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Canada’s Local Hydroponic Farm: The Future of Small Communities and Their Produce

Due to the heavy winter conditions, a Saskatchewan family in Canada has found a way to grow vegetables for the whole town, all year round. Fresh produce grown locally that can still be fresh and growing in the Wintertime has hit the local area of Hudson Bay like a storm. The couple comes from South Africa and has an agricultural background. So, when the old school was set to be demolished, the farming family could not stand by and let a historic and beloved building of the Stewart Hawke school go to waste.


“So many people went to school in this building. So many people have memories in this building, and it's kind of sad to just see a building standing empty,” June Nel, co-founder of Let-Us Grow Hydroponics,  told CTV News.


Jan Nel first proposed the idea to June, who both then set to work to find the best way to grow produce with the use of hydroponics, a new way to farm that cultivates a higher success rate for growing fresh produce.


June Nel said the success of the project was that by “growing something like this locally means that we can have fresh produce every day of the year, with it being harvested today, packed today, in the store tomorrow or on your table tomorrow” (CBC News, May 2023).


The local community in Saskatchewan fully embraced the idea, and has made it possible for the family to keep their business going by growing a mixture of different vegetables and herbs from room to room throughout the school. 


“I didn’t really realise how the community would love it, and embrace it” June Nel (CBC News, May 2023).


The farm occupies five classrooms and the library of the ex-school building, currently, as growing spaces for the mix of produce. So far, the family has managed to successfully grow different types of herbs, lettuce, kale, spinach, radishes, and cucumbers. 


“We have dill, fine parsley, basil, cilantro, thyme, and a little bit of rosemary. Then we do radishes, radishes grow well, and cucumbers and we're still learning how to do the tomatoes” said June Nel (CTV News, May 2023).


The farm reaches the height of its success in sales when it comes to the harsh Winters of Saskatchewan, Canada. The community seems to have really loved and been grateful to find somewhere that does local and fresh produce, especially at a time when it is hard to come by. When Covid hit, they were able to expand to having a drive-thru since the lockdowns and restrictions took a hit on where locals could go to pick up their vegetables. 


Hudson Bay has approximately 1,504 people in its population, and this scheme is gearing up to feed them all. Hydroponic farming means, essentially, that it is possible to grow plants without soil. The system uses the essentials for plant life and what they actually need to grow: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Of course, there is much more to agriculture and horticulture than this, but these are the basics, which the Nel family used for their farming expeditions. By not needing and relying on the soil to farm produce, there are no devastations left by droughts, or topsoil erosion that affects plants when grown the traditional way, not to mention it has been found that hydroponic plants can grow up to 20% faster (Get Plant Logic, 2019). Moreover, because of its advantages, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is supporting and promoting the use of produce being grown through this system, especially where food shortages continue to arise (Food Revolution Network, Marsh 2021).


June Nel stated that “It was a challenge trying to find what lights to use, and then definitely what nutrients to put into the water because you have no manual to go by. So it was kind of trying to grow stuff, putting nutrients into the water, and then trying to see whether they would grow in our conditions” (CTV News, May 2023).


The business, under the name Let-Us Grow, has filled the classrooms with rows upon rows of lettuce, herbs, and cucumbers, with a drive-thru window like a healthy fast food service. The farm has definitely been a hit for the locals. 


Yet, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. In 2019, in New Brunswick, a couple turned a former school into a farm and managed to produce 750,000 heads of lettuce a year. However, Chantal Gagnon and Daniel Ratte used a different type of farming to hydroponic. Inspired by a visit to a Florida farm, the couple made this school into a vertical farm (CBC News, Dec 2019). Again in New Brunswick, in 2018, a hydroponic farm also helped to feed the locals and even managed to help when fresh produce and restaurants were being ruined by an E.coli breakout that year (CBC News, Jan 2018). 


However, June and Jan Nel don’t want to stop at just a few classrooms. They even have plans to expand to a cafe and use the conference room to teach the use of hydroponic farming to others to benefit wider communities. 


They stated: “We also have a dream to use the conference room where we can teach other people to do the same in their communities. If every small community in Saskatchewan can have something similar to this, just think of how that would change how we eat, how we grow stuff” (CBC News, May 2023).


It seems farming is about to get a whole lot more than just seeds in the soil. 

Edited by: Anwen Venn

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