by Sheri Boggs
In our search for good magazines espousing the values of simplicity, one was a particularly serendipitous find. A quick glance at the pages of MaryJanesFarm
showed that this magazine was exactly what the cover promised: "Simple Solutions for Organic Living." Instructions on re-covering ironing boards and how to throw together a decent one-skillet supper were interspersed with articles on garage sales, a catalog of organic products you can order and pages and pages of helpful hints. The overall design was both simple and lively, incorporating a public bulletin board sensibility in many of the sections. Best of all, there was a noticeable dearth of advertising. We were already impressed and then we noticed a lot of the helpful hints were sent in from readers in Moscow, Pullman, Spokane and Lewiston. Curious, we went to look at the masthead and discovered that this fine magazine is, in fact, published in Moscow, Idaho.
"The magazine is selling really well, and it sells so easily," says Mary Jane Butters, publisher and editor in chief. "After eight years, I've found something that really works."
Butters has been fascinated with the concept of organic fast food ever since moving onto her farm in the rolling hills outside Moscow 16 years ago. Her line of organic foods for backpackers, produced at her Paradise Farms, has already been a popular staple at REI. In recent years, she has expanded into marketing her organic soup packets and baking mixes to cubicle dwellers and dorm-room chefs. These days she's hoping to reach the average home cook who wants to eat healthy but seldom has the time to keep such a commitment. And this is where MaryJanesFarm comes in.
"It just sort of evolved. It started out as a catalog for the food we sell," says Butters. "But I kept wanting to add things. We have this area on our Web site where our customers write in and I wanted to put this in the catalog, as we were calling it then. I'm also a voracious magazine reader -- at one time, I was subscribing to 55 different magazines -- and I had this long list of annoying things about magazines and that helped me form a concept of how I would want to do a magazine. As it stands now, it's one part catalog and two parts magazine."
The magazine has only been out on the stands for about two months, but it's already taken off. Butters says that in addition to Auntie's, the magazine is also being carried by the University of Idaho bookstore, Tidyman's in Moscow and at Global Folk Art and Huckleberry's in Spokane. A crew from the Food Network also just visited Butters at her farm to film a segment to air next fall.
While the first section of the magazine, the catalog, is technically advertising, it's refreshing that the rest of the magazine is almost completely free of ads. We did find one ad, but it's for a local cottage enterprise, Cowgirl Chocolates, which is run by Moscow artist Marilyn Lysohir. All in all there's a really nice community feel to the whole endeavor, and it helps illustrate Butters' philosophy of doing business.
"Everything about this is different. We're not using a lot of middle people. When you stack up a lot of middle people, things like loyalty just go by the wayside, pricing becomes more of an issue, and it's just a real dog-eat-dog situation. That's not how I wanted to do things," she says. She adds that the printing costs for a smallish run are rather high, but as the magazine expands she'll be able to put the magazine out using web press publishing, which will help production costs considerably. Realizing that her first issue is a big hit, Butters is already mapping out the second,
"I dreamed up the second issue while lying in bed," she laughs. "I lay there for two hours because it was nice and warm, and I visualized the next issue page by page. I finally got up and lit a fire and then fed it all into my computer. It took about three hours. After that I called my graphics person and said, 'Okay, I'm ready to start working on the next one.' "
-- sheri boggs
MaryJanesFarm can be reached at 1-888-750-6004 or at www.maryjanesfarm.org