Urban Farmers’ Guide to Home Buying in Portland

portland urban farmer home

Look to buy a Portland home and raise animals and plant crops? You’re not alone! Imagine walking out your back door to gather eggs and fresh spinach for breakfast before heading to downtown Portland and the office.

Portland has long been a hub for local food and growing your own, thanks to our temperate, moist climate and great Willamette Valley alluvial soils. There’s a great support system for new and experienced gardeners, too: free workshops, edible landscaping consultants, stores that sell chicken feed — even “tool libraries” where you can borrow instead of buying the tools you need short-term.

If this spring has you itching to get your hands dirty, maybe it’s time to look for a Portland home with space for a garden — maybe even a few chickens.

Local laws around livestock

Farmers for millennia have noted the beneficial relationship between gardens and animals. The manure makes great compost to feed the soil; your chickens, ducks, goats, etc. get to snack on the abundance of greens, fruit, and insects. Is it really possible to create this synergistic effect in the confines of an urban Portland yard?

Yes, in fact, chickens, ducks, and rabbits are allowed within the City of Portland. Even pygmy goats and miniature pigs can occupy their own piece of real estate. Check the City website for the rules about other animals, including bees. Also, before you run out and buy baby chicks, have a plan for culling the roosters from the flock — urban farmers in Portland are not permitted to keep male birds, no matter how well behaved.

The Portland Growing Season

Oregon State University’s extension service is a great resource for urban farmers of all levels. Their gardening “cheat sheets” can save a lot of puzzlement when it comes to planning your harvests.

For vegetable gardening, Oregon is divided into four growing regions, or Zones. Portland is a Zone 2 city, which means we have an excellent climate for gardening and a long, 250-day growing season. In fact, it’s possible to keep harvesting certain crops year-round if plants are protected from winter frost. Portland home gardeners will find that few pests and plant diseases thrive here, and the fertile soil needs few amendments.

However, summertime gardening for water-intensive crops can be a challenge in this zone because Portland actually gets very little summer rainfall. Although Portland does not “tier” its water rates based on usage, or charge more in the summer months, if you’re doing a lot of watering the bill can still come as a shock at the end of July.

Fortunately, it’s possible to plant “water-wise” gardens that still produce an abundant harvest. Check out this City of Portland article for tips and information on free water conservation workshops.

The Right Portland Property

If you’re an experienced gardener, you’ll know when you’re shopping for homes if a particular situation will work or not. However, for those looking to finally put in roots after years of renting, knowing whether that patch of grass will offer gardening opportunities will be a challenge.
Fortunately, in Portland it would be difficult to find a yard space that wouldn’t work. It’s all about making the garden or urban farming project fit the site, not the other way around! Portland streets are famous for their tree canopy cover, and shady spots are ideal for greens like lettuce, kale and arugula. On the other end of the spectrum, a dry, hot hillside with lots of southern exposure would be perfect to put in tomatoes, peppers and corn.

Smart Real Estate Home Search

When they begin their real estate search, most home buyers soon run into the challenge of inadequate listing descriptions. It’s especially challenging for gardeners, because unless a Portland home has an existing garden, the listing description might not say much about whether there’s southern exposure, and exactly how big the backyard is. In fact, a lot of listing agents don’t bother taking more than one or two photos of the outside of the home, which can be frustrating for home buyers who enjoy spending time outdoors in any capacity!

If you haven’t yet found a buyers’ agent and you’re combing the listings yourself, there are a couple of tricks to help you find homes with adequate outdoor space to tend an urban farm.

  • Go to portlandhomesforsale.com
  • Enter in “Portland” or the city, neighborhood or region you’re searching for
  • In the top, right-hand corner of the page, click on the “More+” button.
  • Find the “Acres” drop-down menu; select a lot size. Anything more than 1/4 acre will allow you to plant a vegetable garden and maybe even allow a couple of fruit trees or a chicken run, depending on the size and siting of the home. Anything more than 1/2 acre will provide abundance space for intelligently designed urban farming projects, from honeybee hives (again, check with the city first on this one) to pygmy goats.
  • Enter in any other search parameters, like price, and click “Show results”. This will bring up listings that match your search terms.
  • When you click on a listing, be sure to look at the “Lot Description” field in the table below the Exterior Features heading. Here you can learn if a lot that looks flat in the photographs is actually steeply sloped. It may also include helpful terms like “treed” or “landscaped”.

Fortunately, the right buyers’ agent can help you find what you’re looking for so that you don’t have to tour all the homes in person. Just be aware that often, physically taking a home tour is the only way to really know if it’s the right place for your urban farm.

Landless Farmers: Portland’s Got You Covered

For many home buyers, a condo or other home without much yardspace may be what’s in the budget, but don’t despair. Container gardens on a well-placed patio or even a rooftop can be just as productive as a traditional land-bound plot. In fact, they eliminate some gardening headaches like gophers and can save on water as well. Just check with your HOA if you have one about making changes to the exterior of the building, such as installing trellises or window boxes.

Another option might be to rent a plot at a local community garden. They’re scattered all across Portland and are perfect for beginning farmers because you’ll connect with people who can show you the ropes. Start your search at https://www.growportland.org

Ready to get serious about your real estate search? Contact our Portland Buyers’ team to find your Portland dream home and urban farm today!

June 8, 2018

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. and a top 1% agent in the Portland Metro. Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales in the Portland Metro area. Call him direct: 503-714-1111.

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