Tafadzwa and Amy Matamba look like the most unlikely farmers.
Many Valley people know them as entertainers from seeing their popular shows, which have often featured old-time country tunes, presented in a special way, and combined with the music of Matamba’s native Zimbabwe.
Or they might be known for their market stall and their unique Little Zimbabwe Farm pies, Amy’s cookbook (Pies That Fly), the art studio they host on the farm, their school programs, their exchanges with Zimbabwe, their B&B: the list goes on and on.
It’s agri-tourism and edu-tainment rolled into a single interesting package.
Tafadzwa himself is a bit surprised by it all.
“When I was growing up,” he said. “I wanted to get as far away from the village and farming as possible. It’s not the most comfortable kind of living to a youngster growing up. Education was an almost ideal chance for me to get away.
“I wanted to play soccer but my mother said: ‘Oh, my God, you’re going to get injured! Sports are too risky.’ So education was the only option. On the farm, you had to get up really early in the morning and that’s not fun because you want to sleep in.”
Of course, for his family, it was a case of farming so they could eat.
“There was no other source of income. You knew that if school didn’t work very well, you’re going to be stuck on the farm forever.”
When he came to Canada, his ideas changed considerably. He noticed a few things right off when he went into stores.
“I noticed we had no kale here. [This was before that dark green vegetable’s rise up the popularity charts]. I saw no onions from around here in the stores. Here, we have to import even lettuce.”
At one point, he collected all the stickers from the fruit and vegetables bought in various stores and stuck them on the fridge, frankly astonished at how little seemed to be grown here and how far away Canadians went for their produce.
He looked again at the idea of growing things.
“Not everyone is meant for the farm. But, when I know I’m going to eat this food, I want to know what’s in it. When you are in charge of your own operation, you do know that.”
Matamba learned quickly that methods used in commercial farming in Canada are very different from those used on personal farms like Little Zimbabwe. He also loved the idea of “an edible forest” where people can pick fruit from accessible trees.
“Fruit trees are my other passion,” he said, saying he remembers how mango trees sprang up from seeds planted in his village.
“Planting seeds will make always some kind of crop eventually.”
Amy and Tafadzwa began their farming adventure in Mill Bay, where he began to plant kale, one of Zimbabwe’s major crops.
Soon, the whole back yard was full.
Before long, Amy said, laughing, every millimetre of available space was planted.
“I couldn’t park my car anymore,” she said.
They then relocated their farming efforts to the old Marigold Nursery site but eventually they found their current seven-acre property, located on Cowichan Lake Road, in the Tansor area.
“We came here in March 2018. You need to live near the farm; you can’t be a cell phone farm,” Tafadzwa said.
On that land, they found useful outbuildings but had to do quite a bit to prepare the site for their choice of crops because the former owners had raised horses.
One thing Tafadzwa really finds different in the Valley is the amount of rain.
“My grandfather was a rain priest. It’s not easy when you have to pray for rain. Here, we don’t have to.”
Amy describes the farm as “limping along” at present, because of the amount of work that’s had to go into getting it ready to produce crops.
But in have gone kale, pumpkins, tomatoes, sunflowers, carrots, onions, and lots more.
In addition to trying to increase interest in eating kale, Amy started making kale powder, and spices, which have proved popular.
“We have an acre of garlic now,” Tafadzwa said. An interesting sidelight is that unexpected customers come from among the Zimbabwean ex-pats living on the Island, who love to drop by to purchase such items as pumpkin leaves, which are used in the cuisine of their native land.
But, there is much more to what’s going on at Little Zimbabwe Farm.
Amy and Tafadzwa have been working on a project called the Zimbabwe Music Society that has established a connection in the African country with the aim of bringing Zimbabwean performers to the Valley to perform, and perhaps also to live and work on the farm. And there’s interest in reciprocating with Zimbabwe as well.
“A tour group really helped us get that going,” Amy said. “We want to tap into what people hope to experience from these things.
“We want to contribute something positive to the Valley,” Tafadzwa said, but still hopes to find some way to work in some kind of partnership with governement.
There is a full-time art studio on the site, and the Matambas hold concerts at Little Zimbabwe, and have also hosted African dinners.
They also have a bed and breakfast and have hosted education sessions for people who want to learn how to grow food.
“People really want to come to the farm,” Amy said. “They come for the experience. Everyone is greeted with a song from Zimbabwe. We combine arts and culture with cooking farm to table. We call it ‘edu-tainment’ but sustainability is at the heart of it.”
Their products are starting to gain a following.
“The pies seem to be going very well,” she said. They come in beef, chicken, or veggie varieties.
A scare about lettuce some years back led to the wider distribution of some packages of baby kale. It took a bit of convincing to get people to try the kale, but soon “the phones started ringing,” Amy said. “It’s all grown with love.”