The New Face of Organic Living
Mary Jane Butters does Martha one better
by Erin Ryan for Boise Weekly
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 Mary Jane Butters.
Mary Jane 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,"
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
"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
"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.