An apron-wearing, visionary farm girl oft-considered to be Martha Stewart’s better, organic half, Magnificent Mary Jane Butters is a bona fide food heroine. She conjures up hope and enlightens those she touches with her passion for living off the land and eating wholesome, healthy food. Clearly she was born to play this role, and man does she play it well.
“We’ve really devalued food in our minds and what ends up on our plate. We’ve devalued it and laced it with chemicals and the cheap food hasn’t worked out long-term. I think that I sell not just good wholesome food, but I also sell hope. People crave that.”
But like many heroes, some have questioned her so-called good deeds. Consider the fact that she does package and ship organic foods (as well as other farm-related goods) to practically anywhere in the world, which certainly contributes to food miles and wasteful food packaging. And what kind of hero would do such a thing? It’s true that Mary Jane has claimed she wants to phase out her food business, but she also mentions how that same business is what puts the bacon on the table (not the million dollar book deal that everyone suspects). So it would seem that in a way, she’s sort of tied to her food business at the moment. Especially considering it helps fund her other organic farming ventures, which in my opinion, are what truly define her heroic state.
Ali at ethicurean.com put it well when she said, “…her products…aren’t the goal. They’re not the end. They’re not the there. They are merely a bridge…a bridge between the anonymous and the known, the food-from-factory and food-with-a-face.” If this is the case, then it would seem her critics are missing the point. It’s like the dweebs who ridicule Al Gore for flying around the globe as he shares his message on global warming. There’s no arguing that flying and global warming are direct contradictions, but without his message there is no discussion, no debate, and no spark. The reality is that sometimes the value of the message is greater than the cost.
For Mary Jane, that value comes in the form of an entrepreneur who owns a design studio that supports her MaryJanesFarm magazine, a bed and breakfast, two retail stores, and the U-pick Country Club. It comes in the form of a social entrepreneur who started the farmgirl connection, Pay Dirt Farm School, and Project F.A.R.M. (which supports folks who live in rural communities). And finally it comes in the form of an environmental activist who grows mustard seed for her biodiesel car, and who founded what is now known as the Pelouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute. This is a clever farm girl who does what she does, not for the money, but for the life. She eats, sleeps and breathes farming and agritourism. And she wants nothing more than to share her love of the farm with anyone willing to stop and listen. So whether you believe in her practices or not, she is a force for positive change in the world of food.
Mary Jane has the uncanny ability to connect with people (apron wearing, urban “farm girls” in particular) and through her food products and outreach efforts she gets people to contemplate food – yes, some of it is packaged and yes, it gets shipped around the globe, but some of those recipients are taking their first plunge into more wholesome food. They’re consciously choosing to buy organic and when they consume the product, they’re focused on the taste rather than eating mindlessly. Getting people to that point is no easy task and keeping them there is even more difficult, though Mary Jane seems to have mastered that portion of the equation as well.
As I’ve said before, a hero is a catalyst for change. They don’t force it, they represent it. And Mary Jane represents a change in the world of food we’ve needed for a very long time.