Two acres of u-pick land located 15 minutes west of Moose Jaw could soon see a return to prairie grasses and flowers. 

Vickie Derksen is a retired educator, previous owner of the u-pick Grandpa’s Garden, and one of the current owners of Prairie Bee Meadery. Derksen recently received a $2000 Native Prairie Restoration/Reclamation Grant from Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan and plans to use the funds to reclaim the former u-pick.  

Derksen and her family purchased the farmland in 2010 and ran the u-pick Grandpa’s Garden from 2012 through 2017, with people coming out to pick their own fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, dry conditions were an issue for the operation.  

“We’d had numerous years of drought, and so as a result of that, we were unable to continue with the u-pick operation. We didn’t have enough water to keep the raspberry plants, and the strawberry plants and the watermelon and cantaloupe and all of that going,” said Derksen. 

While they were occasionally open by appointment for picking depending on how the fruits were doing, as of June 2020, they stopped operating as a u-pick entirely. “We had to mow down all of our raspberries last year, and it was really hard to watch that process happen.” 

Current photo of the two acres to be reclaimed (photo courtesy of Vickie Derksen)Current photo of the two acres to be reclaimed (photo courtesy of Vickie Derksen)

Derksen said she heard about the grant from her daughter, Crystal Milburn, one of the other owners of Prairie Bee Meadery. “We were looking at other ways that we could renew the land. We wanted to do something with it, to bring it back to something closer to what the prairie looked like prior to farming,” said Derksen.  

Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan is a non-profit that works with industry, government, research and education institutions, and environmental non-profit organizations. Carolyn Gaudet, manager with Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan, said they have 34 partners in all.  

“We bring them all together so they can sit at the same table and can talk about how to conserve native prairie, what challenges they’re experiencing. Together we try to increase communication and collaboration among partners and reduce duplication,” said Gaudet.  

Gaudet added that Saskatchewan has lost over 80 per cent of its naturally-occurring prairies, with most of that a result of cultivation. “Our role is mostly to increase outreach and awareness about native prairie and its importance for species at risk, and ecological goods and services.” 

Derksen was awarded the grant during their two-day workshop in February. Gaudet explained what grant recipients need to do. “The project needs to improve the health and function of the ecosystem – improve either the soil, water, plants, or animals.” 

A grant recipient also needs to give an informal update on their project in October of the year they receive it. “The recipient also does a poster or a presentation at the next restoration workshop, which will be in February 2025,” said Gaudet. 

Derksen said they are using the grant to purchase grass and flower seeds, and to cover costs related to seeding the two acres of land this year. She and her husband will be undertaking the seeding themselves. While they are beekeepers and want to plant species that will be positive for their honeybees, that is not their only focus.  

“It’s the bumblebees - it’s all of the bees that we have, and all of the insects that we have on the farm, that we’re concerned about. We thought that by taking this piece of property and trying to re-seed it to drought-resistant wildflower and grass, would be beneficial for the property and the insect population as well.” 

She added that her daughter would like to highlight the reclamation work for people who come to visit their existing business, Prairie Bee Meadery, which they’ve being running since 2016. 

“People who come to the farm to visit the meadery, the winery, will have an opportunity to see this whole process. That’s really the plan – that people will be able to come out and see what we’ve done by taking something and re-seeding it to natural grasses and wildflowers.” 

Derksen said if the reclamation is successful, she’d consider seeding more land. “If the two-acre reclamation is effective and it works, we may in fact do more of our land like that. I’d like to see us expand that beyond the two acres.” 

Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan will be giving another grant during their February 2025 restoration workshop and will have information on their website in the fall for anyone interested in applying.  

Derksen encourages people to apply for the grant, saying that it was an easy process. “People need to be thinking really carefully about how we utilize the land that we have. It’s a limited resource – we only have so much.”