August 19, 2010 at 9:33 a.m.
The 2010 Chisago County Farm Family of the Year understands a thing or two about working out. Over the years that Arlen and Alice Burnside were building a family farm operation, covering over 800 acres of cropland and pasture, both always had non-farm incomes. Arlen still does. The minute this interview wrapped up he was off in a white compact truck to check in with one of his sons, whose house is just across the bean field. Then Arlen would be headed to his job at Baribeau Implement, in St. Croix Falls, where he's sold equipment for 18 years.
The days when an Extension Service Chisago County Farm Family of the Year only supports itself only through farming, are long gone.
Arlen, two sons and even some of the grandchildren have really put the "family" in the farm family award, bestowed annually through the Extension Service. They all operate the "Diamond B Farm" as a unit.
There's about 240 acres in the farm itself west of Almelund, and they rent another 500 or so acres. (If you attend the Hay Days Sno Barons' event in Sunrise Township next month, the Burnsides cut the hay in the event parking field.)
A Burnside daughter is in the aviation cargo business, based in Bemidji; but you also might spot her in the cockpit of Congressman Oberstar's plane when he's visiting the sprawling eighth district.
"She said when she was 8-years- old she either wanted to be a pilot or astronaut," Alice explains. Pilot won.
The Diamond B name comes from when Arlen was in high school and he wanted to distinctively mark his tools, so he used an uppercase B inside of an elongated diamond, and the logo stuck.
Hailing from Minnesota's Red River Valley agricultural mecca, Arlen figured he'd live on either his grandfather or father's farms, but it didn't work out that way. Arlen served during the Vietnam War and forged a nice living with a company that set up warehouse operations for Fortune 500 firms. As a consultant he had to be content with "...having a good job in the cities," he said. But when he was ordered to move to California, he "retired."
Alice and he built a place on five acres outside of Forest Lake. They couldn't get the call of their farm upbringing out of their heads, and eventually went looking for an operating farm they could buy.
The place they chose had been held by the same family for over 100 years when they moved in. They resided in a modular "Wausau" home on the site while they fixed things up. That was 30 years ago "...and people still refer to the Diamond B as the old Thoreen place," said Alice.
Alice had a beauty shop in the basement for about 25 years as the house took varying shapes around it. Arlen calls it "up, out and down" construction. Most recently they put on a great room addition, with arched windows overlooking an expanse of lush bean crop.
The farm is tidy; the white buildings clean and crisp, the red outbuildings resembling holiday packages in their green setting.
While other counties' farm families of the year are into alternative ag industries; bison rancher in Kandiyohi County, turf farmer in Anoka County...the Diamond B is doing okay with corn and beans, raising hay for about 60 head of cattle and a few hens.
Arlen proudly tells of a grandson, already making enough income from rented fields to buy his own ATV. The Burnsides' love of farming and the smarts to pull it off are apparently genetic.