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Hudson Bay couple cultivates local produce with hydroponics

An old elementary school in Hudson Bay has been transformed into a hydroponic farming facility that provides fresh vegetables all year.

HUDSON BAY — Jan and June Nel, owners of Let-Us Grow Hydroponics, have made a business in Hudson Bay that provides fresh produce year round to local residents.

A hydroponic garden involves growing plants anchored in a container with a solution of water and nutrients. Essentially, hydroponics means the process of cultivating plants without soil. Hydroponics can be better than soil in certain ways.

“We learnt by spending a lot of time on the internet and YouTube as well as lots of trial and error,” June said. “In our system the benefit is having a more manageable system and being able to grow year round.

They are a family of four with their two children, Eugene and Lize. They are originally from South Africa where they lived on a beautiful sugar cane farm along the east coast, June said. Jan farmed with his father, growing sugar cane and producing eggs.

They also started an essential oils business, growing mainly rose geraniums and them producing our own essential oils.

“Our decision was made to come to Canada when Jan found employment at North Star fertilizer in Prairie River,” June said. “We landed in Saskatoon on Christmas Day 2012 to a whopping -34°C degrees. This coming from a warm and sunny 34°C South Africa. We are still adjusting to the difference in weather.”

Jan worked at North Star Fertilizer, which subsequently became Crop Protection Services and then Nutrien Ag Solutions. He continued working full time at Nutrien until December 2021 when he decided their new business was continuing to grow.

Jan and June both have degrees in business and when the old Stewart Hawke Elementary School building was empty and the Hudson Bay town council was looking at possible business proposals. Jan and June’s Let-Us Grow was born and the rest is history. It was February 2019 when they started.

They currently sell their produce at the local grocery store and the Co-op in Porcupine Plain. They have also established a Let-Us Grow drive-through that had become even more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. People can go online and order with a form, making it convenient for everyone to pick their items up. They are currently looking at branching out to more grocery stores in the Northeast and are talking with Beeland Co-op to get their produce at the Tisdale grocery store.

June said they currently grow romaine leaves, salad mix, lutter lettuce, tropicana (leaf lettuce), iceberg leaves, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, beet leaves, bok choy, cucumbers, tomatoes, as well as herbs like dill, basil, giant parsley, cilantro, thyme and mint.

Both owners acknowledged the community’s role in their success.

“No business can succeed without community support and Hudson Bay has supported the business especially when our produce is growing in the classrooms they once while going to school. Many customers take a lot of pride in knowing they are supporting a business and a building that once was the elementary school. The town has been very accommodating in getting us started.

“We often hear of customers travelling to see family or friends across the country, who will pick up some fresh produce to take with, as far as Vancouver and Ontario.

“We love to hear testimonies of families who's eating habits have changed, children who notice instantly when mom has smuggled a store bought cucumber into their lunchboxes and even amazing weight loss stories as fresh, chemical free locally grown produce has become available.”

“Everything we grow, was seeded, transplanted and harvested by hands that love what they do. It takes a lot of work, an amazing amount of science. It has been trial and error learning they best ways to grow.”

They have left the sign that was there when it was a school, “Respect for learning”, because it’s a constant learning curve and this is only the beginning of what certainly can be the future of growing food in small communities.