Flash in the Pan 

It’s a farmgirl thing

The other Monday I went to watch MaryJane Butters at the Good Food Store, where she was promoting her new book: MaryJane’s Ideabook • Cookbook • Lifebook…for the farmgirl in all of us.

The room was filled with happy women, glowing in MaryJane’s presence. Some were dressed in their farmgirl outfits, many were lined up to have MaryJane autograph their newly purchased book. I wasn’t glowing. I felt invisible, out of place. After sampling her instant curried lentils—which were excellent—I retreated to the coffee bar to get my thoughts together.

For the last five years, MaryJane has been marketing a home-grown, home-made, and passionately organic lifestyle, and her efforts are paying off. It started with her mail-order catalog, which offer value-added farm products like the curried lentils. The catalog “got out of hand,” as she put it, turning into a magazine called MaryJane’s Farm, now available in such unlikely places as Wal-Mart. With her new book, MaryJane is marketing the farmgirl lifestyle, encouraging women to find their own inner farmgirl.

Success inevitably makes her a target. As I pondered the farmgirl phenomena I wondered if my attitude was related to the fact that nobody’s offered me a million-dollar book deal like MaryJane’s. And maybe I was frustrated by the biological impossibility of me ever becoming a farmgirl. So, I decided to ask MaryJane: can guys be farmgirls, too?

Back in the room, I stood behind a woman gushing to MaryJane about how beautiful she was in a July 2004 New Yorker article. The only people left in the room were gushing woman, MaryJane, her three farmgirl assistants, and me. When gushing woman finally left, so did MaryJane and her entourage, leaving me, alone, to stew in my cynicism.

I guess maybe guys can’t be farmgirls.

MaryJane’s book was on display. I flipped through it, expecting to find advice on sewing aprons out of used pillowcases and suchlike, but I was quickly impressed by the farming advice. I noticed a possible solution to a bindweed problem with which a farmer friend has been plagued. It seems MaryJane had a similar problem and was “about ready to quit farming” before she found a non-toxic material called Nonwoven Propex 4553 (find it at geotextile.com or 800-445-7732). She covered her entire bindweed-infested field with Propex, mulched it, and then planted into it by slicing small holes in the Propex.

Then I read about a cool hoe, and again she provided information on where to buy it—not from her, but from the manufacturer. Page after page, my cynicism withered like suffocating bindweed. When I found three full pages celebrating garlic flowers, I began to wonder if maybe I was, in fact, a farmgirl after all.

In a recent radio interview MaryJane gave to Sally Mauk on KUFM, Sally noted the inevitable comparison with Martha Stewart, which MaryJane did not deny. “We’ve both branded ourselves,” she said, “and we both celebrate what women do in their homes. I appeal to a more rural crowd; Martha is more Connecticut. My stuff is low-budget and doable.”

Both MaryJane and Sally were wilderness rangers in the 1970s, a rare thing at the time, and testament to the strong woman behind the farmgirl (and the news director). When I spoke to Sally, she admitted to being a bit skeptical going into the interview. But, she said, MaryJane “really is who she says she is.”

I finally reached the farmgirl queen by phone at her farm near Moscow, Idaho. I asked her if guys can be farmgirls too.

“Talking to women is my comfort zone,” she acknowledged, very sweetly. “Women are my audience, and I’m having fun with this farmgirl thing right now. And the demand is growing. Women are the fastest group buying small farms right now. If this pace continues, in 10 years we will own 75 percent of American farmland. We aren’t into commodity farming, or big machines. We are primarily interested in feeding ourselves and neighbors. Ultimately, it’s a food-security issue.”

“But we do have embroidered baseball caps for the guys,” she added.

“They say ‘I Dig Farmgirls.’”

For more info on MaryJane Butters, visit maryjanesfarm.org. Check out her chatroom for a look at the farmgirl dialog she’s encouraging.

Here is a recipe from her new book. It’s called Very Berry Salsa.

Combine: 1 cup each of blueberries (or huckleberries), raspberries, chopped tomatoes and chopped strawberries; 1/4 cup chopped cilantro; 3 tablespoons chopped red onion, 1 tablespoon honey; juice and zest of 1 orange and 1 lime; salt to taste. Serve over cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce.

To get raspberries and strawberries, consider the Common Ground U-pick in Arlee: 406-726-2900.

For the other stuff: farmer’s market! Don’t forget the overly neglected Tuesday evening market: 5:45 to 7:15 at the top of Higgins. More on farmers markets next week…

flash@flashinthepan.net

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