To the delight of many devotees living in rural ISKCON communities, the GBC (ISKCON’s administrative authority) recently set guidelines instructing all GBC members to spend 10% of their time boosting farm projects.
Do any GBCs really spend 10% of their time promoting rural projects? Are the guidelines making any measurable change?
The answer is yes -- at least in New Vrindaban, Srila Prabhupada’s first farm community. New Vrindaban is building bridges with neighbors over issues such as locally grown food and an ethical approach to ecology. “We’re finding common ground to express shared spiritual values,” says Bhaktin Rita Gupta.
With the help of Malati dasi, New Vrindaban’s resident GBC, Bhaktin Rita organized the community’s first Food, Faith & Farming symposium. The organization strategy was simple: invite a panel of experts, contact the local news media, provide nice prasadam, and leave plenty of time for socializing and touring New Vrindaban Dhama.
The panel included Whitney Sanford, associate professor at the University of Florida; Balabhadra Dasa from ISCOWP; Navina Shyam Dasa, assistant director of the Montessori School in Alachua, Florida; Madhava Gosh Dasa, a resident organic grower in New Vrindaban; and Danny Swan, director of the East Wheeling Community Gardens project. The panelists debated the need for creating a food system which is environmentally equitable to land, animals and people.
Tapahpunjah Dasa, director of The Small Farm Training Center, moderated the talks and peppered the panel with questions about going from values to practical application. The audience—12 of whom live outside of New Vrindaban—eagerly spoke about growing up on local farms. Everyone present expressed appreciation for a return to simple living.
Thanks to local media exposure -- an article which appeared in the Faith supplement of the Wheeling News Register -- over 30 people attended the symposium. “It was a great networking experience,” explains Bhaktin Rita. “For three hours, people from different religious paths and cultural backgrounds really touched common ground.” The symposium ended just in time for Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s Sunday feast, followed by a hayride up to New Vrindaban’s 6.5-acre organic growing site called “The Garden of Seven Gates.”
“Two more New Vrindaban symposiums are planned for the summer months,” added Bhaktin Rita. “We’re beginning to attract a lot of local people by making Krishna consciousness relevant to their lives.”
Chris Fici is an aspiring monk/writer in New York City. He is the editor for Club 108, the environmental outreach program from New Vrindaban, West Virginia.