WALES — Tall, lean and clear-eyed, Roger Fortin looks fitter than his 70 years.
But sitting at his kitchen table at Little Alaska Farm in Wales, the farmer admits he won't be able to tend to his cows, chickens and assorted critters forever.
"I don't have much time that I'll be physically able," Fortin said.
He doesn't want his farm — on which he spent 38 years building and experimenting — to die away.
"It's a substantial, sustainable farm," Fortin said. "But right now, I'm in survival mode."
He's cut back to 120 head of cattle and that number is shrinking. The hogs are gone. And the number of chickens is falling.
The future will come with an apprentice, he said.
With no one in his family ready to take over the 350-acre farm, Fortin is hoping to find someone to pass it on to.
He wants someone who yearns to farm as he did.
Fortin grew up on a dairy farm in Fairfield Center, north of Waterville. There wasn't a place for him there, however.
"My father had six children and only one farm," he said.
He was in his 30s when he bought his first spread, a produce farm in Fairfield. But he wanted pastures and cattle, so he traded a man for the Wales farm in 1974.
The Fortins named the place for the wind that blows through.
"There's a little bit of a ridge, and when the wind hustles through here, it's cold," Fortin said. A passing remark from the previous owner — "Oh, that place is little Alaska" — was all they needed.
"That fit perfect," Linda Fortin said.
Over the years, the farm went through radical changes.
When he started, it was a dairy farm. When that market went south, he switched to beef production.
Then, as the additives and feeds seemed to overwhelm the cattle, they switched to organic farming.
By crossing black Angus and Devon cattle — even getting semen for breeding from New Zealand — he managed to find cows that could thrive on the grass in his pastures.
Roger Fortin even worked out a grazing plan that divided his land into zones, where his cattle could chomp all the grass in a half-acre zone and move on.
His happiest times are climbing onto his four-wheeler when the grass is green, moving his fences and leading his cattle onto a new pasture.
"This is my favorite job," he said.
It's something that ought to be shared with a young farmer, Fortin said.
"It would be a lot easier to just sell the farm, but I don't want to leave this farm all demolished," Fortin said. "I want it to be part of the future. I think Maine agriculture's going to have a rich future."
A couple of people have tried to apprentice with Fortin, but it hasn't worked out yet.
"It's not a hard job," he said. "But it is demanding."
The animals must come first. Work needs doing every day. If a farmer is married, the spouse needs to be understanding of the schedule.
Fortin believes he will find someone before it's too late. He's surprised it hasn't happened already.
"I'm totally baffled," he said. "I'm not a mean person or a hard person."
To the right individual, farming need not even feel like work.
There are days when he's become tired or discouraged. But he's never lost the love of working with animals and watching them grow.
"I've never felt it was a job," he said.