Clockwise: Smita Krishna Swami, Balabhadra das, Syamasundara das, Gaura Sakti das
Nandi the bull meeting Govardhanlal on tour of Vraja-dhama
Meet the Cowherds At the first ISKCON EU Farm Conference
Devotees came from nine countries to attend the first annual ISKCON farm Conference at New Vraja-dhama in Hungary. America, England, Belgium, Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Sweden, and Hungary were represented. Many of these devotee cowherds and farmers serve their farms in a rural setting distant from a bustling city temple. They perform their service with little recognition and applause, but their reward is in the service itself to the cows and land. Not only is there spiritual reward but there is also the joy that comes from a peaceful and healthy life close to the land and cows.
In the last approximately ten years, there has been a decline in the development of ISKCON farms and in the ISKCON consciousness of the importance of such farms to the spiritual development of ISKCON as a whole. This conference, organized by the ISKCON European Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture, Syamasundara das, was the beginning step to reverse this trend within Europe. In that attempt, it was a success, with the devotees leaving inspired and hopeful for the future.
Balabhadra das, ISKCON Global Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture gave the opening address. He spoke how within our movement, there is a need for a social structure that will provide a haven from the outside world where devotees can live and raise their children peacefully so they too can be Krishna Conscious. Srila Prabhupada envisioned such a social structure within farm life, village life, with the cows and land providing the necessities of life. Our farm communities are therefore very important, as they are the starting point of developing self-sufficient life. â€śThe whole idea is that we are ISKCON, a community to be independent from outside help.â€ť S.P. letter to Satyabhama March 30, 1969 As the world changes with higher gas prices creating higher cost of food and living in general, such farms will be seen more valuable to more people as providing the answers to a more and more difficult life.
The conference was graciously hosted by Gaura Sakti das, president of the New Vraja-dhama farm community in Hungary. At present, New Vraja-dhama is the most advanced European ISKCON farm in the development of self-sufficiency. A part of the conference was touring the New Vraja-dhama operation. From June through October, the community of 120 consumes only fresh produce from the farm, and during the winter months, they are self-sufficient in grains, and potatoes. A proficient 150 square foot root cellar was recently built to provide more facility for winter food storage. Five trained teams of oxen are active and perform most of the farm work. 2000 fruit trees produce a variety of fruits, and eight devotees care for the five acres of vegetables.
The guided tours, given by Gaura Sakti das, were an inspiration because they showed the possibilities for every ISKCON farm. Other farms also gave presentations. Varnasrama das talked about the successful flourmill business that helps support the Czech farm. At the Czech farm, they produce all their own flour from the grains they grow. They also sell the flour and produce cookie prasadam, which they sell and distribute on sankirtan. Haladhara das, from the Cornwell farm project in England, gave a presentation of the Govardhan Whole Food business that helps support their project. Salad boxes, which cost little to produce, are getting a maximum return.
Issues, such as providing for the cowherd and farmer so he can stay on the farm and support his family, were discussed with solutions suggested. Smita Krishna Swami from the Sweden farm described how they provide housing for such devotees. Gaura Sakti das joined in with a description of their housing development and arrangements.
Aside from the practical discussions and information on how to support and operate a self-sufficient Krishna Conscious farm, Sivarama Swami, ISKCON Guru, GBC, and spiritual leader of New Vrajadhama, and Balabhadra das, spoke about the spiritual importance and need for such farm projects. Sivarama Swami stated that to have cow protection one must have cow protectors and the cow protectors must be protected so they can protect the cows. To provide this protection and for cow protection to thrive there is need for the social system of Varnasrama in which cow protection is an integral part. He also stated that to be a cowherd is as important as standing on a corner distributing books.
As explained by Balabhadra das, the entire cycle of preparing the land with the oxen, planting the seed, nuturing the plant that comes, harvesting the fruits of the plant, and then offering it to Radhe Shyam, the residing deities at new Vraja-dhama, is the perfection of devotional life.
Some of the presentations have been recorded at Sivarama Swamiâ€™s blog, check the archives for May 20 and 21:
For more detailed notes of the conference, please write to Syamasundara prabhu.