TIM WOODWARD

The Idaho Statesman via Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Harvesting vegetables from a garden on Cole Road reminds Tulashi Regmi in a small way of life in his former homeland, the "happiest place in Asia."

Bhutan, his onetime home on the edge of the Himalayas, has a guiding philosophy of "Gross National Happiness." Business Week rated it the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world.

But Regmi's and his family's last memories of it aren't happy. They're among some 100,000 ethnic Nepalis who, beginning in 1985, Bhutan expelled as illegal immigrants. They were given refuge in Nepal.

"In Bhutan we had everything," he said. "A home, a cow farm, a 10-acre garden, an orange plantation. In Nepal, we had nothing. A tent."

They were in a refugee camp in Nepal for 17 years before becoming part of Boise's refugee community just over a year ago.

Horticulturally speaking, their timing was perfect. Planning was just beginning for a refugee garden on a field donated by St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. With help from a diverse group of volunteers, the project acquired a life of its own.

The Rotary Club of Boise East donated $500 for supplies. Tamarack Landscaping cleared the field. The International Rescue Committee sponsors the garden and helps provide financial support. Beki Parham of AmeriCorps helped coordinate volunteers -- neighbors, Eagle Scouts, Boys and Girls Club members, Idaho Youth Ranch workers, Boise Police. Their efforts have made the New Roots Community Garden a reality.

This summer, it was in full bloom. Members of Regmi's family and other refugees worked there virtually every day. Now they're enjoying the fruits of the harvest.

"In some ways it reminds me of Bhutan," he said. "We used the same kind of hand tools and grew some of the same crops."

They include corn, tomatoes, lettuce, okra, cucumbers, peas, beans, zucchini, fruits and flowers.

"It's all fresh vegetables grown without chemicals," IRC Program Specialist Aliza Wenk said. "That's important in their culture. They're vegetarians."

The half-acre garden provides food for 15 refugee families, altogether about 70 people, from Bhutan, Burma and Chechnya. All who are able pitch in to weed, compost, cultivate and otherwise tend to the unending needs of a vegetable garden.

"We are all vegetarians in my family (of 17, including his wife, mother, three brothers and their children), so it's very valuable to us," Regmi said.

"And not just for the food it provides," Wenk added. "It's a place for them to socialize.

"Some of the refugee families live several miles away and have to ride the bus to get to the garden. Gardening gives them a chance to spend time with people outside their families and get to know each other while they work."

The garden, she said, is a communal co-op, with those who provide the labor sharing the benefits. It began with eight families tending the vegetables of their choice on family plots. New families are added as others come and go.

In June, IRC representatives from New York visited the garden.

"They evaluated it and were impressed," Wenk said. "Gardens like this are developing across the IRC network. The largest is in San Diego. Michelle Obama visited it this summer."

How does Boise's rate?

"It's one of the up and coming ones," she said. It's doing very well. All we need to do is keep the funding going."

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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