A rural Saskatchewan winter is nothing to take lightly, and if there’s any farming to be done it better be in a greenhouse.
Or does it? It turns out that an old schoolhouse will do just fine for one farming couple, who provide fresh veggies to the whole town.
In Hudson Bay, June and Jan Nel run a hydroponic farm equipped with a drive-through window where they grow and distribute romaine, butter, baby romaine, red romaine, green oakleaf, red oakleaf, muir, and batavia lettuces, as well as kale, dill, basil, cucumbers, arugula, swiss chard, tomatoes, radishes, and parsley.
They do it in the old community school in the town of 1,504 after immigrating there from South Africa.
After arriving, the derelict schoolhouse next to their home was open for alternate-use plans, which is when Jan got the idea to start a hydroponics business. He made the pitch to the town and got approved to move in.
“I think when my husband first said ‘let’s grow lettuce inside an old school building,’ I did not really think that it would become what it has,” said June, who runs Let-Us Grow Hydroponics alongside Jan.
“I didn’t really realize how the community would love it and embrace it, and how much I would enjoy doing it.”
Most of the year, the town about 180 miles northeast of Saskatoon has its produce trucked in. The food distribution centers of Canada, Jan and June learned during the government-imposed lockdowns and travel restrictions during COVID-19, have only around 3 days’ worth of produce on hand.
At the moment they’re growing in a few classrooms and the library, but they hope to take up more space after seeing just how ecstatic the community has become over their drive-through veggie bags.
Hydroponics can supplement food insecurity to a limited degree. They can only grow certain kinds of plants, and exclude staples like beans and potatoes. Furthermore, complications with pests, temperature, and nutrients can arise extremely quickly and wipe out indoor crops much faster than field-grown ones.
But the success is there, and the Let-Us Grow Facebook page is filled with row upon row of lettuce bursting with vibrant greens and reds, as well as cucumbers stacked like lumber.
Future plans involve a cafe and conference room, to share the joy, tastes, and knowledge of hydroponic farming in rural Canada.
WATCH the story below from CBC.
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