Fraga Farmstead and Creamery
Artisan creamery values animals, environment first
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Aliya Bree Hall
A half-hour west of Portland, Oregon, on 33.5 acres that have been farmed since the 1920s, Fraga Farmstead and Creamery was the first goat dairy to be certified through Oregon Tilth; a legacy that the creamery takes seriously.
Now owned and managed by Elisabeth Bueschen-Monahan and her husband, Steve Monahan, Fraga’s dedication to ethical animal and environmental welfare is the cornerstone of their business.
“I think when we look back at animal agriculture, the way it’s done right now, will be the way we look back at past atrocities in general,” Bueschen-Monahan said. “‘What were we thinking? How could we have done that?’”
With the dairy goat industry norm of euthanizing male kids, she said animal welfare activists switch to veganism, which only transfers the ethical environmental problem and ignores the sect of the dairy goat industry that doesn’t partake in those practices.
“People don’t know how animals are being treated and when they do know, they go vegan and that hurts small, ethical producers like us,” she said. “It’s complicated. I think we need to work hard to educate the public, and have them support farms like ours.”
To educate consumers, her plan is to invite them to the farm to see how an ethical creamery is managed. She said there is a “crazy disconnect” between consumers and producers.
“I think the public would much rather have goats raise the kids,” she said.
Having grown up in post-World War II Germany, she said she remembers cornering older family members to ask about their involvement and what they could have done differently. As global climate change continues to progress, she said she firmly believes that her grandchildren will ask her similar questions, and that motivates her to do more; she said doesn’t want to say that all she did for the environment was drive a Prius.
“We refuse to externalize costs. Anyone who works for us gets paid right and the animals are treated correctly,” she said. “We’re certified organic. Even if we weren’t (certified) I would not buy conventional grain; it’s an industry that’s failing.”
Although Bueschen-Monahan said that she can’t afford to have all her kids drink goat milk — the boys are bottle babies — having the girls be raised by their mothers is an “important investment into the herd.”
“By the time (the boys) are weaned, they will have sucked down $600 worth of cheese,” she explained. “We give up 15% of our milk (for the girls) and we’re happy with that. We don’t raise our prices; we just swallow that.”
That said, when one of her mother goats had a birth of a boy that was breeched and the kid couldn’t figure out how to nurse, Bueschen-Monahan let the mother stay with him once he figured it out.
As one of a handful of goat dairies in the state with just 64 head, Fraga has always had to compete since goat cheese rose in popularity. To this day, competition is the biggest challenge for small, artisan producers.
“They produce cheap goat cheese on larger dairies that you can’t compete with on the artisan level,” she said. “There’s more competition from two sides: artisan and big producers.”
Although Fraga’s products aren’t more expensive than the average artisan cheese — even though they are organic — they still struggle to compete with large corporate brands that distribute all over the country.
“Our prices aren’t that much higher, but people will just grab the cheaper one,” she explained. “I’m not necessarily blaming the consumer, but there’s a total lack of trust. The only fact the consumers have is price. It takes rebuilding the relationship.”
Diversification is one tool that Fraga has used to set themselves apart. They have seven different varieties of cheese: Rio Santiam, a natural rind raw milk cheese aged for several months that is reminiscent of an aged cheddar; raw milk feta; Goatzarella; Foster Lake Camembert; farmhouse cheese; farmhouse chipotle; and chèvre three ways.
The creamery also sells goat milk caramels, which are available for purchase on their website, and their cheese is used in Amy’s Kitchen’s Bay Area restaurant. Amy’s is an organic food producer that has products in grocery stores across the country.
“Cheesemaking is a lot less glamorous than people think,” Bueschen-Monahan said. “It’s mostly people doing the cleanup work. Milk can grow bacteria well, but you have to have everything squeaky clean so none of the wrong bacteria grows. Beyond that, it’s total alchemy.”
Bueschen-Monahan leaves the cheesemaking to her husband, Steve Monahan. Monahan, who grew up in Silicon Valley to a family of engineers, was new to farm life. He was eased into it by Bueschen-Monahan, who spent her whole life on a farm.
Before they owned Fraga, the couple had a small herd of nine goats and were selling raw milk — which is legal in Oregon if there are nine or fewer animals. After a while, they wanted to grow their business and looked into buying a small pasteurizer.
The Monahans were put into contact with the former owners of Fraga, who were selling their entire operation. Although it wasn’t what Bueschen-Monahan was originally looking to do, they bought the farm in 2012 and moved it to their current location in Gales Creek Valley.
“We wanted a real production and we wanted one that cared for the animals’ needs,” Bueschen-Monahan said. “All the goats had names, and we were small enough to pay attention to the animals and cater to their needs.”
The original Fraga Farm was formed in 1918 by Agnes Gloria Fraga in California, the State broke up the property in 1980 to build Highway 580 and the family moved to Oregon. Bueschen-Monahan and her husband are the first owners of the farm from outside the family, but their values are in line with what Fraga was founded on.
“We have a responsibility that no one is taking seriously,” Bueschen-Monahan said about climate change. Besides, she adds, the possibilities of pasture-based farming are some “of the most exciting possibilities.”
Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.