BACK IN 1977, ...
His Divine Grace returned to Vrindavana after a brief journey to the West, a trip intended to show the practical side of implementing Daivi-varnasrama dharma.
What a disappointment that Srila Prabhupada was physically inhibited in his efforts. As a result, many of our rural communities have floundered over the decades due to the loss of His Divine Grace’s practical example and teachings.
REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE
As we are aware, Srila Prabhupada never advocated anything un-Krishna conscious, and we all have real-world experience of the benefits – material and spiritual – of a devotional lifestyle. Unfortunately, the pleasure of a rural experience has escaped many of us.
A practical example: My good wife, an excellent cook, whipped up a potato preparation one day for the Lord. Heavens, did it look good, but upon tasting, it was bitter. Very bitter.
Questioning my wife if she had messed up the spicing, she revealed that the day before we had run out of our home-grown potatoes and that these were store-bought. What an unexpected realization of simple living and a lucid glimpse of the practicality and benefit of our acarya’s teachings.
We had already realized the opulence of offering straight from the garden, but this provided a deep appreciation of His Divine Grace’s instruction, that is a home-grown vegetable is worth 100 of those from the market. This really hit home. Just see the privilege and advantage of a life stemming from growing one’s own food. Even materially-speaking, Krishna consciousness never fails.
In today’s Western world, a mere 1.5 to 2% of the population are dedicated to farming, forcing an industrialization of food production while segregating the majority from a rural experience. The result is that many urban children believe that vegetables are produced right in the grocery store. Another survey revealed that 17% of city-dwellers consider chocolate milk a byproduct of a black cow. Isn’t this a scary state of affairs?
So, there is a massive disconnect from one of life’s basics, the importance of growing food. Theoretically, we can sleep under a tree, walk naked, forgo sex, but food remains essential.
CAN WE LEARN FROM SCIENCE?
Anthropologists confirm this by classifying diverse societies via the manner on how they produce food, even though each culture has different means of distributing wealth, governance and land ownership. But science determines that it is the means of food production which designates each society. Is there a lesson here for our devotional community?
The technological evolvement of society, beginning from a localized self-sufficient village, to regional city states, culminating in today’s international state of affairs, remains impregnated by self-interest. The modern status quo exhibits no change in consciousness -- nor understanding of one’s place in nature -- compared to historically-held attitudes.
Human Geography illustrates that advances in technology do not result in an evolution of consciousness. In fact, the self-interest of the teamster and that of a plane pilot mirror each other. Their shared self-interest is to exploit material resources for individual benefit. A sustainable transformation from this bias demands the introduction of Krishna consciousness; i.e. a pragmatic understanding of the true ownership of resources and their required dovetailing.
VARNASHRAM AND DIET
This highlights the importance of varna and ashram. Both must exist and act cooperatively. Krishna consciousness turns the world upside down in its practical application; however, the Krishna conscious society is challenged on how to practically implement their ecological footprint.
Historically, the movement has focused on ‘cow protection,’ yet, curiously ignores utilizing the bull. In a practical sense, ox-draft destroys today’s social construct. It forces a return to simple living, resulting in a repopulation of the countryside and coerces a reevaluation of modern paradigms.
The Vaisnava agricultural community needs to refocus from a myopic emphasis on dairy to the production of a broader diet. Afterall, how much milk, yogurt and cheese can we consume on a daily basis? Certainly grain, fruit, veggies and dahl all require a greater respect in agricultural planning, if nutritional demands are to be met.
IT AIN'T JUST POOP
Let us reflect again on the potato subji. Taste is often an indicator of nutritional value and these potatoes were primarily a product of cow dung. Though the herd is the nexus of agricultural development, their monopoly of land resources to milk must be rethought, if broader self-reliance is to be part of our future.
Approximately, 80% of the nutrition which goes in the front end of a cow exits the rear. As a result, the manure contains valuable N, P & K (nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium) resources; however, this is only a glimpse of the poop’s potency as this fertilizer is also jam-packed with biota -- living entities -- whose role is to liberate soil fertility and provide nourishment for crops. This may even provide a greater contribution to society than milk production. Of course, this benefit can only be realized when a broader diet is being grown on the farm.
Since these manure machines travel by legs, it allows them to recycle fertility from otherwise non-productive land. Their presence is crucial for agricultural sustainability -- due to their role in maintaining soil tilth – so, long-term livestock management requires a deeper understanding of the herd’s position in the farm ecology.
A general soil test calculates the nutrients found in the soil solution which are available to the plant. If there is a shortage of fertility, in relation to maximum production, a recommendation for a fertilizer application is generated. However, the test does not estimate the nutriments held in the soil profile, which, in reality, eclipses the inventory provided by the solubilized elements.
It is general practice to only measure the N, P & K benefit of manure. However, the manure’s immediate richness provides just a fraction of the nutrients available to plants in a living soil. It is the living component of the soil which liberates nourishment held in an insoluble state, releasing fertility unavailable to a conventionally-managed crop.
In addition to the N, P & K macronutrients, many micronutrients are simultaneously liberated by the soil fauna. It is a combination of these two factors which caused the improved taste of the afore-mentioned potato delicacy.
IT AIN’T JUST DIRT
One soil scientist, Dr. Elaine Ingham, advocates that the fertility value of manure/compost is eclipsed by that made available through soil zoology. This is a revolutionary concept when considered in relation to the modern means of farming.
This is further indication of the importance of the cows to farm and society. It highlights a lost opportunity -- if the focus is monopolized solely on dairy -- rather than on their essential place in a broader effort of food production. This highlights the glories of our bovine partners in developing a sustainable, devotional footprint.
The Biodynamic Agriculture system, initially advocated by Rudolf Steiner, demands a livestock base, if one is to achieve Biodynamic certification (Demeter).
During my stint as a farm inspector in the organic foods industry, the senior inspector, one of my teachers from college, who performed both organic and Demeter inspections, informed me that he considered the Biodynamic farmers to be the best in the province. Their esoteric outlook is married to proper methods of composting, crop rotation and animal husbandry, all keys to food sustainability.
The importance of the bulls and cows to a self-reliant diet cannot be over-emphasized. The herd’s presence demands a diversity of crops and the associated crop rotation. Historically, Iskcon farm practice has neglected the full benefit of the cows due to the near-monopolization of land resources to hay and pasture.
If our devotional rural communities are to evolve, the Vaisnava lifestyle must expand from yukta-vairagya. Where would the movement be without the printing press, the Dictaphone, Srila Prabhupada’s travel via airplane, etc. However, in planning a varnashram community, utilization of available material assets must be employed minimally and on an interim basis. As possible, our goal is to step outside of modern conveniences, if in the long run, they prove to be at cross-purpose to simple living.
However, emulating Srila Prabhupada’s practicality, if the use of modern farm implements is required, then by all means do so. But the intention must be on developing a lifestyle which employs the oxen, to the highest degree possible.
However, the ultimate goal is to step outside of contemporary society by producing our own milk, veggies, fruit, dahls and grain. That must be foremost in our consideration and our acarya, Srila Prabhupada, demands no less.
However, development will differ project to project subject to resources. If a tractor is required, better that -- in order to be able to offer nature’s bounty to the Deities -- than not. But, as cow and bull protectors, oxen need to be included in medium- and long-term planning.
The means of food production is an essential part of the definition of simple living and we are folly to ignore this fact. Simple living means varna and all indicators in this regard point to a pastoral lifestyle.
LET'S PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH
Considering the rich philosophical resources provided by His Divine Grace, what is required is a mature effort at merging Vedic philosophy with practical action.
The devotee populace reflects that of current society leaving many of us without an understanding of agricultural practice. However, farming is not as difficult as it may seem and growing organic field crops is not rocket science. Certainly, horticulture poses a greater challenge, but none are insurmountable. Experience has shown that one learns by doing, so let us make the first step by getting our hands dirty by producing a wide array of crops for the pleasure of Their Lordships and Srila Prabhupada. On every stop on the way, we will be the benefactors.
As His Divine Grace would remark: “what is the difficulty?”
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.