Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is the editor-in-chief of Living the Country Life and executive editor of Successful Farming. She grew up on a fruit farm in Maryland (see and has an agricultural journalism degree from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Bob, a veterinarian, live on a farm in Iowa where they raise sheep, hay, corn, and soybeans.

March 28, 2013

Share farm stories with Smithsonian

I was in Washington D.C. at the launch of the Smithsonian's Agriculture Innovation and Heritage Archive, a part of the National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian is asking the public to help it preserve the innovations and experiences of farming and ranching across the United States. Visitors can share their stories about the technologies and innovations that have changed agriculture. Your stories will be used by the Smithsonian to help prepare new exhibitions like American Enterprise, and all accepted submissions will be preserved and made publicly available on the archive's website.

To share your farm story, visit:

I sorted through a box of Dad's old photos and found these three showing life in the 1950s on a family farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania.

(If James Dean raised pigs.) Dad with his 4-H market hogs in 1955. There were no confinement barns or lean hogs back then. I must say, that lot is very weedy!

This 1950 Papec chopper was the first of its kind, says Dad.

My grandfather, Warren Johnson, raised 14,000 turkeys on pasture in 1950 near Nottingham, PA.

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March 26, 2013

Very Berry Pie

I visited Mom and Dad on their Maryland farm last week. Mom thawed out blueberries, red and black raspberries, and strawberries to make her exclusive Very Berry Pie, a recipe she created from ingredients grown on the farm. She gave me her handwritten recipe and then pointed out a few places where she added more of this or that. Here's is the final version. I think.

Ruth Ann Johnson's Very Berry Pie

4 1/2 cups total of raspberries (red and black), blueberries, strawberries

2/3 cup sugar

4 tbsp flour

2 tsp minute tapioca

1 tsp lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in a bowl lightly. Pour into 9-inch pie crust. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust.

Moisten top crust a bit. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 425 for 15 mins. Reduce to 350. Bake 45 mins.

March 25, 2013

Spring! Spring?

One year ago the forsythia bush in this photo was blooming yellow and I had planted beets. Not this year.

Inside our cozy barn, we sheared our ewes even though the weatherman said to keep the wool coat.



March 15, 2013

I'm in deep compost

I took this photo from the top of the compost pile. It was just solid enough for me to climb like a goat. Bob locked the ewes in the barn and cleaned out the back lot. He and Warren spent an afternoon chipping wood from downed trees and then they spread it behind the barn (below). It didn't go far, but it helps.

Oh, by the way, when I climb to the top of the compost pile and see my shadow it means Spring is one week away.

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March 14, 2013

Justin moving on

We had a goodbye party at work for Justin Davey, an editor for both Living the Country Life and Successful Farming. He is leaving his ag beat to work on custom content projects for external marketing clients of Meredith Corporation. We wish him much luck and thank him for his hard work the past six years.

Justin did not grow up on a farm, but he learned fast. I think this photo below is the first time he did any loader work with a tractor. This was on an Iowa State University demonstration farm. I was taking photos and Justin was showing off. :-) A few seconds before this photo was taken he had the bucket over his head and almost tipped that tractor over. It was quite scary. I showed this photo to Justin yesterday and he said, "Makes my palms sweat just looking at it."

Be safe out there!

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March 11, 2013

Paid in eggs

Bob went out in a snowstorm to pull a calf last week and his tip from the grateful farmer was two dozen fresh eggs. It's been several years since we raised backyard hens, so these were a welcome reminder of how wonderful homegrown eggs can be. It almost makes me want to clean out the old chicken coop (now a storage shed) and get some chicks.


March 6, 2013

Straight rows this year!

Bob's birthday present is below. I ordered it yesterday.

He is always impressed by the volume of veggies my garden produces, but he grumbles about the way I do it. He likes straight rows and my rows wiggle. Basically, I just stick seeds in the ground as I go along. The onions do not care. But the German in Bob won't let him accept the rambling way my garden grows.

Every year I try to change up my garden by growing something I've never grown before (last year it was Swiss chard). This year, I'm changing up my garden by using a new tool.

It is a Precision Garden Seeder. It's a gift that keeps on giving, because now Bob will want to plant the garden for me.

March 4, 2013

The Towers still stand

Bob and I revisited our old stomping grounds yesterday, the 10-story concrete dorms called The Towers at Iowa State University. I lived there for two years and Bob for three. It was cheap. Two of the four Towers were imploded a few years ago because they were tilting. The two that are remaining have not changed inside or out. The stairwell is exactly as it was 32 years ago. Only the people have changed.


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March 1, 2013

The future for libraries

I've been thinking a lot about libraries lately. Mom was a county librarian and we checked out stacks of books every week (that's me on the left with my sister, Molly). I grew up without television, unless we visited our grandparents to watch the Olympics, the miniseries Roots, or The Waltons. Books were our entertainment, along with radio and records.

In January, I visited my parents in Maryland and stopped by the county library with Mom. At age 75, she was finally retiring for good (she had been substituting). The evening before I had helped Dad and Molly feed the homeless at their church. When I looked around the library, I recognized most of the people there as folks I had fed the night before. It was a cold day and they were taking shelter at the library, most of them sleeping in chairs.

Back in Iowa, I am on the board of the friends of the public library foundation. We plan educational and fundraising events for the town library. Last Saturday we held a Dr. Seuss day, attended by 74 children and parents or grandparents. I served green eggs and ham.

I talked to the library director about the future for libraries in this era of rapid transition to digital books. Only a few publishing houses will allow libraries to lend digital books. Have libraries become a hangout spot for the homeless? They are certainly a place where the poor can access computers. What will happen to libraries as funding is cut?

Do libraries have a future?

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February 28, 2013

Digging out

This was my view from our back porch last night as Bob had fun with his snow machine.

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