Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they produce and sell. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
By Sarah West
Spring is an exciting season for a small goat farm: pastures springing back to life; baby goats sprinting in the bright green grass, climbing onto anything they can (is this why they call them kids?); and milk production increasing with the fresh forage and new mothers. In addition to their herd of Alpine and Nubian milking goats, Fraga Farmstead Creamery is growing a new dairy.
Steve and Elisabeth Monahan purchased the goats, infrastructure and recipes of Fraga Farm from Jan and Larry Neilson in the spring of 2013. Long time vendors at Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, Jan and Larry were ready to retire from full-time farming but wanted their business to continue under someone else’s care. The Monahans stepped in and have been learning from the Neilson’s ever since.
After a year’s tutelage in herd management and cheese making, Steve and Elisabeth are finishing preparations at their own property near Gales Creek (about 30 minutes west of Portland), including the construction of a new dairy building attached to the property’s existing barn. Complete with a milking room, milk-cooling chamber, cheese production room, walk-in coolers and aging rooms, the new facility will help the Monahans increase their cheese production by more than fifty percent.
Their farm in Gales Creek is much larger than the Neilson’s property in Sweet Home (where the milking herd and cheese production are currently located) and will allow Steve and Elisabeth to extend their herd size from forty to sixty goats, which will graze on rotating pastures dotted throughout their 38-acre property. Formerly a Christmas tree farm, the goats have much more than grass to browse on. They love to nibble the Douglas fir stands, the needles of which may help to prevent intestinal worms.
The Monahans have kept the same cheese styles developed by Jan and Larry during their twenty years as proprietors of Fraga Farm. Why mess with a good thing? They have also acquired organic certification for their home property and their products are still available at many of the same locations Jan and Larry distributed to, which includes (outside of farmers’ markets) Food Front, New Seasons, People’s Co-op, and the new Green Zebra grocery stores.
Steve and Elisabeth have made a few tweeks: adding honey chevre to their lineup and, most recently, updating their name and logo. Now “Fraga Homestead Creamery,” the new logo features their home property’s historic barn, where the remainder of their herd will move once the dairy is ready for full-time milkers.
Twenty-five years ago the Monahans took a vacation from California to the Rockies via the Willamette Valley. They were instantly smitten and kept it in the back of their minds as a place to settle, perhaps in retirement. Now they own a 36-acre farm in the foothills of the Coast Range, a herd of 40 milking goats, and are deep in the process of building a new farm business between farm sites that are two hours apart, while balancing outside jobs (Elisabeth is a registered nurse) and dairy construction with family and farm obligations. The word busy doesn’t quite do them justice.
Though the simple life may not be as simple as advertised, the Monahans have embraced it with all of their creativity and energy, spawning small side-projects and supporting local small farmers in their spare time. One young farmer is using a corner acre of their farm to grow organic hops for a beer-making venture. They’ve also planted a quarter-acre in black currants (inspired by rote grutze, a dessert from Elisabeth’s native country, Germany), keep a small herd of American Guinea hogs (that help with whey management), make seasonal wreaths with their property’s abundant noble fir boughs and will soon be annexing a neighbors field to grow their own hay.
Steve and Elisabeth have been featuring samples of their Foster Lake Camembert at market, a soft-ripened cheese with a delicate rind, firm center and silky richness in between. This camembert celebrates the floral richness of spring milk, and it, along with a fresh loaf of bread, can elevate a lingering May evening in your own back yard to a gustatory event. Visit Fraga’s booth at the market this Sunday to sample their entire lineup of innovative and enchanting goat’s milk cheeses.