RCMP officer, songwriter stake their claim

Country living | Making a living off a small farm filled with challenges for family

VALEMOUNT, B.C. — An RCMP officer and a singer-songwriter may not seem like the perfect fit for starting a farm from scratch in eastern British Columbia, but this farm is all about learning.

In the horse pen, Michelle Glover Burstrom leads a Morgan horse to the fence across ground that is soft and covered in manure.

Her husband, Ed Burstrom, primes the clippers to trim the horses. They use the animals for rounding up their small herd of Angus cattle, but also for pleasure riding.

The cattle, which are sold at auctions in the fall, make use of two grazing leases on the mountainside.

In five years, the couple has turned a plot of virgin forest near Valemount into pasture, a journey the couple calls “redneck pioneering.”

“We do everything the hard way, the slow way,” Burstrom said, noting the farm is far from self-sufficient.

“I’d have to win the 6-49 just to get the farm paying its own bills.”

A few years ago, he traded the RCMP’s Red Serge for a less stressful life, a pair of manure covered boots, fuzzy checkered coat, baggy work pants and permanent ball cap.

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The couple takes advantage of tax credits and Burstrom’s RCMP pension to enjoy the 75-acre farm’s rural lifestyle.

In addition to cattle, they raise chickens, turkeys and eggs for them and their two school-aged children and sell eggs to friends and family.

Glover Burstrom, who spent her childhood summers at her family’s farm near Lake Simcoe, Ont., used to work full-time as a folk artist and had several tunes on the Canadian charts and one No. 1 song in Italy.

Songwriting took a back seat when the children were born, but the creative spark remained. This year, she released her first song in 10 years, A Horse Never Lies, a song about natural horsemanship inspired by a friend and Parelli horse training professional. She plans to donate some of the proceeds garnered from iTunes downloads to a natural horsemanship fund. For more information, visit www.horseneverlies.com.

The song, like the farm, is about learning. She wrote it after realizing that her approach to handling horses wasn’t working, as reflected in her song lyrics.

“Left brain to right in the speed of a blink. Is he going to panic or will he start to think?”

In the horse pen, Burstrom struggles with one of the bigger horses that doesn’t want to co-operate as his 80-year-old father, Alf Burstrom, a former park warden, watches.

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“This is where all my kids learned to swear, ” said Alf, whose 90 acre farm is adjacent to his son’s land.

Father and son enjoyed many back country rides over the years.

Like his wife, Burstrom has had his share of mishaps with horses, including a broken back a few years ago.

“If you are not fighting some sort of uphill battle or dodging some sort of near massive catastrophe, then you are not farming,” Glover Burstrom said.

She believes the struggle is worthwhile, given the farm’s healthy lifestyle and ability to grow food, but knows that it’s difficult to make a good living on such a small farm.

“People want to know that the food they’re eating has had a good life.

“How you switch from that large farming megastructure into buying locally means that the people who want it need to be seriously committed. And generally have to pay more,” said Glover Burstrom.

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