Meet a couple who, through their mutual knowledge and passion for nature, have created a beautiful space that they love sharing with children, especially, and taken steps to ensure the rehabilitation and protection of their local area is back on the agenda
Story Katrine Anker-Nilssen
Kaz and Matt Wilson fell madly in love when they were just 17 and 19. “It all began with a marriage proposal one month after we met. Our parents disagreed, of course, so we ran away to rural Zululand to begin our life together,” laughs Matt.
They did come to their senses, however, and came back, so that Kaz could finish school. But soon thereafter, the real Zululand adventure began. “We lived surrounded by the majestic Dukuduku indigenous forest and wildlife. The seed of horticulture had been planted and our focus became growing indigenous medicinal plants,” explains Matt.
They met and worked closely with Mr Mnguni, a local Zulu inyanga (herbalist). “He had a beautiful and deep connection with the land around him. We learnt to respect and love Mr Mnguni as he became our pillar of knowledge and inspiration in our daily lives, delving deeper into the uses of indigenous plants,” says Matt.
After some time in Zululand, they decided to broaden their horizons and headed overseas. “We worked in London, before ending up on the outskirts of a beautiful forest along the Hamble River outside Southampton,” says Matt. “We also had some wonderful trips in and around Europe, but after five years, the pull of Africa was too strong. It was an incredible experience – coming home – and our plan to start a family was becoming a reality.”
“Skylah Faith is nearly 10 years old. She is a feisty, determined soul. Amber is seven and like a breeze on a summer morning,” smiles Kaz proudly. “The girls give real meaning to our lives. Never have we learnt so much about life, each other and the world around us.”
Since moving back to South Africa, the Wilsons have been in a cycle of studying and growth. “There has been photography, nutrition, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, yoga and involvement at our girls’ Waldorf school,” says Matt. “We also helped grow and facilitate a changing family construction business.”
Many moons ago, Kaz was diagnosed with structural problems from years of playing hockey, which is when a calling for yoga came upon her. “I closed myself in my room with a pile of yoga books until I eventually found my way to Iyengar Yoga, which is alignment-based yoga,” she explains. With six years of intensive training, Kaz is a highly-qualified instructor and yoga plays a huge role in her daily life.
The couple became vegetarian whilst living in the UK. “When exposed to the dark side of the meat industry, we began to question whether it was necessary to eat meat,” explains Kaz. “We eat a wholesome plant-based diet, creating all meals from scratch, using our homegrown herbs, spices and veggies.”
“We consider ourselves to be serious foodies, as we are very serious about good food!” adds Matt. “We love catering for music and outdoor events, specialising in vegan dishes. Super tasty and good for body, mind and soul.”
Making medicinal plants more accessible to the general public has always been important to Kaz and Matt. The journey of developing an organic farm has finally begun with Moontree, their daily run Assagay farm. “We grow a range of medicinal and culinary plants for our herbal products, and we also have a beautiful food garden,” says Matt.
Four acres of the property is natural, wild grassland – home to an abundance of wildlife, including duiker, genets, mongoose, chameleons and a huge variety of birds. Last year, the Wilsons decided that they wanted children to share and experience this beautiful space. “Our holiday day camps have been amazing and the relationships that we are building with incredible children are irreplaceable,” says Kaz.
Camp days are filled with outdoor activities, where participants are having fun and learning through nature, naturally. “We plant seeds, harvest herbs and vegetables, and make bread. There’s also crafting, yoga, art and music.”
Last but not least, there’s the Assagay Conservancy. “It was started about 28 years ago by a small group of local people who cared about the wildlife in the area. But with time, properties were developed, leaving the wildlife corridor a lot smaller than it was. The conservancy faded away as there were not enough people involved to keep it going,” explains Kaz.
“Below our property is the beautiful Madwalas Wildlife Sanctuary. When we first walked there, we noticed that the water was not healthy. That’s when we crossed paths with the wonderful Dawn Reynolds, one of the original residents in the valley, and also one of the conservancy founders. We got together with Dawn and a small group of residents and have officially started the conservancy up again,” says Kaz.
Having studied horticulture, Kaz has compiled a four-year project proposal for rehabilitating the area and ensuring its management thereafter. “We hope that we will get local students involved in and learning from this project,” she says. “We have discovered some rare and endangered plant species, which we need to protect, and we need to save the river and get the riverine forest back to what it should be.”
Kaz dreams of allowing her children and their friends to grow up in a world where people can learn to live together and respect themselves, those around them and, therefore, the planet we all share. “We are cultivating a feeling of harmony by offering alternatives to the current way of thinking,” she says. “Especially working with children, learning through experience is the only thing we can hope to achieve.”
Facebook: @MoontreeAfrica or @AssagayConservancy