The third North American Farm Conference brought together over forty ISKCON farmers, leaders and advocates for workshops on cow protection and agriculture, as well as to celebrate fifty years of cow protection in ISKCON.
The conference ran from October 4th to 6th in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, where ISKCON’s first cow protection program started in Spring 1969 with a black Jersey, “Kaliya,” named by Srila Prabhupada himself.
Co-organized by ISKCON New Vrindaban, ECO-Vrindaban and the ISKCON Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture (IMCPA), the event drew delegates from Australia, Canada, the UK, and all over the US. There were also many devotees from the early days of New Vrindaban.
The first day of the conference focused on fifty years of cow protection in the West. One of the early cowherds at New Vrindaban, Chandramauli Swami, set the tone in his Keynote by sharing his memories of those days, when his service was to churn the butter.
At the beginning of the New Vrindaban project, he said, cow protection, agriculture and community spirit were at the center. He also recalled some pastimes with Srila Prabhupada, showing how invested and happy he was with this vision. Later, the mood shifted. But now, Chandramauli Swami suggested, was the time to refocus on that original vision.
Next, ISKCON guru and scholar Krishna Ksetra Swami spoke on “Keeping Cows in the Center: Cow Care in Present and Future ISKCON.” Swami is the author of a new book, “Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics,” which will be published by Palgrave MacMillan on November 25th and is expected to make caring for cows in the spirit of devotion a serious topic of discussion in academia worldwide.
Krishna Ksetra Swami outside the ECO-V Goshala
Among different topics from his book, Krishna Ksetra Swami discussed the position of cows in the Vedic scriptures, and how the cow protection movement is evolving today. According to his research, ISKCON is currently protecting about 5,000 cows, with the biggest project, in Tirupati, caring for 500, and most farms caring for only between five and ten. With 300 million cows being slaughtered annually, we may feel discouraged or that we should increase our herds exponentially. Instead, Swami’s solution was that more devotees each protect small numbers of cows, presenting an example that could change the world.
IMCPA Director Kalakantha Das followed with a talk on Dharma and Ecology, and how understanding the relationship between them could give us a much better picture of how to live more peacefully on the planet.
He also proposed that ISKCON as a larger community should invest more in cow protection, and look into its relevance to both cities and farmers. “The world is struggling with global warming, and we may have the solution, by proper management of cows, cow dung, methane, and carbon,” he said.
Meanwhile in his presentation, Shyamasundara Das of Bhaktivedanta Manor’s New Gokul farm reported that a new survey is currently gathering information about how much dairy each ISKCON temple in Europe requires for its Deities. This will go a long way towards the GBC-set goal to only offer slaughter-free dairy in ISKCON temples.
Shyamasundara also reported how the IMCPA’s culture of regular farm conferences is bearing fruit, with representatives for the organization now established in nearly all regions in Europe.
Conference seminars were held in New Vrindaban's state-of-the-art yogashala
The next day, Kacey Gantzer, Business Development and Planning Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, led a dynamic workshop on high tunnels. After a general overview on high tunnels and how they are different from greenhouses, she gave some tips and tricks for high tunnel production.
These included the Five Ps: Planning (crop selection, timing, knowing market); Prep (bed prep, soil amendment); Planting (irrigation, transplanting, pest and disease management); Picking (crop rotation, storage, packaging); and Pay (sales and harvest tracking, cost analysis).
Another major highlight was Astotara Sata Das’ presentation on his Congo project. Born in Gita Nagari and son to Hare Krishna Dasi, he studied economics and travelled to the Congo, where he found people living in poverty and taught them to produce their own food. Gradually, they grew from just a handful of farmers to 10,000 families, and from three acres of crops to 20,000 acres. Eventually, his NGO Working Villages International was able to leave the region, while the familes continued producing their own food independently.
“This was a very powerful story, that shows how we need to do outreach to be relevant in the world,” says Kalakantha Das.
Next temple president Ajita Das, along with manager Damodara Das from New Govardhana, Australia, shared insight on their Krishna Village project, which engages WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) in gardening and cow protection. While the program began with an expenditure of $2,000 every month, it now brings in a revenue of $1 million. At any one time, thirty-five volunteers are at work, accounting for 1,000 workman hours per week. As well as workers and income, the program, with its influx of young people, also brings lots of energy to the community.
Renowned simple living advocate Hare Krishna Dasi attends the high tunnel presentation
Valuing those who have contributed to Srila Prabhupada’s mission of simple living and high thinking is also extremely important, and Saturday evening saw a plaque awarded to Paramananda Das and his wife Satyabhama Dasi for a life of service.
Although they were not able to attend due to health issues, Hare Krishna Dasi accepted the plaque on their behalf, while Varshana Swami told their story. Joining ISKCON at 26 2nd Avenue, the couple moved to New Vrindaban to help as soon as they heard about ISKCON’s first farm. Paramananda believed that all power should be derived from draft animals, and to this end he worked with ISKCON’s first cows, as well as horses.
As New Vrindaban’s herd expanded, he moved to Port Royal, Pennsylvania, where he established another farm in 1974, which Srila Prabhupada named “Gita Nagari.” There, he also worked with the oxen to till the fields and grow crops. Paramananda was also celebrated for being ISKCON’s first Minister of Agriculture, and for laying the foundation for spreading Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the importance of cow protection for advancement in spiritual life.
In the last presentation of the day, twelve delegates – including Krishna Ksetra Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Kalakantha Das and Divyambara Dasi – reported on their visit to a traditional Amish family thirty minutes from Gita Nagari, and talked about what ISKCON rural communities could learn from them.
“The man described how two years ago, the roof of his house was burned,” says Kalakantha. “And that very day, seventy-two Amish men came and helped him rebuild it. The whole mood of the Amish is based on community support – how families can do businesses to support the elders, how the elders can support the youth to stay within the community. These and other principles that could be very helpful for our Vaishnava society are covered in a booklet we’re making about the Amish study, which will be available soon.”
ECO-V General Manager Ranaka Das
The final day of the farm conference featured a tour of ECO-V, New Vrindaban’s simple living branch. Participants saw ECO-V’s two new 140-foot long hightunnels, which will allow them to produce food year-round. They also saw the agricultural fields, goshala, and hay production operation.
“ECO-V is producing a lot of vegetables and flowers to supply Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s temple; generating more hay than they need; and planning how to expand their dairy operation to address the full needs of the Deities,” says Kalakantha. “The international delegates were amazed at how much facility exists at New Vrindaban, and how much potential there is.”
The conference also included A Study Case in Ahimsa Dairy from Gita Nagari by Dhruva Das and Parijata Dasi; Living off the Fat of the Land by Purusottama Ksetra Das; Agroforestry Systems by Bhaktin Allegra; and Running a Non-Profit for the Cows and Land by Chaitanya Mangala Das.
The gathering was very well received and yielded numerous results. New Vrindaban management felt inspired to put on more cow protection and agriculture focused events, such as farming festivals. They also began to consider creating their own volunteer program like New Govardhana’s Krishna Village. And many candidates stepped forward to become representatives for the ISKCON Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture in North America.
“Everybody was very excited,” Kalakantha says. “The conference had a very strong impact on all the representatives.”
Farm Conferences next year include the first South Asian Farm Conference in Mayapur, a European Farm Conference in Ukraine, and meetings in Canada and Russia.
“We’ve been holding these conferences for four years now,” says Kalakantha. “And they create a lot of social mobilization, bringing together farmers, people on the front line of cow protection, ISKCON leaders, sannyasis, and supporters, and inspiring them to take action.”[ conference ] [ cow ] [ cow-protection ] [ ecology ] [ environment ] [ farm ] [ new ] [ vrindaban ]