on classic values and unconventional lifestyle choices to combat modern ills. Remedies like alternative medicine and organics, once thought the ridiculous fantasies of quacks and hippies, are moving internationally from minority to mainstream, fueled by the commitment and creativity of people like MaryJane Butters.

MaryJane Butters is the latest icon for healthy living and its vast commercial and civic following. Having already cultivated an empire with Paradise Farm Organics (her Moscow mail order business), Butters adds editor and inspirational figure to her list of distinctions with the release of MaryJanesFarm.

"It's a recipe that's one part catalog and two parts magazine," said Butters, whose storefront publication is a forum for discussion and facilitation of organic lifestyles as well as a celebration of women that will appear in bookstores nationwide next month.

Despite being a force for female independence, Butters believes feminism has been hard on domesticity. "Women were not really recognized for maintaining their homes and sharing wisdom," she said, applauding pioneers like Martha Stewart, to whom Butters has been excessively compared. Despite Stewart's somewhat stained reputation, Butters is flattered. "Social change is incremental, and Martha paved the way for people like me," she said. While she admires the aesthetics and advice in Martha's magazines, Butters made her version more approachable and real, descriptors that also distinguish her character. "I guess I'm more real," Butters said, "but I plan to hire just as many fantastic women and give validity to their domestic achievements."

Offering a collection of recipes and methods for simplified, wholesome living, MaryJanesFarm also features letters from patrons, stockholder and staff profiles, catalog listings and articles that support strong women, solid families and total wellness. "I pick up the daily paper with a certain innocence, but after glancing at it, my shoulders get heavy," Butters said. While she is deeply affected by the state of the world, she believes there is more to life than worrying and hurrying. "I wanted to create hope – something with positive energy that would help people escape grim news while easing them into healthier lifestyles," she said.

While MaryJanesFarm and the products it advertises have a modern feel and convenience about them, their polish comes from generations of practice and the details of Butters' past. Her childhood friend and colleague, Sara Devins, described Butters' family as "independent and practical in every sense of the word." They grew 'piles' of fruits and vegetables for cooking and canning, sewed and knitted their own clothes, baked their own bread and even built some of their own furniture.

"We bought staples like flour and sugar, but my family has always been about self-sufficiency," Butters said. Her grandfather lost his farm during the Depression, and after moving his wife and eleven children to Ogden, Utah, for a factory job, he never missed a day of work. Butters' father spent his life working in the same factory and cultivating the same principles, and his daughter's success reflects their strength and resonance.

Graduating from high school in 1971, Butters worked briefly as a secretary but quit to pursue the career/adventure she had always dreamed of. Working as a lookout and wilderness ranger in some of the remotest outposts in Utah and Idaho, she reveled in the solitude and connection with nature. Summers spent in the wilderness were offset by winter studies at Utah State University, but one day Butters decided her real education was beyond the classroom. She returned to the mountains for several years, emerging only when her biological clock ticked loud enough to disturb the silence.

"I had this dream about a family farm, and if it weren't for that, I would still be living in a wall tent with five feet of snow all around me," Butters said. With two children of her own and two more by her marriage to fellow farmer Nick Ogle, Butters now has the family and home she envisioned. "It took ten years of saving and looking to find the perfect spot," she said, but the 'fruits' of her labor finally manifested in a five-acre, Northern Idaho paradise, appropriately named Paradise Farm.

In the 16 years since she first set foot on Paradise's soil, Butters has been busy. She has a huge mail-order business of 60 perfected recipes and innovative products for fast organic food; provides fresh produce and all natural flours and grains to Moscow patrons while supporting other local and national growers; and shares her own ideals, imagination and experiences in MaryJanesFarm magazine. Her products are filling the shelves of all types of grocery stores and private homes, and the hard-won popularity of a lifestyle that has gone from 'freakish' to 'granola' to 'trendy' to 'sensible' encourages Butters in the continuing struggle.

"Organic is no longer a cuss word," she laughed, "and people are figuring out that they don't need to let big, nasty corporations feed them." She said that organic food is the fastest growing industry in the US with revenues increasing 25% annually and the 'fanatic-weirdo image' fading with time and positive press. "I don't know what the future holds, but I love my employees and the sense of community we have, and it's something I want to share," said Butters.

MaryJanesFarm products and magazine are available now at the Boise Co-op on the corner of 9th and Fort Street.