Januka Regmi finds a taste of home in the garden

At Grow Pittsburgh, we believe that everyone in our region should have the opportunity to grow and eat local, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. Collaborating with neighborhoods to grow food and teach sustainability creates healthy communities.

Since 2010, we have worked with communities to start 27 gardens in Allegheny County through our City Growers and Allegheny Grows programs. Allegheny Grows serves municipalities outside the City of Pittsburgh in partnership with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is funded by Allegheny County Economic Development.

Januka Regmi, manager of SHIM's Whitehall Peace and Community GardenJanuka Regmi has served as the manager of 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.

Becky Henninger, Community Garden Manager for SHIM, notes that the Whitehall garden had 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,” says Henninger.

Januka’s parents were farmers back in Bhutan, and Januka can’t remember a time when they weren’t lovingly discussing their yields. “I heard them talking about the farm and fresh fruits and vegetables all the time,” said Regmi.

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.

Januka and other volunteers work the land surrounded by a beautiful and biodiverse woodscape, growing produce benefiting both the garden volunteers and two local food pantries. This garden also features a children’s section that serves as an educational venue in collaboration with the after-school program SHIM organizes with the church. Surveying the plots, Januka says, “This is a great place to get together and share each other’s views. I have learned so much and had so many experiences so far.”

Every 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.

“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,” Regmi says. Working in the garden not only connects Januka to her heritage, it provides her an opportunity to interact with a culturally important food from the ground all the way to her table.

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.,“ says Henninger.

This year, Grow Pittsburgh is partnering with LandForce to divert water runoff from a parking lot uphill to the garden. Januka and the other Whitehall Peace and Community Garden volunteers also have big goals for their second year: after growing deer-deterrent crops outside the fence and building a heavy trellis for gourds, they hope to bring more educational workshops to the garden. This year, the garden at Whitehall will be incorporated into SHIM’s September summer harvest festival.

Allegheny Grows is a partnership of Grow Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is a program of Allegheny County Economic Development. Through the program, existing and newly developing community vegetable gardens in low-to-moderate income communities throughout Allegheny County (not including the City of Pittsburgh) receive education, planning resources, and technical assistance. We tailor our help to the needs of the community, providing support for up to two full years as the garden group achieves self-sufficiency.