ISKCON European Farm Conference at Simhacalam Temple (Bavaria, Germany) September 16-18, 2014
Report by Syamasundara Dasa
ISKCON Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture
In attendance: Smita Krsna Swami (Almviksgaard, Sweden); Maha-Vishnu Swami (England & Nepal); Syamasundara & Lalitasakhi-devi Dasi, Krishna Caitanya Prabhu, Jaya Krishna Prabhu, and Lydia Tappleby (Bhaktivedanta Manor, England); Radhakanta Prabhu, Aryadeva Prabhu, Antardhi Prabhu, Partha Prabhu, and George Kirs (New Vrajadhama, Hungary); Dhira-Nitai Prabhu (Simhacalam, Germany); Gunagrahi Prabhu, Laxmana Prabhu, and Andrea (Cintamani-dhama, a family farm, and Villa Vrindavan, Italy); Kalakantha Prabhu (Brazil); Sarvesvara Prabhu & Radha-parama-sundari Dasi (Dubai/Salem, Tamil Nadu); Aravinda Prabhu (Govinda-dvipa, Northern Ireland); Govardana Lal Prabhu (New Santipura, Poland); Varnasrama Prabhu & Padmamukhi Dasi, and Bhakta George (Krsnadvur, Czech)
European Ministry and Global Ministry
Syamasundara: A key tool to inspire devotees involved in cow protection and agriculture is this annual farm conference. In 2013, my role as the European Minister expanded to the Global Minister. Now there’s more of a need to have other devotees traveling within Europe to keep the importance of cow protection and agriculture prominent. Establishing some farm supervisors who assist the European Ministry may be a way to get this done.
Some key areas of my attention are to help the Mayapura and the Vrindavana goshalas become exemplary in India and have a positive effect in the country. These goshalas could demonstrate “best practices” to visitors. Srila Prabhupada hoped the Indian goshalas in ISKCON would be exemplary, but to date the Mayapura and Vrindavana goshalas do not seem to have achieved this status. Although Srila Prabhupada specifically mentioned that the Indian goshalas should be exemplary, any ISKCON goshala in any country should be exemplary and should be known in the country. For example, recently a company wanted the best ingredients for its coffee, and it selected Bhaktivedanta Manor as the place to obtain the best milk.
During 2014-15 there’ll be a Dairy Use survey of every project in Europe. This information will enable us to understand the needed size of the European herds and the local elements. Now it is not understood, country-by-country, how many cows there are and the resources they need. This survey will measure at least what is not being done and provide direction for increasing the dairies.
Rural project near Salem, Tamil Nadu
Suresvara: The project is 70 kms from Salem and a 5-to-6-hr drive from Chennai and Bangalore. Three families and four brahmacaris live there, along with a team of oxen and a cow and her calf. Each family was allocated a home and two acres of land, two-thirds of which is for growing their own food and one-third is for a cash crop, for the farm’s economy. In addition, the families help in the project’s communal field, and income from selling the produce helps develop and maintain the project.
The buildings, including a guesthouse, were constructed naturally. There’s no mainline electricity. A simple solar-energy system powers mobile phones and computers. The school system is home schooling.
The projected “return of investment” is arriving sooner than planned, because there’s a good demand for the natural products. Purchasers appreciate the quality of the produce and the natural growing methods. The crops grown are: rice, peanuts, sorghum, mung dahl, grains, tapioca, vegetables, and fruits. Tapioca is the main crop in the area, and it can be kept in the ground for a year without harvesting it.
Systemic Learning Session
Smita Krsna Swami: During this session we discussed the goal “all the food and dairy used by the temples and ISKCON projects should be grown by devotees.” All the participants contributed what they saw as the problems that hinder ISKCON in reaching the goal.
These problems were listed: Not the goal of the leaders; Lack of trained leadership; Lack of proper structure; Insufficient planning; Lack of local information and climatic conditions; Government rules; Financial problems; Lack of manpower; Competing desires; Unwillingness to follow authorities; Lack of dedicated people, land, and finances; Lack of good knowledge about farming; Devotees and guests lack interest; Little commitment and few qualified producers; Prices are high; and Trust of devotees is very low.
The next part of the session brought out that, in order to reach the goal, “leaders need solutions, and that will give hope.” It was discussed how all the members of this group are leaders and that there is a real need to be able to articulate solutions for their individual projects, and call for the assistance of the top leaders. To help the leaders there is a need to be able to present practical and do-able solutions.
Establishing ox work on your farm
Antardhi’s PowerPoint presentation was about the importance of having the appropriate people and types of oxen, the required machinery, and the right timing for various farm work. Antardhi is in charge of the working oxen in Hungary and also specializes in research and development. New Vrajadhama has taken Srila Prabhupada’s wish to use oxen very seriously and is committed to extensive ox work on the 300-hectare farm. The detailed PowerPoint presentation is a great asset; those interested in this topic may get a copy from George Kirs (email@example.com).
Tour of vegetable, fruit, and arable areas
The first day (Sept. 16) ended with a tour of Simhacalam’s food production areas. Two devotees, Krishna Karsani Prabhu and Dhuti Prabhu take responsibility for all these areas. The participants where shown the vegetable strips, herb gardens, flower areas, and the arable lands. Potatoes are available practically the whole year, except for a few weeks. Carrots are stored in sand, in a root cellar. A large, heated greenhouse enables flowers to be grown for Lord Narasimha ten months per year. The farm grows 200 kg of tomatoes (of 30 varieties) and about 300/400 kg of barley, 2500 kg of rye, and 1000 kg of spelt. A flour made by mixing these grains is ground in the barn and used to make wholesome bread (provided at each prasadam time). The arable lands are harvested using a local combine, and the spelt is cleaned by a local mill. Sunflowers are grown for bees and for the altar. A variety of vegetables are blanched and frozen for winter storage. Pickles and jams are made from the fruit. There are two cows, one giving milk for three years without having a calf. She still gives about seven litres per day. The milk is used by the Deities and then the devotees.
Global Village Initiative Committee (GCIC)
Kalakantha described how the GVIC was formulated and how it works. His participation in the European Farm Conference was sponsored by the GVIC, with a view to understanding how similar conferences may be arranged in North America and India. The GVIC mission: “The Global Village Initiative Committee was established to assist the ISKCON GBC, established ministries, and temples in promoting concepts and the best practices of sustainability and self-sufficiency within both ISKCON rural communities and city temples worldwide.” For more information about its work, please write to BhaktiRaghavaMaharaja@pamho.net.
The mayor of Jandelsbruun addresses the conference
The mayor, adorned with a Deity garland, greeted everyone with “Hare Krishna” and said that he feels he belongs to the community, because it is in the same area as the town. His father is an agriculturalist, so farming is also close to his heart. When he was ten years old, the farm devotees used a bullock cart to transport him and some invited guests to a venue. He appreciated the wide European participation at the conference and offered his help in any way. He stayed for an hour and heard a presentation.
Agriculture and cow protection that works in ISKCON Europe
Syamasundara conducted a session asking the audience to list the types of rural activities that are currently working to grow the economy on our farms. The reason for this session was to produce a list of current practices, which will be used as a resource. Whilst nothing on the list will be surprising, it can be drawn on by local projects.
The list is as follows:
- Selling grass or fodder to visitors to feed the cows. This lets visitors interact with cows and feel the pleasure and derive the benefit of feeding them. The food is safe and it simultaneously makes good use of agricultural produce, grass, fodders, and edible weeds. Bhaktivedanta Manor sells baskets of fodder at £2 per basket.
- Training oxen and working them. There are a number of places around Europe that train oxen and engage them in work. New Vrajadhama’s ox drivers are supported and thus can dedicate their energy to working the oxen. Bhaktivedanta Manor pays a maintenance salary to their ox workers. Supporting ox workers results in persons to work oxen.
- Farm tours. At Bhaktivedanta Manor visiting schoolchildren also get to ride an ox-cart and tour the goshala. This brings an income to the temple and the farm. On Sundays there is also an ox tour, during which the farm’s activities are described; passengers pay £1 per person for this ride.
- Selling organic food to farmers markets and other speciality markets. There are a few families around our European farms who make a living by growing food and selling it at local markets, speciality markets, and speciality restaurants and hotels. Generally the food is sold at twice the conventional pricing. Anjaneya Prabhu in Sweden specialises in organic food. Gunarahi Prabhu and Rukmini Prabhu in Italy specialise in many products: breads, grains, preserved foods, honey products, soaps, and cosmetics.
- Honey sales. New Vrajadhama produces 2,000 kg of honey annually from 120 hives and there is a very active market for it. The Krsnadvur farm in Czech produces 300 kg of honey and wants to develop to having 500 hives. Some farms’ bee populations have been damaged by varoa mites.
- Cow manure products. Bhumi Priya of Hugletts Farm near Brighton makes products from cow dung and sells them to temples, markets, and private customers. Some of her products are composts, cow-dung patties, and plant food. The Manor sells cow-dung patties and bags of rotted cow manure.
- Cow Urine. Distilled cow urine sells at £28 a litre, which is more valuable than some brands of whiskey. There is a market for cow urine for both ceremonial purposes and medical applications. Purchasers use it for skin diseases, some kidney and liver complaints, and other ailments. There is established Ayurvedic knowledge about the benefits of products made from cow dung and urine.
- Wheatgrass juice. Devotees around Budapest have steady customers buying trays of wheat-grass for juicing at home. Wheatgrass and other cereals have established medical and tonic values. The devotees growing wheatgrass sequentially in a simple greenhouse.
- Forestry. In Almviksgaard, devotees harvest the forest and provide wood for the heating systems and the local families. The revenue from this is maintaining the foresters. Many people use horses in forestry work, but oxen should work our forests.
- Foraging. There are a number of devotees who forage in the countryside and turn herbs and fruits into dried and preserved products, either for their own use or for that of customers.
- Flour. The Czech farm has a successful flour business, selling organic flours to health shops and private customers. The grain is grown on the farm
- Guesthouses. At most of our rural projects guesthouses are successfully providing accommodation and food not only to devotees but others.
- Prasadam or food business. It is well established that most of our restaurants work. Transforming homegrown produce into higher value food items is successful in many of our projects, and many families also do this.
- Dairy products. There is a demand for high-value, high-ethical milk products. There are not many such sales within Europe, as there is not enough capacity. But where it is being done, the demand is greater than the supply.
- Lunch and Cultural Programmes. A number of farms have cultural programmes that include providing prasada. In general these are successful and can be expanded.
- Hosting WWOOF/Workaway/Helpex volunteers. Most farms in Europe now host volunteers from these three organisations. Many people are willing to help on the farms in return for food and accommodation. Most of these people are students.
- Cow sponsorship and other monthly donor schemes. Goshalas can be supported by donors of various types. The monthly donors, through a standing order or direct debit, are particularly important in that they help give stability and financial security to goshala projects. Most goshalas have such a scheme, but there is more that can be done to develop them.
- Training and Education. New Vrajadhama is quite successful in offering training and education on a variety of aspects of rural projects.
- European grants. A wide variety of grants have been acquired by various projects around Europe, and there is much scope to explore these further.
- Olive oil. A number of warmer farms grow olive trees, and there is a lot of demand for olive oil.
- Hosting small businesses. Some farms rent space to devotees’ small businesses. In Almviksgaard there are two devotee-run building companies, a bakery business, and a horticultural business. Rural projects often have lots of facilities, with scope to provide rented space for small businesses.
- Writing and selling books. In Hungary some devotees have written books about rural crafts and so on. Some are now selling the third printing of their books.
- Selling hay. The Czech farm grows and sells surplus hay to equestrian interests.
- Restoring old farm equipment. In New Vrajadhama there is a small business of purchasing old farm equipment, restoring it, and then selling it to farmers with working horses.
- Selling seeds and plants. A number of farms are selling seeds and plants.
- Donations. Many people are inspired to support cow protection projects and will offer financial aid to maintain cows and further develop the projects.
On Wednesday, Sept 17th, the attendees went into the barn cellars to see the Simhacalam farm’s boiler, hot-water pumps, and wood-chip storage area. The farm has used a wood-chip heating system for many years. The attendees also saw the root cellars used for storing pumpkins, potatoes, and the jams, marmalades, and fruit juices preserved in Simhacalam’s kitchens. The farm not only burns bio-mass but has a water-treatment system that purifies the dirty water to such a clean level that it can be discharged into a pond and then into the local river. The solids are collected by a waste-handling company and composted.
The farm has a large array of tractor and ox equipment, though now there are no working oxen. In its history oxen were plowing the fields, cultivating, and transporting around the farm and local area. We all await those days again.
New Santipura, Poland
Govardana Lal, the main farmer, used photos to show the farm’s activities: grain growing, vegetable production, bee keeping, forestry, and milking cows (about 20 litres daily). Oxen worked until recently, when they passed on. A young bull’s future is as a working ox. A few families live in the area.
Aravind showed us videos and photos of the small herd of cows: two Kerry (a small, black Irish breed) and a Jersey that just gave birth to a bull calf. There are no working oxen, but the young bull will be trained. The Kerry cow’s milk is drinkable by people who cannot drink other breeds’ milk. The farm uses a small pony owned by a devotee to harrow fields that are hand-sown with oats and other grains.
The temple is on a 17-acre island in a lake. Beside the temple are two poly-tunnels (30m by 7m). The devotees follow the advice of growers who demonstrated how to produce food year round in a poly-tunnel. There is an acre of fruit trees. Thirteen devotees are in the temple, and the local community has seven families.
Krsnadvur (Krishna Valley), Czech
Varnasrama and his wife, Padmamukhi, explained the developments. One frustration was that trained people left the farm after getting married and having children. To retain devotees, Varnasrama changed the relationship his key devotees had with the project. Now department leaders can maintain their families with a percentage of the income. Each department has to work within its own economy and be self-supporting. Twenty percent of the income is for the maintenance of the Deities and the central areas of the farm. With this system in place for two years, the productivity of a number of departments has succeeded and improved. The farm economy is the best it has ever been. A board comprised of all the department members moderates the departments. While all service in the temple is voluntary, those engaged in the farm project can earn something for the Deities and their family. As a result of the new system and policy, prasada distribution increased. In 1997, income from prasada was 2 euros per month; now it is 5,000 euros per month. Fifteen families live around the farm, and there are seven cows. The cows have not been impregnated for a while, but this will start again. Cows still give milk over a stretched lactation. A devotee will be maintained to care for the cows. Milk will be sold to devotees at the temple price (2 euros per litre).
The farm grows a large array of grains, which are used by a flour-milling business and a prasada business. The farm grows 20 tons of grain, 12 tons of peas, 2 tons of spelt, and 6 tons of other grains. Besides the 12 hectares of land they own, they rent 40 hectares. Some land is used to grow organic hay, which is sold to
people keeping horses. Some grains are used at the Govinda’s restaurants in Prague. The plan is to work more closely with Govinda’s restaurants to grow more food for them. An outlet of one restaurant is providing meals to offices and homes. The farm has planted 1,500 quick-growing trees that will be used as bio-mass for fires and the heating systems, and this will be increased to allow for self-sufficiency. The trees are cut back and then re-grown, which is called coppicing.
Over the past few years there has been a competition in working oxen. Each farm is asked to record (or estimate) their ox work over the previous year. The length of time the oxen are in the yoke times the number of oxen used is calculated. This year New Vrajadhama was awarded first place, having completed 5500 hours in 2013. Bhaktivedanta Manor came in second with 3,400 hours. Smita Krsna Swami handed the winners their certificates.
There is much work to be done to increase the working of oxen in Europe.
Ox-working study, with times for each agricultural activity
Antardhi gave a detailed analysis of how long it takes to perform various agricultural activities using oxen. He goaded the audience, saying that if we follow his study we will be able to beat New Vrajadham. He showed how you could put in 30,000 ox hours. The study had times for ploughing, cultivation, manure spreading, hay cutting, hay tedding, hay rowing, hay loading and stacking in the barn (using a hay lifter in the field and doing it manually at the barn), transportation, and using an ox mill for threshing, grinding grain, cutting wood, electricity production, etc. I highly recommend his study for those interested in working oxen. The study can be obtained from George Kirs Kirs (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Cows and mother Earth
Smita Krsna Swami talked about the close connection between the cows and mother Earth. In the Srimad Bhagavatam mother Earth takes the shape of a cow four times. His talk brought us into a deeper connection
with Krishna, the cows, and the earth. We should surrender to the arrangement of Krishna and reform the world. Peace comes by being with the cows and oxen. The earth is saving us. We say we are going to save the cow, but maybe the cow is going to save us. A temple in Chenai performs the marriage ceremony of mother Earth and Varahadeva (Vishnu). Serve Krishna by serving the cows, which is pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. Cow protection is part of brahminical culture and is preaching. We are known as a place that does not kill cows.
Afternoon potato harvesting
When the conference concluded on Sept 18 h, there was time to spare. Many of the visiting devotees volunteered to help harvest potatoes. A tractor drove up the rows with an attached potato lifter and wiggle separator. Then a line of devotees picked up the potatoes and loaded them into the sacks and crates.
Attitudes of gratitude for the conference
- I learned something and will take away a lot of ideas. Thanks for the association.
- Good inspiration for working with the oxen and the bees.
- Very inspiring. Don’t usually see so many farmer devotees.
- Nice presentations and all spiritual things.
- Inspired to meet the farmers. Very grateful.
- Thank you. Very inspired to continue with ox work.
- Learned a lot. Will take many ideas away with us. Very happy.
- Will take to the countries I visit. I have learned a lot. Would like to go to the next one.
The participants at the Farm Conference expressed their wishes that the annual conferences continue next year. They also requested that the conference be held on a farm that has not hosted a conference. Therefore the European Farm Conference for 2015 will be in New Mayapura in the second or third week of September (or Villa Vrindavana if New Mayapura is unavailable). So far there have been farm conferences at New Vrajadhama, Hungary; Prabhupada-desh, Italy; Bhaktivedanta Manor, England; New Vrajamandala, Spain; Almviksgaard, Sweden; and Simhacalam, Germany. Those interested in attending the next conference can contact email@example.com and watch for announcements on Dandavats.com around mid-2015.