A Self-Sufficient Home and Backyard Farm in Portland

Two medical professionals balance careers, parenthood and sustainable living with a family garden in Oregon.

  • Four chickens frolic (and forage) in the sizable backyard.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • The family’s four hens snooze in the cozy backyard coop by night and roam and forage in the backyard by day.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • The Moylans brought their dining room furniture with them from their old house, and its warmth served as their design inspiration for the remodel.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • Joseph gathers vegetables from the many raised beds in the Moylans’ productive backyard.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • The chickens eat bugs and errant weeds from the gravel pathways between the raised garden beds.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • Samantha paints on the patio, while Joseph assesses his day’s harvest from the garden. When the weather is nice enough, the patio becomes the family’s outdoor dining room.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • Mark, Carly, Jen, Samantha and Joseph (left to right) make a meal as a family. Having chickens in the backyard means they always have plenty of eggs, and because the children help to grow the vegetables, they are willing to eat much more produce than they might otherwise want to try.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • When the family remodeled their kitchen to improve the functionality of the space, they asked a local furniture maker to make the top of the island from local madrone wood. The sliding doors were made by a local door maker.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • Mark Moylan carries his daughter Carly into the Moylan family home, where his older daughter, Samantha, reads a book.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland
  • A modular shelf in the living room, made from wooden vats that stored soaking maraschino cherries, is just one of several reclaimed wood pieces in the Moylan home.
    Photo by Stephen Cridland

Mark and Jen Moylan walk the line between cosmopolitan and agrarian when it comes to their family’s 3⁄4-acre property in Portland, Oregon, where they balance the desires for modern convenience in their day-to-day urban life and the wide-open spaces of the pleasant farm lifestyle they grew up with in rural Missouri.

Mark and Jen both work busy, high-paced jobs—Mark is a medical doctor and Jen a nurse, both specializing in emergency medicine. When they first moved to the Portland area from the Midwest 14 years ago, Mark and Jen immediately liked the laid-back attitude prevalent in the region, and responded to the emphasis on conservation and getting outdoors. Mark is a cyclist and fly fisher, Jen is a runner and they both enjoy hiking and skiing. They bought a tidy, picturesque 900-square-foot bungalow without much of a yard to care for, perfect for the young professional couple.

But eventually, they began to dream of more outdoor space. By this time their family had expanded to include a dog, their eldest child (Joseph, now 8) and one more on the way (Samantha, now 6). Jen and Mark wanted space for the kids to roam—after all, Jen grew up on a 300-acre farm, and they both wanted their kids to be able to experience the outdoors daily. “I remember as a kid being able to roam,” Mark says. “That’s harder to do in a big city, but we wanted them to be able to go outside. I just wanted them to have space to move.”

The Moylans started hunting for a house with more property, focusing on the homes’ outdoor spaces. Their search was long, as they looked for something with adequate space for their mini-farm dreams. Upon first visiting their now-home, Jen and Mark weren’t impressed with the ranch-style house itself. They had gotten used to the charm of their classic Portland bungalow. But the house offered the perfect amount of outdoor space. They kept visiting, and eventually the house grew on them.

Growing the Garden

Six years later, the Moylan yard has undergone a transformation. While many of their neighbors hire professional landscapers and gardeners, the Moylans instead employ four chickens, who roam the yard during the day foraging for bugs and providing compost for the gardens. The kids—now including 3-year-old Carly—love the chickens, and Joseph handles most of the chicken chores: closing the coop door in the evening to keep them safe from predators; refreshing their water; giving them organic feed to supplement what they forage from the yard; cleaning out the coop once a week; and gathering the eggs. “When other kids come over, our kids show them the chickens like it’s the coolest thing in the world,” Mark says.

Instead of perfectly pristine landscaping, the yard features abundant food-producing garden beds and a compost pile out by the chicken coop. Mark has worked to squeeze in as many food beds as possible. “Anyplace I can find some dirt, I’m trying to fit in another raised bed,” he says. Gardening has become a family pastime, and the Moylans produce much of their own food, including tons of vegetables, fruit trees (figs, plums and apples), squash and other root vegetables, as well as plenty of eggs. During the growing season, grains and meat are almost all they need to buy at the store. “My ideal is to have this huge, vast place where I can get everything,” Mark says.

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