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Farmer grows a $1 million book deal
Reaping what she sows

Spokesman Review, Spokane, Washington
October 15, 2003
by Hannelore Sudermann

MOSCOW, Idaho • A local organic farmer known for promoting her own style of simple, wholesome living, just signed a $1 million, two-book deal.

MaryJane Butters' two tomes will be printed by Clarkson Potter, a publishing branch of Random House that specializes in illustrated lifestyle books including Martha Stewart's cookbooks and Paul Allen Smith's gardening guides.

Butters' first book, MaryJane's Gathering Place, is scheduled to be published in Spring 2005. The second is tentatively due out in 2006.

Butters, 50, has come a long way from the day 18 years ago when she bought her five-acre farm on Paradise Ridge south of Moscow. She started growing organic produce, then branched out into camping food made with crops that didn't require pesticides. The farm grew into a business and people turned to her to learn organic techniques, sometimes traveling to her land to sample farm life.

Though she still gardens daily and is regularly followed around her property by a bevy of Rhode Island Reds, her interests have taken her beyond food crops and into flowers, crafts, art, and advice. A respected friend encouraged her to compile her ideas about wholesome living into a book.

"I thought, a book? I'm not a writer," she said.

But tapping into her domestic ideas over the past year and a half, Butters has produced three issues of MaryJanesFarm, a lifestyle magazine and catalog for the organic foods she produces.

A friend passed on her magazines to an agent who urged her to put a book proposal together. So Butters took several months and amassed 40 pages of concept, contents and personal history.

The agent shopped the proposal around to publishers this summer. "A wonderful thing happened," said Butters. "The publishing houses started bidding."

Among those interested was Pam Krauss, vice president at Clarkson Potter.

"There is definitely a growing trend toward more wholesome living, and I think MaryJane is ahead of the curve with her magazine," said Krauss in a prepared statement. "We know women like to get together and share ideas and that they are looking for a simpler, healthier way of life.

"MaryJane offers the wisdom and knowledge from our mothers' and grandmothers' eras that have been lost to a younger generation of women today."

Butters was familiar with the publishing house and welcomed their offer.

"They do beautiful illustrated books," she said. "And my dream is to do an illustrated book."

She plans to plumb some of her magazine ideas and then go beyond.

"I want to visit with women and share their projects with the world," she said. "I want it to be a manual. I want to show all those home-ec type of skills that have gone out of fashion" — cooking, health, gardening, sewing and common sense. "It will be about everything from making slipcovers to how to raise a pig."

Butters has definite ideas about the finished product.

"I want it to have a wire bind so it stays open when you're working on a project," she said. "And I don't want it to be expensive. I want women to be able to afford it."

Butters knows about money. Farming has good years and bad, she said. "This year we had a rough winter. It was a white-knuckle ride with the weather and the economy."

Money from the book deal will pay the bills. It will also pay for a new camera, which she'll use to document her farm life for the books.

Butters, who writes whenever an idea strikes her — day or night — hopes to get her work to the publisher next spring. For her, writing a book is simply another way to share her enthusiasm and interests.

"I'm not a writer with a lot of cleverness," she said. "I just tell stories."