In the picturesque Tweed Valley in New South Wales, Australia, ISKCON’s New Govardhana farm began work on the final stage of its five-part self-sufficiency plan in late May of this year.
Once the plan is complete, it won’t immediately render the community fully self-sufficient; however it will set the farm on the path towards gradually reaching that goal.
The final stage of the plan involves gradually reducing mechanization and reliance on “the grid.” So far, devotees have installed solar panels on their temple roof and in their Krishna Village, which accommodates visiting farm workers.
The solar panels have 25-year warranties, are made from stainless steel plates rather than copper or aluminium, and are self-cleaning.
They currently provide 35 kilowatts of power daily, or about forty per cent of New Govardhana’s electricity requirements. During the day, this keeps the Krishna Village and the temple powered, and runs the bore pump that services all the farm’s water. During the night, the grid kicks in. Meanwhile, any extra power is fed into the grid and reduces the power bill.
“We plan to get a new transformer soon, which will allow us to install enough solar panels to produce 65 kilowatts of power,” says community president Ajita Das. “And later, we’ll upgrade to the full 100 kilowatts we need to run our entire infrastructure with solar power.”
New Govardhana devotees are also planning to purchase a garbo gas system which will run a generator powered by cow dung and organic waste to provide electricity at night-time hours. And they have already created water-storing ponds that hold millions of litres of water.
New Govardhana still has some distance to go before it’s no longer dependent on machines. And there’s more work to do to fill in some of the other stages in the self-sufficiency plan. Yet a lot has been done already.
The five-stage plan was originally born out of a disaster, when in the year 2000, New Govardhana lost a court case and was left hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red. That was when devotees realized that they had to change their financial consciousness and move away from dependence on banks.
“The first stage is to not taking any loans or borrow money from anywhere,” says Ajita. “I’m talking about a practical aspect, but also a consciousness. If you don’t have it, you don’t use it — you do with what you’ve got.”
Set in this consciousness, devotees moved into the second stage – creating businesses that provide a steady income and a financial foundation for the community.
New Govardhana devotees started two businesses – one a catering business serving prasadam, or sanctified vegetarian food to festivals all around the country; and another a Govinda’s restaurant in Burleigh Heads, on Australia’s Gold Coast.
The first three years were a struggle. But in 2003, things began to pick up, and by 2007, New Govardhana had, incredibly, paid off all of its debt. Both businesses became hugely popular and now provide the income needed to maintain the farm’s large infrastructure.
This success led to stage three, developing a culture of growing organic food. In order to have the manpower it needed for this project, New Govardhana expanded its small program for WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms).
Today, the community has forty to fifty WWOOFers living onsite at any given time, in an entire self-contained village built just for them.
In the Krishna Village, WWOOFers have their own simple accommodation, car park, office, and worksheds for all their work clothing and tools. The fun, homey environment also includes a yoga hall, library, soccer field, and stone pizza oven.
Every morning at 6:00am, the WWOOFers have their own kirtans and spiritual classes in their yoga hall, often give by Mukunda Goswami or visiting devotees.
As they are served prasadam meals three times a day by their own cook, many become vegetarian during their visit. And some are so attracted to the Krishna conscious lifestyle and philosophy that they move to the ashram and even get initiated into the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. According to Ajita Das, while only a small percentage make such major life changes, 100% of WWOOFers leave the farm with a positive impression of Krishna.
And while they are at the farm, WWOOFers maintain no less than seven acres of flowers and vegetables, including year-around jack pumpkins, macademia nuts, sweet potatoes, silverbeet and ginger. On a seasonal basis, they grow spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant, as well as coriander, rosemary, lavender and other herbs.
Add to that a citrus orchard and twelve pecan nut trees, and the community is able to provide its presiding Deities of Sri-Sri Radha Govardhana-dhari with offerings consisting purely of food grown onsite. Devotees, meanwhile, must complement their food with produce bought from the market. But depending on the time of year, between 20% and 80% of the vegetables they use are also harvested from the gardens.
With the first three stages of their self-sufficiency plan functioning effectively, New Govardhana devotees are now working on the fourth stage alongside the fifth.
“The fourth stage is bringing your income sources home so that devotees don’t have to go outside for income,” says Ajita.
To this end, New Govardhana residents are currently building a new brahmachari ashram near the temple and transforming their old ashram into a retreat center. There they will offer seminars and retreats to the public on subjects such as Ayurveda, astrology, spiritual life coaching, yoga, and sattvic foods.
“By the end of the year we’ll be probably ready to kick that off,” Ajita says.
Finally, there’s the fifth stage of the plan – reducing mechanization – which devotees are also currently working on through installing solar panels and organic waste generators. Meanwhile the WWOOFing program has also allowed them to drastically cut down tractor use.
Alongside this five-stage plan, New Govardhana devotees are also developing Deity worship, cow protection, agriculture and education.
“Education is important because it’s only by teaching that we’re able to standardize everything that we do and keep the community living on into the future, “ says Ajita. “Otherwise at some point it will disappear.”
With this five-stage program, New Govardhana devotees are attempting to realize Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on simple living and high thinking in a practical, realistic and gradual way.
“I think it’s going to be a process that will take place over a few generations,” Ajita says. “We have to give education, and slowly, slowly show devotees that we can live without modern conveniences. You can’t just rip it out of them, like, ‘Okay, we’re cutting the electricity!’ We can’t do that. But we can gradually ease devotees into the simple life, by reinstilling some faith in them so that they can see that yes, it is feasible.”
May 15, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium