Conference aimed at 'creative women'; could help enhance off-farm income

MaryJane Butters says she started her business with nothing but "domestic skill power." Other women, including farm women looking to start their own businesses to bring in off-farm income, can do the same, she says. "Domestic skills, combined wit...

MaryJane Butters says she started her business with nothing but "domestic skill power."

Other women, including farm women looking to start their own businesses to bring in off-farm income, can do the same, she says.

"Domestic skills, combined with creativity and stick-to-it-ness, is a recipe for success," she says.

Butters, a Moscow, Idaho-based organic farmer and magazine editor, even has a fledgling organization, Project F.A.R.M., which aims to help rural crafters.

Butters will be among the speakers at the Creative Connection conference Sept. 16 to 18 in Minneapolis. About 300 to 400 women are expected to attend.


The event is "about pursuing what you love and being resourceful enough to turn it into a business," says Nancy Soriano, the New York-based co-founder of the conference and former editor-in-chief of Country Living magazine.

The business could be small and local or something bigger, she says.

Earning money to supplement family farm income is common among American farm women.

Roughly half of the spouses of principal farm operators generate off-farm income, according to a 2004 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On farms with gross sales of $10,000 to $99,000, 45.5 percent of the spouses had off-farm income, earning an average of $13,095 each.

On farms with gross sales of $100,000 to $249,000, 54.4 percent of the spouses had off-farm income, earning an average of $14,722 each.

The report found that off-farm income, as a percentage of total family income, is relatively low in the Upper Midwest.

That reflects several factors, including difficulty in finding off-farm jobs in rural areas, the report says.


Many women without good access to off-farm jobs have the creativity and determination to start their own businesses and make money, Soriano says.

'Big leap of faith'

Soriano says Butters will provide useful, inspirational information for farm women who attend the Minneapolis conference.

Butters "has worn many hats and aprons in her day," according to promotional material for the conference.

She's been a wilderness ranger at a remote U.S. Forest Service location in Idaho. She's been an environmental activist.

Now, besides being an organic farmer, she's editor of her own magazine, MaryJanes Farm, and author of several books. She also designs and sells her own line of bedding.

But her business success didn't come easily or quickly, she says.

"I didn't have a husband with money or any kind of savings. I was, in fact, dirt poor -- single mom, old broken-down car, leafy roof," she says.


She used credit cards to start her business, a move she says was "very risky and nerve-wracking, but it worked."

Fear of failure is the greatest stumbling block, she says.

She compares starting a business to climbing up on a high dive for the first time. The person might hesitate, worried about possibly struggling in the water after the dive.

"But if you truly believe that won't happen to you, then you relax, jump and pop up to the surface and, from there start swimming using sure, steady strokes," Butters says.

"It's as simple and hard as that. Big leap of faith," she says.

You also must be prepared to leap more than once.

"To be successful in business, you have to have faith in yourself and you have to jump over and over again," she says.

Crafting and marketing


To start a crafts-related business, "You have to have some skill you're good at, that you can dream you can turn into a business, or (have) the time and energy to learn a skill," she says.

Marketing is important, too, but in a different way, she says.

"Marketing skills are more a function of believing and listening to your intuition and gut-level impulses," she says.

Start-up costs involved with a new business are an obvious concern.

Butters says she would "need to write a book" to fully explore the subject of financing.

She recommends that women interested in launching a business check to see if their state has any programs that could help.

Women today have a major advantage is starting a business, she says.

"The Internet is a godsend. If you can get a UPS truck to your home, you're in business," she says.


Social media, which include websites such as Facebook and Twitter, can be invaluable, Butters says.

She points to the website, which features a woman whose blog developed into a successful business.

A blog, short for Web log, contains a person's comments and descriptions of events.

For busy women, of course, finding time to start and operate a business can be a problem.

A woman who won't be committed to a business shouldn't start one, Butters says.

"She has to make time for it; it's a lot like exercise. We know some women make time for exercise, no matter what, but some put it off and find excuses." Butters says.

To succeed in business, "you have to want to pull it off, no excuses," she says.

Project F.A.R.M.


Butters has launched Project F.A.R.M., or First-class American Made, to promote the products of rural crafters, both male and female.

To be eligible, a crafter must live in a town with fewer than 40 stoplights, have a Web presence, be set up to accept online credit card payments and have a state business resale license.

A business that meets those criteria can apply to Project F.A.R.M. for certification. The business must send Project F.A.R.M. a sample of its product for review.

The idea is, shoppers will see products bearing the Project F.A.R.M. label and realize that buying those products will help rural Americans.

Butters says Project F.A.R.M. "hasn't turned into a real business yet," but that she's optimistic "it's an idea whose time has come."


Details of the conference

The Creative Connection conference will offer a Handmade Market to showcase crafts and products created by women. The market, open to the public for $10, is free for conference attendees.

Other activities and opportunities at the conference include:

- A "Smart Bar" that offers business and technology problem-solving in one-on-one and group settings.

- A breakfast panel that examines how to be published or written about.

- A "Swap Extravaganza" where attendees can trade their homemade goods.

- A "Pajama Party Make-and-Take" -- open to the first 100 women who buy a ticket -- that allows participants to try new products and create crafts.

The Creative Connection will be held in conjunction with the annual Junk Bonanza at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn. The latter event will feature more than 100 juried vendors and artisans who display and sell vintage and "repurposed" pieces for home and garden.

Creative Connection co-organizer Soriano says she picked Minneapolis as the conference site because it's a creative, strategically located community and because the Junk Bonanza is held there.

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