This summer and fall, for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary, the GBC Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture will run conferences on simple living in four continents. It hopes that the conferences will also launch a support network for ISKCON farms around the world.
The Ministry was first established in 1998 by Balabhadra Das of the International Society for Cow Protection (ISCOWP), who emphasized working with oxen and encouraged devotees to take up cow protection as a key part of their mission.
Taking over from him in 2014, Shyamasundara Das from the UK emphasized the paradigm that Ahimsa milk comes with a high price, because of the amount of work that goes into caring for cows throughout their lives. He also focused on caring for and providing accommodation for ISKCON’s cow protectors, with the slogan that “you cannot protect if you’re not protected.”
Together with Hungary’s New Vraja Dhama farm, Balabhadra and Shyamasundara also launched an annual European farm conference in 2008, held in a different location every year. This year, however, will be the first time that there are conferences in four continents.
The locations will be Gaura Vrindavana farm in Brazil, South America from August 5th to 7th; Gita Nagari in Pennsylvania, North America from August 15th to 17th; Villa Vrindavana in Italy, Europe from September 20th to 22nd; and Nilachala Dham and Govardhana Eco Village in Maharashtra, India for Asia from October 5th to 7th.
All the conferences will focus on community building and a more natural way of living. In Gaura Vrindavana, Purushatraya Swami and his team are organizing discussions about organic farming, cow protection, bamboo production, and the role of unconventional plants in diets.
In Gita Nagari, there will be discussions about how to help ISKCON North America’s farm communities – which are quite distant from one another – work together more closely, creating synergy and a mood of cooperation.
The 9th annual European conference, in Villa Vrindavana, will be organized this year by senior householder Gunagrahi Das, who has made a living from organic farming, and will feature Krishna Ksetra Swami as a keynote speaker. Topics will include organic agriculture and cow protection, olive oil organic production, and ox power.
Leaders of the GBC Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture
In Asia, Damodar Dulal Das from Nilachal Dham and Sanat Kumar from Govardhan Eco-Village are planning possible topics for their conference including producing medicine from cow products and finding a market within ISKCON for them, organic farming, meeting all the Deities’ needs, and farmer’s outreach.
The conferences have already inspired a mood of cooperation, with the UK’s Bhaktivedanta Manor, Hungary’s New Vraja Dhama and Italy’s Villa Vrindavana sponsoring 14 delegates from different farm communities to attend the European edition. Meanwhile ECO-V in New Vrindaban, West Virginia has sponsored 12 delegates to attend the North American conference; and the Nilachala Dham farm has sponsored 100% of the Asian conference.
The conferences aim to give attendees the experience of learning from others, to help them envision the power of a collective effort, and to provide a jumping off point for building an international support network for ISKCON’s farm communities.
“There are many devotees around the world who are very skilled in various areas of agriculture, who have been doing organic farming or living in a sustainable way for many years, but we are not connected to them right now,” says conference coordinator Kalakantha Das, who is himself an experienced agriculturist from Brazil.
“This network would enable devotees with different areas of expertise to participate in our conferences, teach, invite others to visit their projects and train them on location, etc,” he adds. “It would also encourage them to publish educational materials that could be seen by people all over the world, creating a shared knowledge base on different topics. The network would also help define ISKCON-wide policies on different areas of agriculture and cow protection.”
Besides this network, the planning of the intercontinental conferences have sparked a flurry of other supporting activities. In Gita Nagari, devotees have already contacted local groups working with organic agriculture, youth and leadership, the Amish community, and dairy production. In Brazil, local ISKCON leaders have agreed to start a national department for cow protection, agriculture and sustainability.
For his part, Kalakantha will speak about the network in Alachua next May, and at ISKCON Russia’s biggest festival in September; and is working with Alachua and New Vrindaban on creating cooperation between North American farms.
Smita Krishna Swami will connect the efforts of the farm conference to ISKCON leadership by representing it at the next European Leaders’ Meetings.
And organizers hope to use the conferences to find representatives for the GBC Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture in different continents.
Meanwhile all this is leading up to a big international farm conference in 2018, with delegates from all over the world, and ISKCON experts as well as mainstream experts like environmentalist Vandana Shiva.
“There we’re going to discuss the future of farming and cow protection in ISKCON, as well as sustainability in temples,” says Kalakantha. “We’re trying to diminish the distance between the city and the farm – connecting city preaching to the farms, farm production to city restaurants, that kind of thing.”
Kalakantha also hopes that the annual conferences and the network it spawns will support expansion and new farm communities, and create a culture of recognizing devotees working on farms and making them feel valued.
“There are so many activities that go beyond just the conferences,” he says “And they are but a starting point to bringing devotees together around a more natural way of living.”[ agriculture ] [ cow-protection ] [ farm ] [ farming ]