European Farm Conference Almviksgaard – Sweden

Attendee list. The conference was attended by Smita Krishna Maharaja (Sweden), Radhakanta Prabhu (Hungary), Aryadeva Prabhu (Hungary), Bhakta George (Hungary), Gunagrahi Prabhu (Italy), Rukmini Prabhu (Italy), Lalitanatha Prabhu (Denmark), Jayabaladeva Prabhu (Slovakia), syamasundara dasa (England), Lydia Appleby (England). Anjaneya (Sweden Presentation), Madhuryaradhika  Prabhu (Sweden), Malyaharikunda Prabhu (Sweden), Astasakhi Prabhu (Sweden Presentation), Yogendra and Uttama Prabhus (Sweden Presentation), Krishna Bhakti Prabhu (Sweden Presentation), Lokanatha Prabhu (Sweden Presentation), Srivatsa Prabhu (Sweden Presentation)

Urban Farming. Lalitanath Prabhu is living in Copenhagen and took his passion for self-sufficiency into the city when he re-located there in recent years. In 2001 he and his wife developed a small self-sufficiency project about 80km from Copenhagen on a plot about 1200 m2 in size. Looking for devotee association he left the country and joined the community of devotees living and serving in and around Copenhagen. Dedicated to self-sufficiency he established an allotment that he rents off the local council and set about growing and preserving his own food.

Lalitanatha Prabhu commented that the greatest pest in society in the USA is lawns. More energy and water is used on lawns than on food production. He said that all our food needs can be grown on lawns and stated that at one time Paris maintained its population under siege by growing its own food inside the city walls. One of the methods for this was raised beds where he stated it increases productivity by 4 or 6 times more. (this apparently is a john Seymour quote)

He has conducted a number of teaching sessions around Europe and is willing to travel and teach persons who would like to learn how to grown their own food. His practice is to develop deep beds and avoid standing on the beds. The loose soil allows plants to stand closer to each other as they have more room in the roots. He prefers hand watering to sprinklers (on allotment scale) and says it is a more efficient use of water. The plants are watered individually with each plant having the soil reduced to a bowl shape so it can collect and hold more water. This gives better water penetration. For pigeon raiders he uses netting over his cabbage seedlings.

Establishing a garden takes some time but he averages that he spends about 30minutes each day spread over the year. Initially he would spend quite a few hours to get the bed started. He like to keep his land full and would interplant with other crops where there was space are quickly after a crop had been harvested. So land had to be growing, or had a mulch or composting. Weeds were pulled and left where they were to compost and feed the ground.

For slugs he used eviction. He informed us that slugs like rotten things and would even eat other dead slugs. They will eat dead material and lawn cuttings used as a mulch

Jerusalem artichokes were being grown with a yield of 10kg per m2. He planted kale in pots and then planted them out after he lifted the potatoes. Young cabbage was picked for early greens. He mentioned he would occasionally use an organic pesticide although he had not done so last year or this year.

He liked to save his own seed. Some of his carrots 30% had some worm damage and he is now trying petroleum spray to hide the carrot smell. If they can’t smell the carrots the flies can’t find them and eat them. Krishna bhakti suggested using coffee as an alternative smell cover.

Lalitanath awed us with his simple root cellar that comprised of cement pipes buried into the ground on their ends and covered with a paving stone/flag stone. Each pipe as approximately 80cm long by 30cm diameter. He said this maintains a perfect temperature for winter storage. He had quite a few of these pipes as storage. He said he had potatoes in good condition stored there until the following June/July. The shoots needed removing but the potatoes were in good condition. These stores were also used for pumpkins in the summer. He store apples until May or June and this fruit is OK down to -5 degrees. Any colder and they will rot.

When he applied any manure he would cover it with soil to avoid any nitrogen loss. He liked to collect his neighbours leaves and use it as a mulch. It was stated that strawberries like pine needles. His estimate was that his allotment is producing £2-3,000 worth of crops annually. He says 15 persons need 1.500m2 of vegetable growing area. 200m2 is enough for two persons. Farming has to be profitable or else it is not realistic was his comment. And he suggested that you expand slowly, by using land you have then getting more gradually. He said he did have a profitable business selling vegetables.

His presentation showed that you don’t need a farm to get involved with farming but that anyone can start and have some self-sufficiency by getting an allotment or other pieces of un-used land. At one time he borrowed some unused garden from a neighbour and gave them some vegetables as payment.

Ox Milling. A presentation was given based on the experiences of Bhaktivedanta Manor on how to calculate the engineering requirements for a 10 ox mill. The manor was recently helped by a third year mechanical engineering student staying as a wwoofer who helped calculate the size of Sprockets, chains and shafts to take the strain of 10 working oxen. The sprockets and chains have subsequently been sourced and will be purchased shortly.  Readers interested in this can contact syamasundara dasa directly

European Report. There was a brief report of each farm in Europe and the types of activities that are being done in regards to agriculture, cow protection, horticulture, forestry, bees etc.Grain Growing. Almviks has an extensive amount of facilities for grain production which was acquired in former years. There is a large amount of cultivation equipment that was bought and mostly is waiting for use. This was bought when some decades ago  there was a plan to acquire some significant amount of additional land. With the leadership changes that traumatised much of the European regions many plans were not actualized.

The main barn has storage facility for 90 tonnes of grain with an array of augers and bins leading to grain cleaners, milling rooms etc. There was an idea in the past to drive ox carts up the to first floor where grain could be transferred to the grain bins, or if carrying hay could be offloaded down to the hay floors. This plan was never completed. Today hay is made baled in semi-solid square bales or into solid round bales and this year some of the hay was wrapped to stay in front of the weather.

Almviks area is on the border of wheat production, Further north barley would be the preferred grain due to weather limitations. The wheat they grow is good for chapattis as it has less gluten. The whole estate is about 120hectares with 20hectares available for pasture, arable and vegetable production.

Lokanath Prabhu is currently growing a small amount of grains on the estate. With limited land only a small amount is allocated for grain growing. It is worth noting that all the land is being utilized although there remains the ability to improve yields in most areas. There are adequate tractors, seed drills, harrows and even a combine harvester for all grain production. The discussion of using oxen remains a regular thought but at present the oxen are not fully trained or engaged. This will remain a project for almviks to develop.

Bakery Business. For over a decade Srivatsa Prabhu has been managing and baking breads and producing sweets from her small bakery facilities. There is opportunity to expand the business however she is happy with the current size and government legislation requirements. She provides breads of different types to a number of shops locally and in Stockholm. She also has a farmers market that she has been attending. In the beginning she would sell bread, honey jams and vegetables but gradually the bread and sweets became the only sales items. Some of her customers were so pleased with the bread that they even found her local shops who would sell the bread etc. Another item that is popular is muesli which you prepares and packages at almviks. She specializes in muesli that avoids any allergy items as to have allergy products creates a lot of facility changes and legislation.

The temple uses her breads and muesli. There are some other village residents who help her at various times of manufacture, packaging and cleaning. Srivatsa told us that her customers appreciate freshly milled grains. Although we did not get a sample she made some extraordinary smelling laddu using honey as a sweetener. She makes hundreds of loaves each week. She said that Swedish people like cakes and organic wheat free bread, however she would need a separate segregated area for making wheat free bread and so she does not cater to that market. Some of the items she makes are sourdough bread, syrup and spices bread, wheat and rye, wholemeal wheat bread, Oat bread (25% oats and 75% wheat), cinnamon rolls, zaccuni cakes, apple cakes laddus. She is an active lady and enjoys doing this work though hard. She is comfortable economically and satisfied with the size of her business.

Her ovens are modern and she reflected that wood ovens would require a lot more work than she could commit. 30% of her time is involved with baking and the remainder in driving, packing, selling and administration.

Forest harvesting. The forest has a sustainable yield of just over 500 m3 per year. Tribhangananda Prabhu has his own construction business but it his service to go into the forest and mark the trees for felling.  In deciding which trees will come done he has to take into account damaged trees, closeness to other trees, allowing a variety of different stages of development of the trees. He reported that the building wood made at the farm is 30% more expensive that factory produced timber. He put this down to the higher manpower requirements.

In previous years the government guidance was to clear fell an area but now they recommend sporadic cutting to keep the forest diverse and a forest. The wood cutters are looking for trees that are sick, too close or mature for felling

The main forest harvesters are Yogendra Prabhu (who had lumberjack experience before his devotional days) and Uttama Prabhu. These devotees have an array of wood handling equipment from the usual chain saws, to tractors and trailers that pick up the wood, Log splitters and a wood processing factory.

The temple has recently changed their heating system for one that feeds automated wood chips. This requires less labour as the previous log system needed feeding three times a day. The chips were reported as being more efficient heat sources than logs. The wood is collected and stored near the heating house. At some point they invite a neighbour with a large wood chipper suitable for big logs. The chips are stored in a wood chop house. We were told that if the wood is harvested in the autumn then it is ready for burning by the next winter. The chips are loaded into a container that augers them into the wood boiler automatically. The temple burns about 120 to 150m3 each year. It was reported that there is not difference in the amount of wood used in the log system or the chip system but the chips are more efficient producers of heat. A figure of 30% more heat was reported.

Most of the wood is pine and spruce. The narrower the rings the older the tree and the better for building. The saw mill can handle large logs and make planks of different sizes, plain wood and even shaped wood such as tongue and groove. The wood from the mill is contributing to making a livelihood for its users. In the past the mill would have employed 8 persons a day in all its various operations.

Previously oxen were used at almviks for wood transportation. Uttama and his brother have used the oxen recently to some degree and there is much opportunity to develop this further.

Many of the houses at almviks have been built using wood from the forest and cut and prepared in the saw mill.

Devotee Artist. Janmalaya Prabhu has been living in almviks for decades and he is part of three generations of his family settled there. Previously he was part of the team of devotees who would pain the devotional paintings we see in the Bhagavatam and other books now he paints art that is for sale in order to provide for his family. He specializes in paint on slate and wood (from almviks). A very accomplished artist with a stunning style of art. He adds to the stable almviks community considerably.

Almviks Village. Srila Prabhupada went to Sweden in 1973. They originally bought almviks for 1.9 million Swedish Crowns and then later expanded the forest for another 0.5 million Swedish crowns. The site was originally used to experiment on different types of food for cows and housed 400 cows and calves. Many of the neighbours complained about its use and that prompted the sale and subsequent purchase by ISKCON. In the earlier years the economy was based on the ladies selling silk paintings. Almviks was the base for the Russian preaching and as Russia developed and did not need almviks support this impacted almviks. At the same time the Swedish economy was effected in a way that silk painting sales diminished. In 1994/95 there was a crisis that saw a change in the way that almviks was managed. It changed from ISKCON paying to the villagers paying. The villagers would pay to live at almviks and to do service. Anyone staying has to provide for their own living from books/prasadam/job etc.

Prior to the changes there was often tension but after the friction stopped or was reduced. The village cannot blame anyone because they all share responsibility. The village is run by a board that are re-elected each year. Anyone who is a paying member can be nominated and sit on the board. New applicants to join the village are assessed and have to be able to satisfy the board that they can be active members of the village, have a means of livelihood, be loyal to Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON and follow the regulative principles and have a police check. Currently there are seven board members but It has had as many as eleven. There is an annual general assembly which includes a report of the year. Smita Krishna Maharaja is the resident Sanyasi (when he is not travelling) and spiritual master of many. The Sunday feast is provided by different families bringing different feast items.

The village has an income based on each person over 18 (not at school) paying 1300 Swedish crowns (SK) (130 euros approx.) per month. Of this amount 200 SK (20 euro) is to support cow protection. In addition each house has a monthly tax to cover the cost of water, sewage, electricity of 200 SK

It was stated that a family needs about 15,000 SK after taxes to maintain their families.

Householders in the village own the right to live the house but not the land that the house sits on. Anyone who wishes to sell their house can only sell it to a person accepted by the board. Because of this arrangement you cannot get a conventional mortgage loan because the bank does not have the ability to sell the house to recoup and loss.

The village and temple get their drinking water from 90m deep boreholes on the land and all the washing water comes from the lake. There is a slight staining in the water which is due to the wood from the forest. It looks strange but it is just fine.

Vegetable Business. Ajaneya Prabhu has been developing a vegetable business over the past 10 years. He states that he never grew anything much before and did not see himself as a farmer. He saw the piles of cow dung and the green houses not being used and he thought he would try and do something. He used to grow some vegetables for the temple but when when he became a householder he took it up with more earnestness.

At some point he accompanied the baker to the farmers market selling his vegetables alongside her bread. He did not have a business plan and has seen things have happened naturally. The land he started with was not so good but he had plenty of cow dung. Mostly he uses raised beds. Sweden usually too wet but the land warms up quicker. The land is heavy with clay soil and needs plenty of manure. Too keep weeds under control he uses a lot of plantex (plastic cover that supresses weeds but let’s in water).

He has used the oxen at times but without success due to their untrained condition. The tractor takes care of the larger pieces of land he cultivates although this does compact the soil a bit. It is easier as the work is done in a few hours.

He provides vegetable to a specialist farmers market as well as a number of restaurants and shops. He said that some of these asked him to provide to them rather than him going out to find them. Most of Thursdays and Fridays will find anjaneya and some assistant harvesting the crops and Saturday on the market selling them. Sometimes he hires local weeders to keep on top of things. Some of his more unusual crops are New Zealand spinach, and nettles which he sells at 100 SK per kg. People want them for shampoo, tea, pesta and spinach. He also sells pokeweed and chickweed. He also grows yellow and red watermelon that a devotee from Spain says are very good.

He gets a better price from then hand crops as he cannot compete with the diesel crops (as he calls them) such as potatoes. He says retail is double wholesale price and he gets about twice the conventional vegetable price. Currently Anjaneya is considering growing less because he is growing more than he needs in terms of money and workload. He says he is comfortable economically because he spends little. He travels to India yearly to rest after a hard working summer and autumn.

Three Pillars of Sustainability course at New Vrajadhama Hungary. Bhakta George gave an overview of the pillars of sustainability course conducted each year in Hungary. The course goes into detail about the principles of a sustainable community in terms of environmental, social and economic considerations. The course draws on the experience of the New Vrajadhama community and brings to light the basic principles that need to be considered for any successful community. New Vrajadhama has 650 acres, 130 residents on the farm, 70 devotees in the adjoining village, 11 divisions of management with 44 total departments and 63 buildings. It is the main part of the Hungarian yatra.

The project is 80% self-sufficient in food, produces x 10 the amount of grain needed, x7 the amount of honey needed, in energy they are 30% self-sufficient (they need their trees to grow on the 60 hectares of forest). They have their own water from 250m wells at mineral water quality. They handle their own waste water using reed beds with the end water being used for irrigation. They have planted 380,000 trees of over 700 types.

There is European funding available for those wishing to attend the course and Bhakta George of the Eco Valley Foundation explained in a basic way where to find information about it. The Eco valley foundation are trying to establish Krishna Consciousness in a scientific way to people who would not ordinarily be interested. They will be hosting their 5th conference on sustainability.

Other projects can get funding by providing a course and George explained briefly about this.

Four oxen ploughing. The audience were enthralled seeing footage of the oxen at new vrajadhama yoked in a team of four and then a team of six for deep ploughing land for re-sowing grass. The land was compacted and they wanted to aerate the soil and sow with fresh grass and fodder seeds. They joked that they had copyrighted the plough turning system . The short film reminded us of the glory days of gita nagari and their multi hitch ox teams which can still be viewed on you tube. The Hungarian farm reported doing over 4,500 ox hours in 2012. Bhaktivedanta Manor is in second place with about 3,000 ox hours.

Ox hours are measured from the time an ox is yoked to the time it is unyoked. Two oxen yoked together is two ox hours per hour. Currently there are oxen being trained or working in the following farms, new mayapura, Bhaktivedanta Manor, Almviksgaard, Radhadesh, Krishna valley Czezh farm, New ekacakra Slovakia farm, new santipura Poland farm, new vrajadhama Hungary. We are waiting for new vrajamandala Spain, villa vrindavana Italy, prabhupadadesh, Italy, Karuna Bhavan Scotland, Govindadvipa Inis Rath Ireland to enter the ox working arena.

Open day Festival New Vrajadhama Hungary. Radha Kanta Prabhu showed a collection of photographs of the open day festival held at the Hungarian farm annually. The festival attracts 6-7,000 people over 3 days with each person paying 5 euros. 150 devotees come to the farm to help with the organisation and set up of such an elaborate event.

The open day includes, archery, produce stalls, oxen working displays, displays of the equipment, pony rides, train ride around the village, cooking demonstrations, theatre performances, bharata natyam, school dramsa,being a devotee (each visitor to this area dresses like a devotee, chants one round, makes a puri and then offers it to Krishna), pantomime artists, hay bale art, one of the highlights of the event is witnessing an actual wedding.

The open day is the most important event in their annual calander and the preparation is very extensive and lasts throughout the year. Some visitors return annually and some come on more than one day.

Advertising is done through Facebook, posters, leaflets, TV advertisement.

Apple Pressing and Ahimsa Cows. Lydia Appleby gave a photographic presentation of the community work she does with her transition town team in Market Harborough. They prepare, dice and press apples people bring to their various locations. The juice is bottled and pasteurised. This was also conducted at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Autumn 2012.

Next Lydia showed pictures of the land which is now being used for the surplus cows of the ahimsa foundation. She showed lakes, how her team cleaned the ragwort from the pasture and hay fields, How the hay was made and then introduced us to the cows of the ahimsa foundation. She mentioned the intention to get their young oxen working and we welcome them joining our European ox working competition.

Almviksgaard Apples and herbs. Astasakhi Prabhu introduced the conference members to the 70 tree orchard and told us how they are being maintained, what types of trees there are and the problems experienced. She also mentioned that almviks is at the border of pear tree growing. She mentioned some of the problems of mixing an orchard with a playground and calf pasture.

Next she took us into her house and showed her extensive supply of local dried herbs. What each herb was and how it can be used was systematically explained. Of note was stevia rebaudiana which is a natural sweetener, polyporus nigricans for cancer, matricaria recutita for calming the mind (I could do with some of that) and Galium Verum for curdling cheese. All in all a fascinating look into the healing properties of herbs. She did warn that you must take appropriate advice before taking certain herbs as they can be toxic in the wrong amounts.

More herbs and Crafts. KrishnaBhakti Prabhu then gave another interesting insight into more herbs and their medical properties. In particular she mentioned that blueberry leaf is considered valuable for diabetes. The active ingredient myrillin acts like insulin in the body but is less toxic. She showed some of her large library of herbal books and advised that to find good books you need to second hand book stores or oversees as modern books don’t give any medical details,

Forest Walk with Smita Krishna Maharaja. Concluding the conference Maharaja lead us through some of the almviks forests and hills bringing us close to nature and the beauty of the area. Most of us just missed seeing a moose only revealing itself to the first two in our line. It left a lot of moose dung around though I can assure you. In Sweden anyone can walk anywhere and harvest the fruits of the forest. They can camp anywhere although not near homes. Settling down at the maharajas cob walled house, we reflected on the conference and where next.

Summary of Concluding words

-The subject of Cow Protection, agriculture and rural development is important and should be supported. Some changes have been seen.

-Feel honoured to be part of the conference. Not great support (by others) of its aim. Always feel inspired

-Always look forward to next conference. Learn something new.

-Family atmosphere being created by meeting other conference participants again. Always get good experience. Should widen participation

-Aim to show others positive side of community and share experiences. Learned a lot in each location

-Enjoyed all parts of the conference. Maybe people more people would come if they knew about it.


Where next

Simhacalam will be the venue for the farm conference in September 2014 pending confirmation

If you would like to participate in the next farm conference please write to

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