From Motel to “Growtel”

A young man trying to build the urban farm economy in West Sacramento, Calif., has a novel idea. He saw an avenue lined with run-down old motels and asked, why not convert the motels into affordable housing for aspiring farmers, and turn the parking lots for the motels into farmland? 

Dan Gannon calls his idea the “Growtel.” While it hasn't got any funding yet, the mayor is on board and local business leaders are intrigued. The idea may have legs because leaders in West Sacramento realize that while their city is adjacent to the richest farm economy in the world, many residents live in poverty and pay too much for food and housing.

Affordable housing is a problem for a lot of people who farm for a living or would like to. The issue most farmers point to is that land itself is very expensive, especially in areas near the urban markets where there is a concentration of potential food buyers. The best many young farmers can do is lease land, but they are often limited to leases of less than five years. Between the cost of starting up and the uncertain nature of leases, farmers can have a tough time growing their business.

But beyond the cost of land is the cost of a home close to the livestock or the crops. Farmers can't afford a long, gas-guzzling commute to their fields any more than suburbanites driving into the city. Think of the Growtel as a sort of a housing/business incubator for farmers. It could give them a reasonably priced place to live while they farm a plot in the former parking lot. Later, when their business has developed, they can move out to greener pastures.

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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