Januka Regmi has volunteered at The Whitehall Peace and Community Garden, a program of South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) since its groundbreaking at the Whitehall United Presbyterian Church in 2016. The church hosts a garden for the residents of Whitehall Place Apartments (formerly Prospect Park) and weekly volunteers alternate harvesting for their families and for the Prospect Park Family Center food pantry.
For Januka, Whitehall’s garden is a prayer answered. “When they were talking about the farm, I was thinking and praying to God, ‘Please Lord, give me a chance to do some farming.’ That came true when the Whitehall Peace and Community garden opened,” Regmi said.
Becky Henninger, Community Garden Manager for SHIM, notes that starting the Whitehall garden posed unique challenges. “Language was one of the bigger barriers to getting the garden up and running. The majority of families living in Prospect Park are refugees, many of whom come from agrarian backgrounds, but who speak very little English. Januka has been instrumental as a bilingual liaison between community members, Grow Pittsburgh, and SHIM,” she said.
Januka’s parents were farmers back in Bhutan, and she can’t remember a time when they weren’t lovingly discussing their land. “I heard them talking about the farm and fresh fruits and vegetables all the time,” she said. Working in the garden not only connects Januka to her cultural heritage, it provides her an opportunity to care for a cherished family food from the ground all the way to her table and the local food pantry.
Every community garden has its own personality, and Whitehall’s specialty is mustard greens, a bit of home brought to Allegheny County. Mustard greens are nutrient-rich, germinate quickly, and with warm weather, they can be harvested in three to four weeks. In Bhutan, these greens are often fermented and dried into a condiment called gundruk to last through winter. Januka likes a fresh preparation for the fiery greens she grows. Januka says, “We cut (the greens) into small pieces, hit the hot pan with oil and put mustard greens on it. We also add ginger, salt, and onion for flavor.”
Henninger says that Januka’s presence in the garden enriches everyone’s experiences: “Januka’s willingness to volunteer enables us to reach a larger group of individuals giving them an opportunity to benefit not only from healthy fresh produce but also the therapeutic benefit of being part of something that bridges the lives they left behind and their new lives here in the U.S.”
With your support, you demonstrate your belief that everyone in our region should have the opportunity to grow and eat local, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. Thanks to donors and volunteers like you and Januka, we have helped establish 34 gardens across Allegheny County and continue to grow. We’re always in need of dedicated volunteers. If you want to get involved, please contact us.