for ISKCON News on Aug. 27, 2011
I must say it was a memorable event, spending 2 weeks at the Saranagati Eco Village community focusing primarily on compiling a document that will hopefully help further the cause of varnasrama dharma development. The invitation to spend quality time at Saranagati came from one of the pioneers and most seasoned farmer of this mature community of senior Vaisnavas going back some 30+ years, Sriman Bala Krsna das who operates his own personal farm of some 160 acres [Bhumi Farms] in addition to government forestland covering over 1000 acres that he manages practically single-handedly.
Saranagati village is located in the historical Venables Valley, near Cache Creek and Ashcroft, amidst various communities of Amerindians who not so long ago governed those hilly lands. This small Vaisnava village (altogether covering some 3,500 acres and having some 30 families) is some three and a half hours east of Vancouver city in the Canadian Province of British Columbia. Living as a cooperative, the resident devotees have their own private Krishna conscious school attended by some 17 devotee-children all taught by local devotee teachers. Over the years Saranagati has been holding regular Harvest Festivals and other seminars on permaculture with Bill Morrison, the ‘father of permaculture’, having personally conducted a workshop in the community way back in 1993. Last year many of the local Amerindians participated in Lord Balarama’s Harvest Festival playing their traditional drums going well in the night of the full moon night.
Although I had visited Saranagati Eco Village in the past, I had never stayed more than a few days. The timing for this visit coincided with the peak period of the harvest season when devotees from the local community are invited to a ‘garden pick-nick’ to help harvest the thousands of ripened raspberries and the fresh green peas which hide under the seemingly unending green garden beds. Bhumi Farms also grows an assortment of other local vegetables in its nearby gardens, along with the less known sunchokes and Jerusalem artichokes.
Living in close proximity with nature and with devotees who are serious farmers gives a deeper insight in what is involved to grow food and to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Bala Krsna’s life begins early in the morning just before sunrise with a furry of activities lined up for the day. This generally begins with changing the dried fruits that have been in the dryer all night. Homemade bread is practically a daily affair and this also needs to get underway if one expects to have toast and homemade apricot jam for breakfast. Making a daily list of ‘things to do’, Bala Krsna sets about moving around the many gardens he oversees and the only breaks during the day are for honoring Krishna prasadam and meeting various guests who drop by the house or the garden.
Although most of my time was spent inside working on my document, I did make a few visits to the garden to take a few photos and to associate with some of the local resident devotees, in particular Vicaru prabhu whom I had not seen for some 35+ years and to whom I am ever grateful for having given me my first Hare Krishna book on Rideau Street in Ottawa in the summer of 1973 and inviting me to my very first Sunday Love Feast. The most pleasing event for me was to see the near completed new goshala and to hear of the unfolding plans to purchase a cow. With the help of a few devotees such as Kripanidhi prabhu and Madana Mohana prabhu, Bala Krsna was putting together a small cowshed and searching on the Internet for a suitable cow. I suggested that the devotees look into acquiring the brahmana breed of cows, the exact same breed that our Minister of cow protection, Balabhadra prabhu, had acquired two years ago at his New Vraja Dham farm adjoining New Vrindavana. The devotees were also following leads on Dexter cows that were more easily available in the northern part of British Columbia. I also visited the sunchoke field where Bala Krsna is growing this cash crop on one acre of fertile land. The rye crop was golden in color and ready for harvesting. The last time I had come to Saranagati and walked the fields I had witnessed the activities of the local bears that would come and methodically pluck out the carrots from the fields. This time, no bear was in sight.
The title of the working document, Bhakti Eco Village Development Plan
, was partly chosen by Bala Krsna’s daughter, Krishna deva mataji, a second-generation devotee mother who felt that the word “Bhakti” would make for a very catchy title. The whole document gradually took shape as each version added more dimensions to the topic at hand. Although not the final version, Version.4 is the one that brought attention and support from the different devotees.
The gist of this paper covers the need for setting up ‘Action Teams’ of devotees who can promote the cause of varnasrama on a much larger scale and among various members of our immediate community of devotees as well as among our Indian families living in Canada. Although the document was written largely for a Canadian audience, its basic principles and premises easily apply to any and all rural communities endeavoring to develop and expand.
In particular, the Saranagati Eco Village community has already done substantial groundwork entailing expenditure close to $ 200,00 to prepare the grounds for an irrigation pipe system that could feasibly irrigate a large portion of the valley converting the existing agriculture fields covering a few hundred acres into productive and fertile lands. The Government of BC was willing to match in grants the expenditures needed to take up the ambitious pipeline project that would bring natural source water from a distance of 11 kilometers. With the plans to establish the Bhakti Eco Village Foundation that could help raise such funds, the door would open for this somewhat dormant community to open up new horizons.
One of the much needed features for any rural community to develop is to set up as early as possible a Varnasrama College where both local and foreign students can come to learn and experience first hand the science of simple living and high thinking. Both Bala Krsna prabhu and I discussed and envisioned how one day in the not too distant future we would see the Saranagati Varnasrama College offering various courses on organic farming and cow protection. Fund raising forms an integral part of this document for without the much-needed capital support, at least in the initial stages, most communities will not flourish. In our daily discussions, Bala Krsna and I would recall how in the Vedic times Kings would provide such infrastructure in way of free land and various irrigation facilities so that local farmers only needed to concentrate on farming.
Daily I would spend time discussing my assignment with Bala Krsna as he had many important realizations to share regarding the development of this large estate with which Srila Prabhupada has blessed the devotees. He introduced me to the books and ideology of one of the foremost ecologist and activist in India, Dr. Vandana Shiva, who has been pioneering the cause of neglected farmers in India many of whom have been robbed of their farmlands, seduced or forced to take up slave factory work in the cities and thus abandon their more simple traditional lifestyle. Soil not Oil is the title of one of her books and many of the ideas she professes are directly in line with our Vedic teachings as demonstrated by this short excerpt from her book:
“Climate chaos and peak oil are converging with a third crisis – the food crisis. The food crisis results from the combined impacts of the industrialization and globalization of agriculture….The real solution must be to search for right living…right living is “dharma”… Ecological balance and social justice are intrinsic to right livelihood, to dharma. “Dharanath dharma ucyat” – that which sustains all species of life and helps maintain harmonious relationships among them is “dharma”. That which disturbs the balance and her species is “adharma”.
(Dr. Vandana Shiva, Environmentalist, Scientist, Writer, and Activist)
By the end of my two weeks stay, we held a small Istaghosti with some of the local devotees who offered various ideas to help further develop the proposal. The general response was positive and the devotees were looking for further development of the document.
I came to know at the tail end of my visit to Saranagati Eco Village that my nephew Brent whom I had not seen for over 20 years has become a committed ‘farmer’ in the area. Fortune was such that after sending him a short message at an old email address, he called the very next day to offer his respects to Uncle Ray. I was pleasantly surprised and greatly enthused to hear how he had acquired a 45 acre piece of land at Crawford Bay near the famous Kutini Lake. Little did I know that the whole area is one of the most fertile lands after the famed Okanagan Valley. I introduced him to Bala Krsna with the hope that he would possibly attend some of the workshops held on occasion at Saranagati Eco Village. In his last 8 years developing the farm, he had come across the concepts of permaculture and was reading one of Bill Morrison’s books, a good meeting ground with Bala Krsna.
If any of our readers would like to personally experience those cherry pies and raspberry toasted jam, July/August are the ideal months to visit. Your visit will surely be a memorable one as well.
For more information, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the site http://www.saranagati.ca
Readers may write to the author for a copy of the working document BHAKTI ECO VILLAGE DEVELOPMENT PLAN at Bhakti.Raghava.Swami@pamho.net
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