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Sask. family builds hydroponic farm in former school building

A Saskatchewan family has found a way to make farming work year-round.

The Nel family, originally from South Africa, started a hydroponic farm inside an old school in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan.

June Nel said her family has lived in the community for about 10 years and didn’t want to see the old Stewart Hawke school building torn down.

“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,” she told CTV News.

June credits her husband, Jan, with the idea of Let-Us Grow indoor farm.

“He's the one that started saying, ‘You know what, you can't just let a building stand empty. Let's think of stuff we can do inside,’” she said.

With a background in agriculture, Jan came up with the idea of hydroponics in the building, but it was a new method of growing.

“It's not a traditional greenhouse where you can follow somebody else's recipe,” June said.

“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.”

(Facebook/Let-Us Grow)

She said the work was done by hand with very little technology to guide them.

“Nothing is computerized. Everything gets mixed by hand and put in by hand and harvested by hand and seeded by hand.”

June said they have been able to grow different types of lettuce, kale, and spinach as well as some herbs.

“We have dill, fine parsley, basil, cilantro, thyme and a little bit of rosemary,” she said. “Then we do radishes, radishes grow well, and cucumbers and we're still learning how to do the tomatoes.”

Summer is a quiet time for their little farm, June said, but it picks up in winter because they are able to provide fresh produce.

During the pandemic, the businesses expanded and they started offering a drive-thru window for customers.

“So that was a hit. That was, I think, one of his best ideas so far. It made it a little bit unique, easier to pick up.”

The family is using five classrooms and the former library as growing spaces, and June said the change it has made in the community has been rewarding.

“It's made a difference in people's eating habits. It has even in our own family,” she said. “We brought the community together. We've gotten to know people. We've become friends with people.” Top Stories


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