Meet Your Neighbor: Betsy Erickson

This story is part of Meet Your Neighbor, a series designed to tell you something new about the people in your community. Participants are chosen at random for the interviews, in which we strive to share a portion of their lives with you, the reader. Look for this series the first Wednesday of each month.

Tustin resident enjoys simple life

TUSTIN — Living in a 24-by-24-foot cabin behind the house she was born in, Betsy Erickson epitomizes country living. Erickson, 69, lives with her husband, Runo Lorentzon, and their many animals on Coe Creek Farm in Tustin. She makes her own butter and cream, bakes her own bread and sheers her own sheep by hand to knit mittens and clothing. By making items that most people purchase, Erickson said trips to the grocery store are only necessary when she runs out of spices or paper products. “I’ll get flour and sugar and I get spices and things like that, but we don’t have to buy vegetables or meat or dairy products,” Erickson said. Without a television in her home, which she and her husband built in 1975, Erickson’s entertainment comes from watching the sun rise and set out the cabin’s windows and reading her favorite books. “I’ll be out of books by this time next week,” Erickson said, having just checked out six books from the local library. With a master’s degree in communication and a few months of schooling toward a doctorate degree in history, Erickson makes a point to stay informed with world politics and events. As the “token liberals” in the area, Erickson and Runo label themselves as socialists dreaming of a country with less wars and equal treatment for all. The Herald Review joined Erickson for a cup of coffee in her cozy home to discuss her favorite reads, political views and what it’s like to live off the land.
HERALD REVIEW : Tell me about your farm. BETSY ERICKSON: We have cattle, sheep, horses, a few hens, two ducks, two pigs, four cats and a border collie. It’s a traditional old-fashioned small mixed farm. We sell grass-fed freezer beef by the quarters and then we sell feeder lambs. This farm was homesteaded by my great-grandparents in 1873. Our family has been here ever since that time. What did you do after you graduated from college? ERICKSON: I went right away to graduate school at the University of Michigan. I had a liberal arts degree in communication. Then I taught English at Marion High School for one year. Then I went back and got my doctorate in History at the University of Wyoming. But I realized after a few months that I didn’t like the academic life because all I really wanted to do is be on this farm. Then I taught school at Kaleva Norman Dickson School in Manistee County for two years. In 1970, I took a trip to Sweden to visit my dad’s relatives and I met Runo. The next year I went back and we got married over there and lived over there for the first year and then we came over here (to the United States). We came back and started farming. I really like working with fiber (made from sheep wool). I do weaving, felting and stuff like that. I make basically two items, ladies mittens and baby shoes. Where do you sell your crafts? ERICKSON: I’ve had them in different stores. The last few years we’ve gone to the farmers market in LeRoy and I sold an awful lot of stuff there. I’ve had things in stores in Oceana, Traverse City and some other stores, but now I just sell word-of-mouth. I don’t like to sit at craft shows. Are all of your crafts made from things produced on your farm? ERICKSON: Yes, it’s all made from here. When I sell a pair of mittens or give them to somebody, I can tell people that the first time it left the farm was when I gave it to them. It was here from the day the lamb was born through when it grew up to become a sheep and made the wool. Everything is done here. Most of what we eat, we make. We’ve always gone against the grain. We’re the token liberals in this area. What is it that makes you the “token liberals?” ERICKSON: I think we need to do the best for the most people. I think we need universal health care. I’d go farther than the Democratic party. I’m probably more of a socialist. I just think we need to care for each other and take care of our environment — our land, water and air — and all the people, animals and things that are in our environment. I don’t think we can get along without each other. I think we are interrelated. We need to take care of each other, and I don’t think we need so many wars. I think if two men or two women want to get married, so what? They could marry the couch if they want to and it’s not any of my business. Everybody knows our views, but we don’t try to push our views on other people because we might as well be talking to a stone. A friend of ours always says, “When belief and fact collide, belief always wins.” I think that’s true. What do you or your husband do outside of the farm? ERICKSON: My husband does help a bee keeper part-time. We have a bee yard up here on our place and the bee keeper owns the bees. They’re buttoning up the bees for winter now. Over the years he also had cut timber back in the woods but he doesn’t now. He’s got enough to do right here. I run almost every day. I don’t run as far as I used to because I didn’t run for a few years. I run two or three miles a day, but I used to run much more. I started running in my late 30s, early 40s, so I’ve done it for probably 25 years. I hit a running streak of 10 years and two days, and I never missed a day. Then at the end of 2000, my mother was sick and I forgot to run that day. I’m determined not to do that now, because it’s very obsessive. It’s not a good idea. I make sure if I run two days or three days in a row, that I take the next day off. What is your favorite season? ERICKSON: My favorite season is winter. I really like winter because I can cross-country ski and I like to be outside. I like those short days and long evenings because we read a lot. We don’t have a television, so we read and I definitely enjoy that. What kind of books do you like to read? ERICKSON: If there’s nothing else, and I have to wait for my husband while I’m in the truck, I’ll even read the road map, or even the manual for the truck. I read everything. I really read a lot of non-fiction. I read fiction too, but right now I’m reading Sue Hubbell’s “Waiting for Aphrodite” and that’s about invertebrates. Then there’s “The Black Count” and that’s the story of the real Count of Monte Cristo. The man the book is about happens to be the father of the man who wrote “The Three Musketeers,” so I thought it sounded interesting. We read a lot of environmental books, farming books and I love essays. I read a lot of essays. We borrow books from the Cadillac Library and the Tustin Library. We read a lot of books. That’s the one thing I couldn’t really get along without. When I spend money, it’s often on books. I try not to, but a bookstore is a dangerous place to be. One of my favorite authors is Sam Pickering. One of his students wrote the screen play of “The Dead Poet Society” and based the teacher in that movie on (Pickering). I really enjoy his books. I have many of them. He is a teacher at the University of Connecticut. What would a perfect day be like for you? ERICKSON: Almost every day is a perfect day. If you get up in the morning and look ahead to a full day of work, books and outdoors — and almost every day is like that for me — it’s a good day. In (earlier) times, people’s work and play weren’t as separate as they are now. Our work is play to us. What is your life motto? ERICKSON: Probably not to have one. You have to be flexible. I’m not goal-oriented. When I was a kid, we lived on a farm and we didn’t have any money. My folks never said, “You go to college and you take something so that you can have a good job.” They said, “You go to college and learn what you want to learn.” I’m not goal-oriented and I’m introverted. I like to be alone and I like to be anonymous.