Wales farmer looking for someone to pass on his legacy

WALES — Tall, lean and clear-eyed, Roger Fortin looks fitter than his 70 years.

Little Alaska Farm
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Roger Fortin is looking for somebody to take over his farm, Little Alaska, in Wales. Ben, his 12-year-old German shepherd, background, accompanies him everywhere he goes and is not intimidated by any of the animals. To watch a video of Roger on his farm, visit sunjournal.com/littlealaska2012

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.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Gary  Martell's picture

Have you found your apprentice?

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Fortin,

I hope this letter finds that you are still looking for someone to teach his life secrets too.

Just before reading this article I had just gotten off the phone With the USDA Agricultural department seeking information about getting the funds to start a farm, after I had the opportunity too learn from someone else. You talk to a lot of different people whe you call that department.

My name is Gary Martell. I am a single father of a 17 year old boy. I live in South Carolina, but very willing and able to relocate. I have been looking into an apprenticeship for quite some time. One that will not only teach me, but one that will give me a sense of accomplisment at the end of the day.

If you have found the person that you feel will take your farm forward, I wish you all the luck, hoping you are happy with your choice. At the same time I hope that you are still looking for that special someone. If you are still looking I would love to speak with you.

I would not come alone, both my son and I hope that you would be open to having a father and son come to the farm. With old ideas also comes new ones. My son is very inovative, Chase and I are always testing each others knowledge and new ideas. He has never worked on a farm but I have. I worked for awhile some years back on a weat farm in Yuma, Colorado. It was the hardest days work I ever did. I'll never forget crawling to my bed the first few days, while my friend(it was his farm) kept asking me to go out with him and some friends. I just looked at him and kept crawling. I did finally after about a week have enough energy to have some fun.

At this time my life is kind of at a stand still. I was going to go to school in Middlebury Vermont. They have a new "Skilled Butchers and Meatcutters" program. The program covers slaughter to the butcher shop. I made a decision to look for an apprenticeship instead. Most of the apprenticeships are for organic crop farming with little livestock mixed in. I and my son want the livestock to be our main concern, although we both know you have to pay attention to everything. Both my son and myself are very good with animals. My father has always been the type that would take in any animal that would come to our door. Many times he has been asked to go hunting, but he doesn't have it in him. he has instilled a lot of that in me and I have passed it on to my son. But, we do realize that livestock is also food. While you can care dearly for them and make their lives best as you can, ther comes a time when they must be lead to slaughter. I would want it to be as humane as possible. I do not believe in making any animal suffer.

Something else we would bring to the farm, is my sons ability to fix things. He can look at something fo rthe first time and know how to fix it. My strengths lie with the living, I have always been the nurturing kind.

I truly do hope for mine and my sons sake that you are still searching for that someone special. I think there is a great chance it could be us.
Please feel free to call at any time. I hope to hear from you in the near future.

Respectfully Submitted,

Gary Martell
331 Sugar Creek Crossing
Fort Mill, S.C. 29715
Home:803-802-7257
Cell:434-851-1328
gmartell@comporium.net

KATHRYN PENDLETON's picture

Little Alaska

I really hope Mr. Fortin finds somebody. This is a really nice farm..It has a future. Hope the next owner is somebody from Maine.

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