“Innovation is creating something from your passion,” says Amy Matamba. “It takes a lot to innovate. You need to have drive.”
After meeting in Zimbabwe, Amy and her husband Tafadzwa decided to build their life in Canada. While Amy was accustomed to the options offered in the typical North American supermarket, she recalls her husband’s surprise at how much produce was imported, compared to how many people in Zimbabwe grow their own produce. Seeing her husband’s passion for growing food motivated Amy to join Tafadzwa’s efforts to work on a garden at home.
“It is a bird with two wings,” says Amy. “I don’t think we could have shared this unless we both were one of those wings.”
What began in 2012 as a backyard garden and sing-along space for the Matamba’s evolved into the Matamba Cultural Arts and Education Centre, made up of the Zimbabwe Music Society, Little Zimbabwe Farm, and Amy’s Kitchen and Catering. Although the locations have changed as the centre has grown, it has always been a place for agriculture, agrotourism, edutainment, and local gatherings.
The centre is now located on a 58-acre farm, shared with another farming team, whose focus is cattle and goats. “They liked what we were doing. Bringing in the vegetable side, having a community garden, and an educational center, where we can invite people from our community to learn about growing food, arts, and the cultural exchanges between Zimbabwe and Vancouver Island.”
For several years, Amy has also sold products made with kale, their primary crop and one of the most common foods grown in Zimbabwean gardens. The seasonings and rubs started as a solution to the challenges of competing with large-scale operations and having more yields than could be sold locally.
“[Kale] reduces to a very small amount, but with a quarter of a teaspoon is an incredible health benefit,” explains Amy. “I started using it in my kitchen with other spices, making spice blends using curries and chilies, and that is how I came up with my blends.”
“Seed-to-belly has been amazing,” says Amy, meaning their farm grows, produces, and sells a final product. This comes with its own set of challenges. “There is so much to learn along the way. There is something to be said for enjoying the process. Every step has something to offer, to be creative about.”
One such challenge was the halt of in-person operations, a major part of their business, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Amy saw this pause as an opportunity to expand the food processing side of the business and get creative in the kitchen.
“I had always wanted to make pies,” laughs Amy. “[Our] pies mimic a very popular pie in Zimbabwe.” Although these hand pies usually contain meat, Amy knew the North American market would need a vegetarian option. “I did a kale and lentil blend, which became another product using our fresh kale.”
Along with the powders and seasonings, the pies have since become their main product. As the pie business grew, Amy was connected to the Food Business Refresh Program. This program provided Amy with a number of insights into the commercial side of the business, like costing, time budgeting, equipment, having expert advice, and even connecting her with other food producers at various stages in their own businesses. Having this support complimented Amy’s creativity and allowed her to keep exploring.
“My passion – music, cooking, and good company – is what makes me keep going and trying new things,” says Amy. “I am proud that I have been able to follow my passions.”