Canadian Hydroponic Farm has a Drive-Through for Fresh Vegetables

A converted school in Saskatchewan is being used to grow fresh produce all year long.

May 20, 2023
Canadian Hydroponic Farm has a Drive-Through for Fresh Vegetables | A converted school in Saskatchewan is being used to grow fresh produce all year long.

Vegetables have a short growing season in Saskatchewan, unless the farm is indoors in a controlled climate. A very unique farm in Hudson Bay is growing fresh, pesticide-free,  produce all-year-long in a hydroponic farm (the plants are grown in water and not soil)  and housed in a converted school building. 

But that’s not the only thing that makes Let-Us Grow Hydroponics one-of-a-kind. You can make purchases directly from a drive-through window without ever leaving your car. Every Thursday, there is a line of cars waiting to purchase these fresh, just picked veggies from the farm, reported CBC.Ca News. The farm is the brainchild of June and Jan Nel and was started in 2019. 

“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,” June Nel told CBC. “I didn't really realize how the community would love it and embrace it, and how much I would enjoy doing it.”

Growing vegetables in the middle of nowhere, about 300 kilometers northeast of Saskatoon, may seem like a big risk, but there is no other place for people to get locally grown food. Produce is available in local supermarkets but it is trucked in from far away. The Nels are changing the face of veggies for residents of this town.

Turning a school into a farm
The idea to convert the no longer used Stewart Hawke school  came to the Nels when Hudson Bay asked for bids for the building in 2018, according to Northeast Now. It was empty and faced demolition if an alternative use wasn’t found. “We started looking for ideas, and we went and proposed doing this,” Jan Nel told Northeast Now. “And they loved it.”

After the proposal was accepted, the family worked together to prepare the building in January 2019 and they planted the first seeds in just one classroom the next month. The first year of growing vegetables was a learning curve.

“We learned lots,” Jan Nel said. “Things we thought were going to be easy were challenging. Things we thought were going to be challenging were simple.”

The company has grown and is now using several rooms thanks to the quality of the produce and the fact that it is local, according to June Nel. “It’s not two weeks old, it hasn’t traveled across the country or across the world,” she said. “It actually tastes like lettuce. Lots of people have commented on our herbs, it actually still tastes fresh when you get it, and there’s nothing sprayed on it.”

Hydroponics is the future of farming
So now, leafy greens, radishes, herbs, and cucumbers have replaced desks and chairs, according to CBC, and are environmentally grown. That’s because hydroponics can grow more food in  a smaller space than conventional outdoor farms and are more sustainable.

“In the field the same amount of tomatoes would use about 300 liters per kilo of tomatoes, but indoors you would use four liters per kilo,” Karen Tanino, a professor in the department of plant sciences at the University of Saskatchewan told CBC.

She expects more producers to turn to hydroponics in the future but notes that the technology is limited to only some fruits and vegetables and doesn’t work for potatoes or grains. “It's not the answer to the food security question or challenge, but it will play an increasingly larger role.”

Now, Let-Us Grow Hydroponics offers delivery, pick-up and drive-through options for the local community and the Nels hope to expand their operation, reported Northeast Now. Who imagined that an unused school building could be repurposed from growing young minds to growing food.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.