Her own private Idaho —
Butters' book relishes rural life
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
by Laura Pierce
“What do we live for, if
it is not to make life less
difficult for each other?”
- George Eliot
The crowd at the University of Idaho Bookstore listened politely and sometimes strained to hear Thursday, as a local author spoke about her first book.
Soft-spoken as she was, MaryJane Butters wielded the confidence of someone who had seen her share of trials and joys, and who ultimately came out on top.
Butters, who is about to go on a national tour for her book "MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook for the Farmgirl in All of Us," was quick to tell people she never planned to be a writer. But speaking to her roomful of readers, Butters made it clear she wanted to speak for a culture of women who, like her, found happiness on the farm.
Butters calls these people "farm girls." Like generations of farm women before her, Butters said she, too, had discovered the inner peace that comes from hard labor and working with one's hands.
"It honors who they are," Butters said, of the rural women and their activities that she chronicles in her book. "It honors all these women and their wonderful, diverse talents."
Her book, which has been embraced by Clarkson Potter Publishers, a division of Random House, is the most recent manifestation of Butters' own farm-girl grit.
Growing up in a close-knit Mormon family on a farm in Utah, Butters went on to a string of jobs that harkened to her self-sufficient roots. She worked as carpenter, wilderness ranger, seamstress, waitress, secretary, janitor and milkmaid - whatever it took to pay the bills.
What Butters really wanted was a farm of her own - a place to nurture her entrepreneurial spirit, her family and her connection to the land. In 1986, she found what she was seeking.
"My desire to be a farmer was an obsession for almost 10 years before I found my five acres at the end of a dirt road," she writes in her book. "How did I do it? I thumbed through real estate ads as if my life depended on it ... I was undeterred and unrelenting."
It was from that farm, a five-acre spread eight miles outside of Moscow, that Butters began an organic-food business that evolved into a homage to rural life.
Her organic produce sales led to a line of more than 60 prepared foods she markets under the MaryJanesFarm brand. A catalog of her products "got out of hand," she told her audience Thursday, and became the nationally distributed MaryJanesFarm Magazine.
It was the success of her magazine that ultimately yielded Butters a $1.35 million deal for multiple books devoted to the rural lifestyle. "MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook" is a 414-page platform from which future books will be produced as supplements to its seven chapters on various facets of farming life.
Pam Krauss, Butters' editor at Clarkson Potter Publishers, said it was the originality of Butters' writing that prompted the book deal.
"We see many proposals from people saying they have a new message," Krauss said Friday from her office in New York, in reference to the manuscript Butters sent them. "This was really new - it spoke to people so directly. It was so clearly authentic."
Krauss said that while Butters' book harkens to rural life, it speaks to anyone with a yearning for country life.
"All of us do have a little farm girl in us," Krauss said.
Asked how she thought Butters would do on her book tour, selling her lifestyle to major metropolitan areas like Chicago, Krauss said Butters would be a hit.
"I think she's going to play to packed houses and people are going to love her," Krauss said. "She's the real deal, and there's no one else like her."
There are, of course, the media comparisons of Butters to Martha Stewart. That reference to the East Coast domestic goddess makes the Moscow writer's eyes roll.
"Can't the media get out of one box?" Butters said, noting she speaks for a cultural segment that Stewart never has.
"Martha Stewart is not a voice for the rural woman," she said emphatically.
Krauss agrees with Butters there.
"She's representing a constituency that does not have a very large voice," Krauss said of the rural population.
If there is one thing Butters appears to enjoy discussing more than organic farming, it's the local help she had in making her book a reality.
She eagerly points out the aid she got: her bookkeeper Sunny Cook creating the company logo and a related bumper sticker; her friend, Carol Hill, who designed the book; and a small army of other people who contributed their time to the tome.
That's not to mention her own family, which includes husband Nick Ogle, daughter Megan Rae and son Emil McCarthy.
"There's so much local talent," Butters said. "Everything's here. They (Clarkson Potter Publishers) really learned through us they could give an author control. (Creating a book) doesn't have to be sanctioned by learned, college-educated people."
Krauss said Butters' desire to keep the book under local control worked out, although it was a tad unorthodox.
"It was a different way of working," she said. "But I think MaryJane's standards are pretty high. That was part and parcel of what we liked about her. She wasn't looking to us to define her taste and look."
Beyond crops and split-rail fences, there is an element of rural life that Butters said applies to farmers and urban dwellers alike: A sense of belonging.
"I think rural women are still key to creating a sense of community that city people hunger for."
Laura Pierce can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 238 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.