On Saturday, March 28, ISKCON’s Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture had a Zoom conference with its European representatives. Everything is online in these corona times, even farming!
The members shared reports among themselves. Considering the present crisis, everyone still seemed to be faring somewhat okay. For instance, at New Vraja Dhama, ISKCON’s farm community in Hungary devotees increasingly focus on self sufficient food production so that in case the supply chain of the outside world fails, they can survive the crisis and, ideally, they can continue their prasadam distribution as well. Similar reports were there from New Mayapur in the Ukraine and other farm communities and individual devotees around in Europe including even the Copenhagen city temple having a steady supply of fresh produce from its urban farming garden.
At New Vraja Dhama, ISKCON’s farm community in Hungary devotees increasingly focus on self sufficient food production so that in case the supply chain of the outside world fails, they can survive the crisis and, ideally, they can continue their prasadam distribution as well.
Thus it was once again practically demonstrated that those who are practicing self-sufficiency either to the full extent or at least to some degree are definitely less vulnerable in times of upheavals. Unfortunately, most of ISKCON’s devotees are not connected with or themselves practicing any kind of self-sufficiency. Their situations are not much different from the vast majority of modern men who, just to cover their basic needs such as food and shelter, are dependent on a complex system of economics and forced to offer their labour whereever they can sell it.
If nothing else, the corona pandemic is a dire warning to everyone just how fragile the modern societies are and how urgent it is to move in a direction of actual independence and self-sufficiency. Or do we think that it is only the corona virus, and that once the pandemic is over everything is going to be fine onwards into eternity? Probably it is not going to be like that. At least from the time of the industrial revolution, the modern societies have all the time been and most likely will continue to be regularly going through collapses and recessions, each time eroding the livelihoods of millions.
Why? Well, first of all it is karmic. The modern world is not based on sacrifice or yajna; thus every so often the piety (punya) will run out and the sinful karmic reactions for slaughter, intoxication and exploitation of the planet will flood the society as uncontrollable tzunamis.
Secondly, on a very practical level, the modern societies are based on a globalized interconnectedness and interdependence, which at this point has reached a level without historical precedent. Thus when one economical, social, political or natural upheaval happens in one part of the world, its effects are immediately transmitted to so many other parts of the world, just as a house of cards collapses when just one card is removed. This is a recurring pattern. There may be a decade or two of seemingly peaceful, growing prosperity, but then suddenly something happens and the bubble bursts.
What more is, today in the 21st century, most people are less prepared than ever for such collapses. In the past more people were better equipped to withstand the effects of economical and social backlashes than now. For instance, the 1930s were a time of difficulty, widespread poverty and unemployment in the Western world. But at least 70 percent of the population was still living in rural areas with access to plots of land where they could grow food for themselves and their families. The urban areas were also not as megalithic as today, and many cities had significant allotment movements to provide poor workers in the cities with at least a small garden where they could grow some food.
However, today, in some places, 80 percent of the population or more live in congested modern metropolises that are dependent on a constant supply of food driven or flown in from outside. Most modern big cities keep food in the stores for no more than three days! Imagine the disaster if a modern city suddenly came under a siege. Do we think it cannot happen? What more is, the disaster would be multiplied due to the fact that 99 percent of modern people have no idea have to procure food except by picking it up wrapped in a plastic bag in a supermarket. Almost nobody has even a clue how to utilize land and grow something as simple as potatoes. This makes everything even more scarry. The modern world is an experiment with humanity never before seen in history.
Of course, this situation is in stark contrast to the kind of a Vedic society that Srila Prabhupada wanted to establish in the world, either as a whole or at least in the world of his International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON. The economical foundation in a Vedic society is land and cows organized around small-scale self-sufficiency. Ideally every householder has a piece of land and some cows – enough land and enough cows to grow sufficient food for his family. A couple of oxen supply the draft power for transportation and working the land – no artificial dependency on machinery and fuel from outside. Thus any householder can actually be independent and meet all his and his family’s needs in the immediate local environment. The rest of the world may go to hell; still, he will be able to produce his food without his life and source of income being disrupted by upheavals in the greater outside world.
Therefore Srila Prabhupada wanted to establish self-sufficient farm communities around the world, both to set an example of a more simple way of living, and also to ensure that devotees would have their basic needs, even in times of emergency.
Why not see the present corona crisis as an impetus to move in this direction? While self-sufficiency is not something that can be established overnight and therefore cannot solve the immediate dire situation that undoubtedly will be the result of the corona epidemic, the epidemic can still be an incentive and a call to move in the right direction because more collapses are probably bound to happen in the future.
How to do that, is somewhat up to the creativity of all of us. Get a plot of land in the outskirts of or outside the city and start growing some simple basic produce (you can watch on Youtube how to do that!). Perhaps you should plan and start moving in the direction of living in a non-urban environment. Or, if you choose to remain in the city, start growing food at the space that is available even there. You’ll be surprised how much land is available even within the city limits. Let a quote from Bill Mollison conclude as an inspiration to all of us. Although written in 1988, it is more true than ever:
”The singlest largest crop system in the USA, requiring 573 kilocalories per square meter to maintain – more than the energy used in the production of corn or vegetables – is …?” Have a guess! Yes, you are right – green lawns! ”In the USA, it is estimated that 16 million acres were devoted to lawn by 1978, and a vast expansion of lawns has taken place in recent years.” The astounding fact is that any one the modern societies ”that grow extensive lawns could produce all its food on the same area, using the same resources.” (from Bill Mollison, Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual, Tagari Publications, Australia 1988, p. 434-435)
Think about that. All the land now wasted in the cities to grow lawns could easily produce all the vegetables, fruits and flowers that we need! How wonderful if the corona crisis could at least inspire some of us to stop that madness and start using the resources given by God that are lying right in front of us. And my humble promise to everyone of you is that each step taken in the direction of self-sufficiency will be extremely rewarding and give an sense of actual freedom from the artificial dependencies on the modern society. It may even safe your life in more than way. As Srila Prabhupada stated in a purport in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.10): ”Overdependence on another’s mercy, and artificial standards of living sap the very vitality of human energy.”