Dr Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri and her husband, Simba, left their native Zimbabwe to emigrate to the city of Hamilton, just outside of Ontario, Canada in the early 2000s. While living here, their son passed away in 2018. This prompted the pair to move to the sleepy town of Brandford to start afresh and process their immense loss. Farming became their saviour.
” This was a significant deal to us, and we wanted to be at one with nature and be able to hear God clearly [during this time],” Pam tells FoodForAfrika.com.
Once the pair settled in Brandford and adjusted to the pace of the sleepy town, Simba expressed a desire to begin farming. He and Pam’s jobs could not be more divergent from the agricultural industry. She has a PhD in design and works as a journalist after years of working in the fashion industry, and Simba works in logistics in the construction field.
Simba was discouraged from pursuing a career in agriculture earlier in his life, as his family in Zimbabwe was not supportive of this career. They considered farming “a poor man’s job”.
A life-changing encounter
While the pair mourned the loss of their son, they spent a summer living at a camp. Here, they met an elderly man in his 90s, who told them about growing pumpkin leaves in Canada. The pair wanted to learn more about how pumpkin leaves were grown in that area, as they were used to seeing them in Zimbabwe. The old man invited them to his farm, which was approximately 100 hectares in size.
The old man gave them some pumpkin leaves to take home, and this got the cogs turning for the couple.
In early 2019, the couple discovered a track of land not far from their home, and decided to invest in it by growing pumpkin leaves. Initially, the two did this out of curiosity, but quickly grew excited.
“We started spending the entire day with our hands in the soil, and at the time we were only producing pumpkin leaves on a tiny scale because we were doing everything by hand,” Pam explains.
Sparking an interest
According to Simba, “farming in Canada is not a thing for immigrants”.
He pondered about whether it was largely inaccessible due to how expensive agricultural implements and tools are, or whether it was a mentality. However, as the year progressed, they found that other African immigrants expressed an interest in their pumpkin leaf operation, especially those from South Africa and Kenya.
“If one person orders from us, and three other immigrants in the same region order from us, we would prefer that all three orders be delivered to the same household, so that individuals from Africa living in Canada can get to know one another,” Pam says.
The community grew with more and more immigrants buying from them, as well as Canadians. Farming became an additional source of income and the couple was pleased because it proved to be a community-building project that brought immigrants together.
“The benefit of selling to African communities is that they are familiar with the original taste of these crops from home,” Pam adds.
A breath of fresh air
According to her, they find Canadian culture and environment positive, because Canadians themselves are very culturally diverse. “They want to see us win, not as immigrants, but as business people,” Simba says.
When consulting with their local financial adviser, she asked how lucrative the business was. This was during the peak of Covid-19 and the project was affected by lockdown-related regulations such as having to do their own deliveries.
Their financial adviser informed them that her husband is a tobacco farmer and that reaching out to him for mentorship would be beneficial to their business.
Following their contact, the husband drove the couple to his 128-hectare farm, which was for sale for $1.8 million.
“My husband and I chuckled because we realised there was no way we could ever have that amount of money,” Pam said.
Miraculously, their financial adviser’s husband asked how much they could pay.
“At the time, we were looking for a place we could perhaps rent,” the couple explains. He advised them that if they wanted to rent a space, they should sell a set amount of veggies to make a profit and cover their expenses.
“This was something we never thought about, we were taking it lightly and blindly,” Simba says.
When they told him about their mission of community-building and development, and connecting with nature and God, the mentor was impressed. As a result, he offered the couple the land at a price that they could afford. The land came with machinery and seasonal Jamaican workers to assist them in launching their new farming venture.
The pair named their project Musika Munda (“market garden”), and with the help of their personnel and machinery, they are now producing pumpkin leaves on a massive scale.
Their farming operation is expanding, and they’ve incorporated their fashion business to encourage young people to enter the industry.
“We have two daughters, aged 19 and 23, and we wanted them to be a part of farming and see the beauty of it, so we added fashion to farming,” Pam says.
She has created fashionable farming attire, such as tool skirts, for her daughters and the youth to give them a new viewpoint on farming. Simba urges more Africans who have relocated to Canada, to do the same since “we can’t cultivate everything”.
Musika Munda, their company, is in the process of establishing a network of African farmers in Canada and providing a platform for young people to start farming enterprises.