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Farmgirl grows a fair

Palouse entrepreneur takes her annual celebration of simple living on the road Saturday, scheduling stops from Palouse, Garfield and Tekoa to Rockford, Fairfield and Coeur d'Alene

Lewiston Tribune
By David Johnson of the Tribune
June 28, 2009

OAKESDALE - MaryJane Butters says she wants to continue spreading the message and wealth of her ever-growing "farm girl" community.

To that end, the self-made organic farmer, author, entrepreneur and advocate for simple living has decided to disperse her annual MaryJane's Farm Fair throughout several Palouse country towns on the Fourth of July.

"We wanted to benefit the small towns," Butters said of expanding the fair's venue from her farm south of Moscow to here as well as Palouse, Garfield, Tekoa, Rockford, Fairfield and Coeur d'Alene. "Every town will have a big welcome sign and we'll have passports for everyone to join the celebration in each town."

The theme for Saturday's daylong event is "Boogie, Barter and Buggy," underscoring the dancing, antique sales and vagabond nature of the festivities.

"This is where the biggest event will be," Butters said of her decision to open for tours the 118-year-old Barron Flour Mill here that remains on the National Register of Historic Places. "I bought this mill 12 years ago."

Part of the purchase agreement with the now late Joseph Barron Jr., Butters explained, was to maintain the four-story building as it has stood for more than a century. "I'm committed to preserving it because it's a museum of life on the Palouse."

With all its machinery and wooden innards still intact, the Old Mill, as it's called, remains a time capsule dating back to 1890 when it was built.

"I've put a couple hundred thousand into this and the clock is ticking," Butters said of bankrolling efforts to stop the mill's slow deterioration. "We need new siding and a new roof."

She said a portion of proceeds from the farm fair will go toward restoration.

"And I hope to do a major donor campaign. We have a membership organization called 'Friends of the Old Mill' to raise money."

At 56 years old, Butters, the mother of two grown children, has been likened to a countrified version of Martha Stewart, a comparison she accepts but doesn't promote. Butters has focused mostly on women and honed her persona around a self-styled "farm girl" image.

"It's a condition of the heart. It's not where you live. It's how you live," Butters said, offering her definition. "We have farm girls (in Manhattan) growing pansies on fire escapes."

Rene Groom, who writes for Butters' MaryJanes Farm magazine, is working as coordinator of the expanded farm fair.

"The dream was that she (Butters) wanted farm girls to come and fall in love with the Palouse," Groom said of the origins of MaryJane's Farm Fair. "Because that's what she had done."

Butters came to the Palouse in the early 1980s and eventually plowed her love of country living into several enterprises that eventually landed her advances from Random House to write three books. The latest title is "MaryJane's Outpost: Unleashing Your Inner Wild." Three more books on quilting, bread baking and diet makeovers are also in the works, according to a news release.

She's also executive editor of her self-title bi-monthly magazine , MaryJanesFarm, sold nationwide.

"We have people coming from all over," Butters said of anticipated attendance at the farm fair, "farm girls, their families and friends. Hopefully everybody knows a farm girl."

Butters' husband, farmer Nick Ogle, has taken a special interest in the old flour mill and will be among those offering tours. "The power is down here," he said, descending to the ground floor of the mill where an ancient motor sits idle.

"Just a three-phase electric motor with one huge flat belt that drives that power wheel," he said, pointing through the shadowy confines of the mill. "That drives these jack shafts, that drives these other jack shafts, that drives jack shafts up there, all connected with flat belts."

The four milling machines remain stationed on an upper floor, as do several scales, hand carts and other artifacts left behind as if mill workers had just finished a routine shift. The mill operated into the 1960s, Ogle said.

Mill tours, offered for no charge, will be held approximately every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For safety reasons, no children younger than 12 will be permitted on the tours. Other scheduled activities outside the mill include live music, lawn games, food and various vendor booths.

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Johnson may be contacted at djohnson@lmtribune.com or (208) 883-0564.

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