A husband and wife devotee couple are trying to live a simple life on Canada’s Prince Edward Island according to ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s instructions – with inspiring results.
Gaura Nitai Das, originally from Scotland, and Lala Gopala Dasi, a Cree native from the White Bear reservation in Saskatchewan, Canada, were both initiated by Srila Prabhupada at Bhaktivedanta Manor near London in 1976.
Since then they’ve been farming in ISKCON communities in Montreal and Saranagati, B.C., taking care of cows on their own land in Panama, Central America, and running their own cottage industry businesses making candles and pottery.
In 2010, they moved from Panama back to Canada to be closer to their four grown-up children and five grandchildren. Finding land inexpensive on Prince Edward Island, they settled there.
Despite a winter that drops below freezing, PEI summers are a pleasant 23 to 30 C, and the province is described by Lonely Planet as a “Green Gables–esque landscape” that’s a “pastoral green patchwork of rolling fields, tidy gabled farmhouses and seaside villages.”
Gaura Nitai and Lala Gopi’s 100-acre “Govinda’s Farm” in King’s County, Eastern PEI overlooks the Northumberland Strait of Nova Scotia and includes a 140-year-old Victorian house, a barn and outbuildings. Today, the couple live in the house with their Gaura Nitai and Jagannath Deities and their 23-year-old son Rama, who moved back home to help out.
“When we first came here, we paid cash for the land – we don’t take mortgages out,” says the likeably direct and plainspoken Lala Gopi. “After that, we only had $600 left to our name.”
With this money, Lala and her husband had to start a business to maintain their farm. So they began baking eighty loaves of artisanal bread a week in their wood stove and selling it to a local neighboring community of Buddhist monks.
“They were willing to support us, because they could see that we were living according to principals they believed in,” says Lala Gopala.
The couple invested the income from their bread sales into essential oils and other products, and began their own extremely popular soap business, which they intend to live on into their old age.
“We’re trying to make a Prince Edward Island product,” Lala Gopala says. “So we grow the Canola oil, oats, and herbs that we put into the soap ourselves. We also use excess milk from our cow, and make the soap by hand. We then sell it to local people and at farmer’s markets. Eventually we want the business to be more online though, so that we can spend all our time and energy here on the farm.”
Soap products made naturally at Govinda’s farm
One of the main focuses on the farm itself is cow protection – an oft emphasized practice by Srila Prabhupada. The local Buddhist community helped Gaura Nitai and Lala Gopi rescue their ten cows and oxen from the dairy and meat industries. They include two Canadians, a Jersey, and five Randalls – one of the rarest cow breeds, with only 200 left in the world.
Gaura and Lala milk just one of their cows, Sachi, but she gives six gallons per milking. From this, Lala can make cheese, yoghurt, ghee and a pound of butter a day. “It’s opulent beyond belief,” she says. “That’s where the wealth truly is.”
The cows are “mob grazed” – moved three to four times per day so that no area is overgrazed. Thus they spread their dung and urine evenly, resulting in rich and fertile land. According to Lala, this is the same system Lord Krishna used in Vrindavana, with the Lord and the cowherd boys constantly moving their cows.
Meanwhile the cows are treated with the utmost personal care. If they get sick, Lala Gopi gives them herbs, and does energy healing and massage on them until they recover.
“By being so connected to the cows, you know each one of them so intimately, and they just become family,” she says. “It’s amazing. They greet you when you go out, and they’re just so happy to know that you’re there and you’re protecting them.”
The gardens at Govinda’s Farm are also busy. Gaura Nitai and Lala Gopala use layers of cardboard, cow dung, and woodchips with holes poked in them for seedlings, thus eliminating all weeds and any need to water the plants. The rewarding results include carrots, kale, tomatos, peas, beans, spinach, squash, corn oats, and herbs like calendula, fennel, and lavender.
Feeding the cows
To save on water, the family uses worm composting toilets. Waste is covered with a handful of sawdust, there is no smell, and it’s completely turned into soil within six months. To save on electricity, they use the Amish made Pioneer Princess wood cook stove, and hang their clothes around it rather than using a dryer.
“Doing that dropped our utility bill from $200 a month to $70,” Lala Gopi says.
The family also uses a bartering system with skilled locals in the area including Buddhists and Amish, trading soap for handknit sweaters or socks, or handcrafted furniture. In general, they’re trying to live in a minimalistic way, taking stock of their belongings and gradually removing what isn’t absolutely necessary – “so that things are simple, the place is kept clean, and our thoughts can go into things that are more important.”
But, Lala Gopi hastens to point out, they’re not self-sufficient yet. “That’s a process, to back out of society,” she says. “It’s one step at a time. You have to figure out how much can you actually handle. Because we’re addicted to our electricity, our computers, everything. Simple living is not such a simple journey. It takes much trial and error as well as deep introspection. Simple living is about making conscious choices every moment of every day. Always questioning….do I need this thing in my life …or has it become superfluous?”
Gaura and Lala may be trying to back out of conventional society, but they’re not cutting themselves off from people. As they live in a frequently touristed area, many people often stop by to see their farm and their unique way of life. The couple also use their soap stand at local farmer’s markets as a chance to talk to people about cow protection, simple living, and Srila Prabhupada. They also often distribute Prabhupada’s books such as Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, which espouse the ideals they try to live.
In the future, they hope that some likeminded devotees may move to the area who share their devotion to Prabhupada’s vision of simple living, and are willing to put in the hard work required.
Laying down woodchips to protect the plants from weeds
“Land is so inexpensive here on Prince Edward Island,” says Lala Gopala. “My daughter just bought two acres of land and a really nice house for $28,000. We also have some experience in alternative building like straw bale houses, and are willing to help anyone who wants to move to the area with building and finding land.”
In the meantime, she and her husband are taking the path to self-sufficiency one step at a time, and developing their vision for a beautiful goshala for their cows with Vedic arches, a milking parlor and a resting area. “That’s our biggest priority, rescuing cows,” Lala Gopa says.
In response to ISKCON News’ final question, she says, “Are we trying to show how a grihasta [householder] couple should live? I do not think that anyone has the right to do that because we are all individuals with different circumstances and we come with different skill sets. If we live our life according to directions given to us by Srila Prabhupada and follow those directions to the best of our abilities according to time, place and circumstance, and others find that somewhat of an inspiration, then that is wonderful.”
To read more about the Lala Gopala and Gaura Nitai’s journey to the simple life, read their blog at http://govindas-farm.blogspot.ca.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies