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Monday, August 30, 2010

Move To Curb Factory Farms Gains Momentum

WEST MANSFIELD, Ohio — Concessions by farmers in this state to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and veal calves are the latest sign that so-called factory farming — a staple of modern agriculture that is seen by critics as inhumane and a threat to the environment and health — is on the verge of significant change.
Kirk Irwin for The New York Times

Tim Weaver in a chicken-packed aisle of Heartland Quality Egg Farm, which he owns, in West Mansfield, Ohio.

Kirk Irwin for The New York Times

Mr. Weaver insists that the chickens on his farm are content and less prone to disease than those in barnyard flocks.

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A recent agreement between farmers and animal rights activists here is a rare compromise in the bitter and growing debate over large-scale, intensive methods of producing eggs and meat, and may well push farmers in other states to give ground, experts say. The rising consumer preference for more “natural” and local products and concerns about pollution and antibiotic use in giant livestock operations are also driving change.

The surprise truce in Ohio follows stronger limits imposed by California voters in 2008; there, extreme caging methods will be banned altogether by 2015. In another sign of the growing clout of the animal welfare movement, a law passed in California this year will also ban imports from other states of eggs produced in crowded cages. Similar limits were approved last year in Michigan and less sweeping restrictions have been adopted in Florida, Arizona and other states.

Hoping to avoid a divisive November referendum that some farmers feared they would lose, Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio urged farm leaders to negotiate with opponents, led by the Humane Society of the United States. After secret negotiations, the sides agreed to bar new construction of egg farms that pack birds in cages, and to phase out the tight caging of pregnant sows within 15 years and of veal calves by 2017.

Farmers in Ohio have accepted the agreement with chagrin, saying they sense that they must bend with the political and cultural winds. Tim Weaver, whose grandparents started selling eggs in the early 20th century, is proud of his state-of-the art facilities, where four million birds produce more than three million eggs a day. In just one typical barn here at his Heartland Quality Egg Farm, 268,000 small white hens live in cages about the size of an open newspaper, six or seven to a cage.

Mr. Weaver said that after his initial shock at the agreement, he has accepted it as necessary. He will not be immediately affected since it allows existing egg farms to continue but bars new ones with similar cages. He defends his methods, saying, “My own belief is that I’m doing the right thing.”

Egg production is at the center of the debate because more than 90 percent of the country’s eggs are now produced in the stacked rows of cages that critics call inhumane.

Ohio is the country’s second-largest egg producer, after Iowa. In the modern version of an egg barn, hordes of hens live with computer-controlled air circulation, lighting and feeding, their droppings whisked away by conveyor belt for recycling as fertilizer. As the hens jostle one other, their eggs roll onto a belt to be washed, graded and packed without ever being touched by human hands.

Mr. Weaver insists that his chickens are content and less prone to disease than those in barnyard flocks, saying, “If our chickens aren’t healthy and happy, they won’t be as productive.”

Keeping chickens in cages is cruel and unnecessary, counter advocates like Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, which has played a central role in the state-by-state battles. “Animals that are built to move should be allowed to move,” he said in an interview, and for chickens that means space for dust-bathing, perching and nesting.

The assertion that animals must be “happy” to be productive is not accurate, Mr. Pacelle added, pointing to abnormal behaviors like head waving or bar-biting and to a loss of bone density in confined animals.

In the mid-20th century, developments in animal nutrition and farm technologies as well as economic competition spurred the emergence of large-scale farms, often driving out small farmers who could not afford the large capital investments or survive the lower prices.

Now, the United Egg Producers, a national trade group, says that egg prices would rise by 25 percent if all eggs were produced by uncaged hens, putting stress on consumers and school lunch programs. Animal proponents say that better noncage methods could be developed and that price is not the ultimate issue anyway.

The American Veal Association, under pressure from consumers, agreed in 2007 to phase out the close confinement of calves by 2017. The requirement in the California law and the Ohio agreement to phase out the use of “gestation crates” on hog farms will have much wider effects.

The family of Irv Bell, 64, has been growing hogs in Zanesville, Ohio, since the 19th century. Where males and females were once put into a pen to mate, sows are now inseminated artificially and most are kept through their pregnancy in a 2-by-7-foot crate, in which they can lie down but not turn.

“I work with the hogs every day, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with gestation crates,” he said. “But I have to be aware of things on the horizon, the bigger things at work.”

Formally, the new Ohio agreement only makes recommendations to a state livestock standards board, and getting opponents to recognize the authority of that board was an important achievement, said Keith Stimpert, a senior vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “We all know change is coming,” Mr. Stimpert said, adding that farmers would also respond to demands by consumers and restaurants for free-range products.

“But is this how we’re going to deal with these issues, on a state-by-state basis?” he asked. That timetables and rules differ among states is going to cause economic harm, he said.

The Humane Society of the United States, for its part, is already picking new targets. The advocates have the most leverage, Mr. Pacelle said, in the states that permit referendums. He said that the issues were likely to be pressed in Washington and Oregon. Winning concessions may be harder, he acknowledged, in states without referendums, including Iowa and the South.

Meanwhile, a new dispute over chicken cages is already brewing in California. The breakthrough 2008 law said that animals could be confined only in ways that allowed them “to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” Egg producers and even some animal advocates say this may permit housing hens in larger “enriched cages,” with perches and nesting spots.

Mr. Pacelle asserts that no form of caging can meet a chicken’s needs for “running, flying and wing flapping” and that denying these impulses can cause a rise in stress hormones.

“There’s going to be a legal wrangle over this,” Mr. Pacelle predicted.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Portugal Gives Itself A Clean-Energy Makeover

Click here to read the full article from the New York Times

Still, aggressive national policies to accelerate renewable energy use are succeeding in Portugal and some other countries, according to a recent report by IHS Emerging Energy Research of Cambridge, Mass., a leading energy consulting firm. By 2025, the report projected, Ireland, Denmark and Britain will also get 40 percent or more of their electricity from renewable sources; if power from large-scale hydroelectric dams, an older type of renewable energy, is included, countries like Canada and Brazil join the list.

The United States, which last year generated less than 5 percent of its power from newer forms of renewable energy, will lag behind at 16 percent (or just over 20 percent, including hydroelectric power), according to IHS.

To force Portugal’s energy transition, Mr. Sócrates’s government restructured and privatized former state energy utilities to create a grid better suited to renewable power sources. To lure private companies into Portugal’s new market, the government gave them contracts locking in a stable price for 15 years — a subsidy that varied by technology and was initially high but decreased with each new contract round.

Compared with the United States, European countries have powerful incentives to pursue renewable energy. Many, like Portugal, have little fossil fuel of their own, and the European Union’s emissions trading system discourages fossil fuel use by requiring industry to essentially pay for excessive carbon dioxide emissions.

Portugal was well poised to be a guinea pig because it has large untapped resources of wind and river power, the two most cost-effective renewable sources. Government officials say the energy transformation required no increase in taxes or public debt, precisely because the new sources of electricity, which require no fuel and produce no emissions, replaced electricity previously produced by buying and burning imported natural gas, coal and oil. By 2014 the renewable energy program will allow Portugal to fully close at least two conventional power plants and reduce the operation of others.

“So far the program has placed no stress on the national budget” and has not created government debt, said Shinji Fujino, head of the International Energy Agency’s country study division.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

India Asks: Should Food Be A Right For The Poor?

Click here to read the full article from the New York Times

JHABUA, India — Inside the drab district hospital, where dogs patter down the corridors, sniffing for food, Ratan Bhuria’s children are curled together in the malnutrition ward, hovering at the edge of starvation. His daughter, Nani, is 4 and weighs 20 pounds. His son, Jogdiya, is 2 and weighs only eight.

Jogdiya, 2, lay with an intravenous drip in the Jhabua District Government Hospital as his father, Ratan Bhuria, looked after him and his 4-year-old sister. More Photos »

Landless and illiterate, drowned by debt, Mr. Bhuria and his ailing children have staggered into the hospital ward after falling through India’s social safety net. They should receive subsidized government food and cooking fuel. They do not. The older children should be enrolled in school and receiving a free daily lunch. They are not. And they are hardly alone: India’s eight poorest states have more people in poverty — an estimated 421 million — than Africa’s 26 poorest nations, one study recently reported.

For the governing Indian National Congress Party, which has staked its political fortunes on appealing to the poor, this persistent inability to make government work for people like Mr. Bhuria has set off an ideological debate over a question that once would have been unthinkable in India: Should the country begin to unshackle the poor from the inefficient, decades-old government food distribution system and try something radical, like simply giving out food coupons, or cash?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Food And Faith: Agriculture As A Theological Act

From Kent Hayden at the Huffington Post

Wendell Berry has said that eating is an agricultural act. I have always suspected that agriculture is a theological act. The way we produce and consume something as basic as our food not only determines our physical and environmental health but is a reflection of our social health and a contributing factor of our spiritual health. This is an idea that should disturb and excite us. If eating is agricultural and agriculture is theological, then right eating is a sign of faith, and unjust, aesthetically bankrupt eating endangers the soul.

I have suspected this connection since my grandfather washed his farm-calloused hands in holy water to baptize my infant head. My memories of the rattling of Grandpa's tractor are mixed with those of the booming of his preaching. I always imagined there was a link between the strength of his faith and the strength of his milker's grip. But for the first 25 years of my life, these loosely held notions remained in the background of my thinking and living. I was discontented with both the fast food and fast religion of our society. I gave up both, but was only rewarded with the occasional surge of self-righteousness as I passed by a burger joint hungry or turned off a radio sermon pessimistic. I knew that the easy food and easy religion that I had used to fuel my body and my soul for most of my life were bad for me. But I thought fasting was the only solution.

By the time I graduated from seminary, I was beginning to see signs of hope in our public discourse. People were talking about food and farming in meaningful ways. People were raising their voices in support of a religion that got its hands dirty. I came to possess the dangerous combination of optimism, conviction, and discontent that sometimes leads to an adventure. I was craving a meaningful way of life, which neither my years of consuming nor fasting had provided, and I suspected that the best place to look was in the very garden from which our food choices had excluded us long ago. I applied for an internship on a little organic farm in Washington state, packed up some clothes, a tent, and my dog, and hit the road.

For the past three weeks, I have been living, working, and eating with dirty hands. In those three weeks, I have showered a total of six times, blistered my hands five, watched 21 sunsets and 15 sunrises, lain under a garden sprinkler twice, floated down the Yakima river three times, and sunburned my neck too often to mention. I have been stopped short by beauty every day, and I have fallen asleep contented every night.

The spiritual abundance I have enjoyed while living with a sore back and blistered hands cannot be explained by the food I have eaten. I have eaten well before. It is not due to the awe I have experienced. I have been immersed in beauty before. It grows from the blisters and the aches themselves, earned in pursuit of a simple good thing. It is the result of reordering my understanding of "the good" to include struggling against and overcoming the benevolent afflictions of early mornings and long, hot days. The solution to the discontent of a fast food culture and a fast food religion is not just a rejection of the fruit of these societal trends. It is a total metanoia; a mind-turning towards a theological and culinary aesthetic that includes both difficulty and satisfaction as parts of the good.

Our preachers must proclaim the complex mix of the painful and sublime that constitutes the true beauty of creation. Our faith communities must invite us into this beauty, by tearing down the white picket fences we have built between our self-referential good and evil. We must open up new fields for working and growing, and put ourselves to the difficult task of relationship building. Likewise, our food system must reclaim the value and dignity of hard work by connecting consumers to producers through community gardens, CSAs, and local, seasonal eating. We must demand that "fair trade" ceases to be a luxury, so that when we meet the men and women whose hands have given us our daily bread, we might look them in the eye and smile. We must relearn the bent-backed posture of farming, and with it, the bent-backed posture of prayer.

This will be difficult work, and it will be slow. Training our spiritual muscles to work and to harvest requires discipline. To relate to the beauty of the world on its own terms requires humility. The inertia of much of our living is against us. But behind us, urging us forward, is the steady strength of community; the strength of good living and good relationships; the strength of family, of earth, of home.

Our mistake was an old one. Our ancient ancestors warned us about the dangers of trying to polarize work and pleasure. Just like Adam and Eve, we have defined good and evil in terms of our own convenience, dividing that which has its being in unity. In our attempt to live in only that softer half of being that we have called good, we have denied ourselves the full experience; we have kicked ourselves out of the garden.

Luckily, the solution to our mistake is equally old and equally clear. Along with Adam and Eve, we have harmed the earth, and we have harmed ourselves. God's response remains the same:

In toil you will eat of (the ground)
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.

Such a life, such a struggle, such a blessing is ours. It is time we pick up our spades and claim it with a gratitude and an energy equal to the beauty of the gift.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sponsor A Earthworm/Bookworm at ISCOWP!

Click here to head on over to the ISCOWP (International Society For Cow Protection) website for more details.

There are two kinds of people that live on the ISCOWP farm: earthworms and bookworms. An earthworm does all the practical work on a farm and is able to teach that practical knowledge to others. A bookworm is able to literally explain that the philosophy and spiritual essence of life with the cows and land. Both are essential to the existence of the International Society for Cow Protection.

Sponsor a worm at the ISCOWP farm! Help them provide the experienced labor force that will make ISCOWP an efficient practical farm and an international far reaching organization. At $3 an hour these worms can survive on the ISCOWP farm. They can run the ISCOWP farm and begin educational projects that will have far reaching influence.

Balabhadra (Earthworm)

"I have spent most of my life doing physical labor and have very much enjoyed the practical results of a hard day's work on the farm. After having some serious health issues and turning 64, I can no longer physically work like I use to. Instead, I can teach and direct others to do the service.

With 25 years of experience that comes from doing it yourself, I have been asked to travel to various locations locally and internationally to teach these skills. With sponsorship I will be able to direct service on the farm and travel to teach. By hands-on training I wish to expand the knowledge of training oxen by voice commands and other similar cow protection skills. Thank you in advance for your help!"

Chayadevi (Bookworm)

"I have written and compiled the ISCOWP News for the past 20 years, maintained for the past 10 years and more currently the monthly e-newsletter. Sometimes I receive feedback that these efforts have touched or helped people either get involved in cow protection or learn practical cow protection knowledge. This makes me very happy.

When I am sponsored, I will be able to continue and increase these services and begin to write and publish books on the "how to" of cow protection as well as books that would move people to become more involved in cow protection. That has been my long term desire. I will also be able to continue ISCOWP correspondence and fundraising. Thank you!"

Completing big projects like the barn roof is an exciting venture but the everyday activities are the backbone of ISCOWP and the service of the earthworms and bookworms. Without the backbone, no other part of the body can function.

Here are 3 worms that live on the ISCOWP farm that need your sponsorship. Even though they have been on the ISCOWP staff for years, they do not take any salary from ISCOWP. Your sponsorship will provide them time for service to ISCOWP. They will not need to spend their time earning an outside income.

To find out how you can sponsor and our gifts to you, go to our
web page:

Ask your employer about matching donations and/or give a donation in honor or memory of someone dear to you. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New York's Solar Thermal Plans

Click here to read the full article from

By unveiling a solar heating and cooling programme that could create 25,000 new green jobs, generate US$2.6 billion in revenue and see 2 GW of new solar thermal capacity installed in the state over the next decade, New York has revealed its ambition to become America’s national leader in solar heating and cooling.

Thermal storage is also an area that, if effectively solved, would allow for additional advancement of the industry

Setting out its solar thermal roadmap, which was published at the NYSEIA conference in May 2010, the Solar Thermal Consortium (STC) plan focuses on improving uptake of solar thermal technologies through consumer education and incentives, installer training, promotions to attract manufacturers, investments in R&D, and permitting improvements.

Developed by more than 130 industrial, academic and governmental representatives, the Solar Thermal Roadmap creates a path to move New York State toward the equivalent of 1 million solar hot water collectors, or half a million residential systems, by 2020.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Making Green Convenient

From our friends at the Institute for Sustainable Living

A convenient choice is most commonly defined as one which saves us time and effort.

It could be argued that adopting environmentally friendly behaviours requires forgoing some convenience. Just looking at some of these behaviours, versus their less sustainable alternatives. Cycling versus driving. Composting versus putting everything in the rubbish bin. Turning off appliances at the wall versus leaving them on standby. Each of these greener options quite clearly require more investment of time and effort, however small the difference.

In a society where we are increasingly “time-poor” (or are increasingly told so anyway), the task for those promoting sustainability requires overcoming the barrier of perceived inconvenience. How important is convenience? Reviewing research related to “cognitive effort”, Garbarino and Edell report that “a consistent finding is that humans have limited cognitive resources and allocate them judiciously”. In order to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of decisions we are required to make every day, and the myriad choices available, we are attracted to things which reduce the amount of mental effort required. This is one reason why we develop habits, as a shortcut to having to make a new decision every time we encounter the same need. Garbarino and Edell also found that “it is clear that people are willing to forgo some benefits to conserve cognitive effort”. This explains, for instance, why we are willing to buy convenience snacks which we know are less healthy for us.

The effort required to make the decision itself also has an effect on the perceived desirability of our choices. The study by Garbarino and Edell found that, when faced with a choice between two products, the effort required to evaluate a product created a negative emotion towards that choice, even though the attributes of the choices were the same. People were also willing to pay more for the product which was easier to evaluate. This has important implications for many aspects of promoting sustainable choices, such as labeling. When we are asking people to buy the most environmentally friendly product, if it is hard work for them to identify its environmental benefits they are not going to view it positively.

Another demonstration of the importance of convenience is the effect of the “default option”. Studies have found that we will often accept the choice which is presented as the standard option, rather than make the effort to consider the alternatives. Among the most interesting of these was a study of a German town where green energy was offered as the default option, resulting in 94% of people continuing to purchase it, in contrast with single-digit uptake in towns where non-renewable energy was the standard offer.

The stiff competition which convenience provides for sustainability promoters raises an interesting question. Are we best to attempt to convince people to reduce the emphasis they place on convenience, or should we direct our efforts to making green options more convenient? The former option would require a re-framing of the value which we place on certain behaviours. Cycling, for instance, would struggle to compete with driving on the convenience stakes for many people (although traffic congestion in many cities is fast tipping this balance). However, the benefits in terms of wellbeing, cost and environmental impact offer an opportunity to put a strong case for cycling – a case so strong that the trade-off in terms of convenience may seem worth it. On the other hand, some people are likely to drive a harder bargain when it comes to giving up convenience. So making cycling more convenient is also effort well spent. Better cycling tracks, facilities and information would all reduce the perceived trade-off of time and effort.

Therefore, the answer to the question of whether to attempt to influence the importance people place on convenience, or simply to match the convenience of less eco-friendly options appears to be “both”. Although the addiction to convenience has arguably caused us to become disengaged from the realities of production, there is strong evidence that humans are pre-disposed to seek options which minimise our time and effort. In other words, a need for convenience is here to stay, so we can either fight it, or meet it.

The quest to make sustainable options more convenient would benefit from an awareness of the key elements of convenience. Interestingly, nearly all discussions of convenience are centred around marketing to consumers. However, it is possible to apply many of the principles to other types of behaviour which are not necessarily related to purchasing. One useful model which outlines the elements of convenience is presented in Understanding Service Convenience. The model describes 5 types of convenience:

  • Decision convenience – how easy it is to make a decision about the product or service.
  • Access convenience – the perceived time and effort required to initiate service delivery
  • Transaction convenience – perceived time and effort to secure the right to use the service
  • Benefit convenience – perceived time and effort expenditures to experience the service’s core benefits (such as the travel time required to experience the convenience benefit)
  • Post-benefit convenience – the time and effort to re-contact the seller after the initial purchase (e.g. for returns or repairs)

Understanding and incorporating these elements of convenience may go some way towards making eco-friendly options a more convenient choice, and reducing yet another barrier to the uptake of a more sustainable lifestyle.

Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit for more info

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New York Professionals Learn To Cook Up A Veggie Storm

By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 31 Jul 2010
Divyambara`s cooking lesson

For the busy New York City professional, it’s difficult to imagine finding the time to cook, never mind whipping up a healthy and delicious vegetarian meal. But recently many have found that a balanced meat-free, home-cooked diet may not be so far out of their grasp.

The answer lies in Manhattan, where vegetarian cooking classes offered twice a week at the Bhakti Center—a spiritual educational facility based on the principles of Bhakti Yoga—are drawing ten to fifteen people per two-and-a half-hour session.

Teacher Divyambara Dasi, who has been practicing Bhakti yoga for twenty years and cooking for just as long, expects students to be able to cook their own dishes at home after only four classes. This is no cooking demonstration—it’s a hands-on experience, designed for maximum learning.

“I begin each class by introducing each dish we’re going to make and the main ingredients we’re going to use in a very visual, interesting way,” Divyambara says. “For example, I will say, ‘Today we’re going to cook quinoa.’ Then I will show it and my assistant, who is a certified nutritionist, will explain how it is the grain richest in protein. Or I will say, ‘Today we’ll be cooking a zucchini dish,’ and I’ll explain how it’s a good summer vegetable—cooling, refreshing, and easy to digest.”

Divyambara then splits her students into teams of two and has them cook a full six-course dinner. Each team focuses on a different dish—rice, vegetable, bread, drink, salad dressing, or dessert. They begin by reading their recipes, all of which are quick to make, nutritionally balanced, and promote long and healthy lives—there’s no refined products like white flour or white sugar, no fried food, and very little dairy.

Next, Divyambara spends some time at each team’s separate station to supervise them and explain step by step what they need to do.

“Many of my students have never used the kitchen at all—some don’t even know how to boil water or cut up vegetables,” she says. “But I’m right next to them and show them everything, they do it, and they pick it up quickly.”

Once in a while, amid the flurry of cooking, Divyambara will ring a bell, and everyone will stop what they’re doing and go quiet.

“I’ll say, ‘Okay, rice team! Tell us and show us what have you done so far,’” she explains. “In this way, by first reading about the recipe, then cooking it themselves, and finally explaining how they did it, they learn and retain a lot. What’s more, each team also becomes familiar with the different steps involved in the dishes the other teams are making.”

Divyambara has two reasons to ask her class not to taste anything while they’re cooking: one is purely hygienic, while the other is in preparation for blessing the finished meal. In the Bhakti tradition, she explains, we ask God to bless our food. She then chants Sanskrit prayers, and welcomes her students to offer their own prayers according to their faith. Sometimes she invites students—such as, on one occasion, a Jewish Rabbi—to say the main prayer.

She also evokes a feeling of gratitude by asking God to bless not only the meal and the cooks, but everybody else who contributed to the meal—the cows who gave the milk, the farmer in Peru who provided the quinoa, the truck driver, and the shopkeeper.

Finally, everyone sits down and eats together. “Because we’ve been consciously cooking together as an expression of love,” says Divyambara, “It’s a very beautiful atmosphere, and a very bonding experience.

During the last session of every month, Divyambara takes her class on a shopping excursion to the nearby health food and Indian grocery stores. “There are many spices and ingredients in the cooking that they’re unfamiliar with,” she explains. “Most of them don’t know what asafoetida is, for instance. So I show them how everything looks and smells, what is good quality and what isn’t.”

Most of Divyambara’s students are not vegetarian when they begin her classes, and are doubtful that they could sustain themselves on a meat-free diet, even if they wanted to. So Divyambara’s ultimate intention for her classes is for them to go home with an exceptional experience of a tasty vegetarian meal, and knowledge of how to prepare it.

“One woman told me when she came in, ‘Please forgive me, I don’t know anything—I mean anything,’” says Divyambara. “But in her first class, she made an amazing dish. Then she made the same thing for her boyfriend at home, and it turned out amazing again. It was the first time she had cooked anything on her own. She told me how empowering it felt to be confident that she could actually cook for herself and be a healthy vegetarian.”

But for the New York professionals who attend them, Divyambara’s classes are more than just learning how to cook. There’s a great sense of community, people connecting with one another, and spiritual nourishment. “I love the whole experience of teamwork,” commented Donna LeBlanc, a bestselling author and life coach for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. “And the food tastes so magical. I swear that God enters it!”

“What you’re doing is more than just cooking,” said a PR professional for a major company. “It’s bringing people together on a higher level.”

Former students—who now number over 150—are keen to keep experiencing these things, even once they have completed the four-session program. So when some expressed this desire to Divyambara, she began to invite them to come and cook together again on one Sunday every month, and to invite their friends to come and eat.

“As in the classes, I split them into teams, and each team focuses on making a different dish,” Divyambara explains. “I am still there to guide them, but I have less of an active role, as we cook dishes they are already familiar with. The amazing thing was, the first time we did it, I was sure it would take at least three hours for the eight students to cook for the forty people that came. But in two hours, they had finished everything and left the kitchen completely clean!”

The food and the event was a success, as people bonded and students from different groups got to meet each other.

Divyambara hopes to make the monthly meet-ups a steady program, with possible plans to branch out to various locations around the city.

“I hope we can continue connecting with people and growing this community,” she says.

Read more:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

At Look At Goura-Vrndavana Temple In Brazil

By Madhava Smullen on 31 Jul 2010
from ISKCON News
The new temple in Goura-Vrindavana

Name: Goura-Vrindavana Farm

Address: Rod. Rio-Santos BR 101, Km 558, Graúna - Paraty RJ CEP 23970-000

Phone: +55 24 9962 5262 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +55 24 9962 5262 end_of_the_skype_highlighting


Presiding Deities: Small deities of Pancha Tattva, Gaura Nitai, and Radha Krishna, as well as salagrama silas and govardhana silas. Large deities of Radha Vrindavana Chandra and Gaura Nitai will be installed in 2011.

President: Achyutananda Dasa.

Established in: 1983.

Temple Style: Current temple is a room used for worship in the community’s ashram. A new temple, stone-built with an oriental roof, will open in 2011.

Location: An 800-hectare farm in the middle of the Atlantic Rainforest, the largest forest reserve in Brazil. Since it extends all the way to the ocean, it is richer in plant life than the Amazon Rainforest. The ISKCON community is in Paraty, located between Brazil’s two largest cities, Rio De Janeior and Sao Paulo, and three-and-a-half hours’ drive from each.

Distinctive food offerings: Dried bananas grown on the farm and dried in the community’s own factory. And local roots Mandioca (also known as Cassava root) and Imhame, a kind of yam, also grown on the farm.

Number of residents: Twenty.

Number of visitors: Around seventy people visit to attend retreats every month.

Best time of year to visit: April to September, for a drier, more comfortable climate.

Goura Vrindavana was born back in 1983, when two devotee brothers, Setukara Dasa and Arcana Marya Dasa, bought a piece of land in Paraty. Other devotees began to move to the location and buy neighboring plots, adding to the original one. The community grew. But it wasn’t until 1998, when Purushatraya Swami joined the project, that it began to develop into a major ISKCON project.

Using his years of experience running other farms in Brazil and India, he divided the project into different departments and assigned each devotee a responsibility. His vision was for the farm to be financially sustainable on its own, rather than relying on donations or any outside source. Only once major progress had been made in that area did he plan to build a temple and worship Deities.

Today, his plan is perfectly on track.

Goura-Vrindavana has become financially self-sufficient through two ingenious initiatives: a guesthouse, and its very own dried banana factory.

“We have a banana plantation, and we grow, collect and dry the bananas ourselves,” explains president Achyutananda Dasa. “We then sell them to many stores in Rio De Janeiro and other cities, and they distribute them.

“Our guest house, Dharmashala, also brings us income, as people interested in eco-villages come and rent a room for some time, while they learn about simple-living and explore the beautiful forest and waterfalls. We also have a yoga studio which different yoga instructors from all over the country rent for retreats. Many of the people attending these are very receptive to Krishna consciousness—they go to the temple, listen to the classes and kirtan, and eat sanctified vegetarian food.”

The Goura-Vrindavana farm also produces nearly all of its own energy—the public area of the community is powered by a hydroelectric mill in a nearby river, with only families’ private homes using local electrical services.

“We are not one hundred per cent self-sufficient food-wise, because there are some things we cannot plant here, but we’re close,” Achyutananda says. “The devotees, and a few employees, plant sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, many herbs, and local roots such as Mandioca—which is also known as Cassava root—and Imhame, a kind of yam. We also grow fruit like papayas, oranges, bananas, and avocados.”

The community completely eschews use of machines—all farming is done by hand or with the assistance of bullock carts. Some fruit, such as lemon, jackfruit, peaches and berries grow naturally in the surrounding forest, and can simply be collected.

Until now, the community has been worshipping very small, uninstalled deities of Radha Krishna, Pancha-Tattva, and Gaura Nitai. But with this steady foundation of self-sufficiency in place, devotees began building a new temple in 2007. They plan to inaugurate it, with large installed deities of Radha Vrindavana-chandra and Gaura Nitai, in 2011.

“The temple will be 100 square metres, built all in stone, and feature an oriental-style roof,” says Achyutananda. “It will have four rooms and a kitchen to be used by the priests, and there will be a large area around it where we will plant fruits for the deities.”

The devotees at Goura-Vrindavana plan to keep increasing their sustainable income in the future by selling natural self-made products such as sugarcane molasses, and to improve tourism and access roads. They also plan to build a gurukula school for their children. But in the meantime, it’s already one of the most unique temples in ISKCON and an exciting place to visit.

“Goura Vrindavan is a spiritual and ecological sanctuary—a place where you can experience peace and quiet, go deep into spiritual practice, and explore the raw nature and beautiful waterfalls,” Achyutanda says. “And of course, it’s the only ISKCON temple right in the middle of the rainforest!”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Daring To Pose A Challenge To The Oil Culture

From Amy Harmon at the New York times, part of the "Voices From The Spill" series

DULAC, La. — In this region so threatened by the BP oil spill, it has often seemed to residents that the only thing worse than losing tens of thousands of seafood industry jobs would be to lose their other major job source: the oil industry.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has called the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling “a second man-made disaster”; fishermen mourn the destruction of their way of life and defend Big Oil in the same breath; environmentalists call for restoring the battered coastline, not changing the national energy policy.

So when Patty Whitney, a community organizer here in Terrebonne Parish, asked a question at a recent conference about the state of the Louisiana coast, it was all she could do to keep her voice from shaking.

“We are constantly told, ‘You have to adapt to coastal land loss, you have to adapt because of the oil leak, you have to adapt to the new situation,’ ” she said. “When is our government going to adapt to new energy sources that aren’t harmful to our environment and the people who depend upon the environment?”

On the stage, the panel of engineers and environmental policy makers looked at one another. “Who would like to take that question?” the moderator asked.

The conference was financed by the state and by private donors — including the oil conglomerate ConocoPhillips, one of the region’s biggest landowners.

“You must be very brave,” another attendee, a professor at a local university, told Ms. Whitney during the break.

“Or very dumb,” she replied.

Born and raised in Houma, one of a family of 10, Ms. Whitney, 58, has long considered herself a closet radical when it comes to oil. Her mission at the grass-roots interfaith group Bisco is to help the disparate and largely disenfranchised groups in this region — African-Americans, Cajuns, American Indians — develop a political voice. As such, she has tried to keep her own mostly to herself.

But that is not easy for a Southerner with a gift of gab, a self-taught historian and a mother of three who takes umbrage at how the sugar companies, the fur companies and the oil companies have each come to the region and extracted its bounty.

“America needs oil, Patty,” a brother who is an engineer for an oil company told her at a recent family gathering.

“Then let them drill,” she retorted. “Let them drill in Yellowstone Park, in the Grand Canyon, in Puget Sound, off Martha’s Vineyard. Let them mess up their own places instead of just drilling in my beautiful Louisiana.”

And the spill, whose scope is still unknown, has prompted snippets of surprising conversations on the subject, even as the Senate on Thursday scrapped plans to take up a major climate change bill. Someone in church heard Ms. Whitney talking about the benefits of wind power the other week and signaled his agreement. Same with a woman in one of her community organizing networks.

“It’s at the point where people would consider talking about it, where before it was close to blasphemy,” Ms. Whitney said. “Me personally, I really and truly think the time is here, that even though it’s radical for this area, the idea of developing an alternative energy policy has come.”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What Are You Doing for Cow Protection?

By HH Sivarama Swami

Krsi goraksya vanijya. Krsi means ploughing or agriculture and goraksya, cow protection. These are the staples of society, this is what people live on. All living entities subsist on grains. So the ksatriyas may direct and instruct people, the brahmanas may perform their yajnas, but if they don’t eat then giving shelter or instruction is not going to work.

That eating is therefore the most essential aspect of life and this is why the vaisyas and their assistants, the sudras, are so integral that the other castes think that they are the most important people, because it is actually they who are feeding. Of course the vaisyas think that the brahmanas are the most important because they are taking the result of their work and offering it back to the Lord.

Srila Prabhupada said that this very common type of exchange was there but the responsibility of this goraksya, is it the duty of just some people? Some very very exclusive people? Is it the responsibility of all vaisyas, or is it for all grhastas or all devotees?

My proposition is that it is everyone’s responsibility. Just like everyone’s responsibility is chanting Hare Krishna, watering Tulasi devi, reading Bhagavatam. Similarly part of our common dharma is to protect cows. This is something that you see ingrained in communities like Bhaktivedanta Manor, where they have to limit the amount of cows they receive as gifts, and be very careful about the type of food that is offered to the cows, because to a greater or lesser degree all the devotees see the protection of cows as their dharma.

It is everyone’s dharma: the cow is our mother, she gives us milk while all over the rest of the world cows are being butchered, slaughtered, abused, and taken advantage of. Vaisnavas must take it as their responsibility to protect cows. Now, how do you protect cows? Does that mean that you have a cow on your balcony in downtown Singapore? No, that type of cow protection is actually cow abuse. You cannot just keep your own cow.

Cows only give milk if they have calves, which means you have to constantly have calves, which means you have to have a herd, and that is a full time business. So how is it that individuals should protect cows? They should in some way or another be connected to ISKCON’s herds. Srila Prabhupada established cow protection for instance in New Vrindavan, Gita Nagari, or as we have done here in Hungary at New Vraja-dhama. These herds are not the sole responsibility or duty of the local devotees in those places, they are the responsibility of the devotees and congregation of the local country. It is their responsibility to contribute to the cow protection, to donate towards the maintenance of the cow, to come and do some cow seva, and when they come to the temple they should bring some bhoga for the cows, to find out what items are needed by the cowherds.

Cow protection is everyone’s business, it is everyone’s responsibility. This is being written down as varnasrama dharma. If one does not contribute or participate directly in cow protection then he should know that he is neglecting his dharma. In other words he is adharmic.

This is in my view the greater picture of what varnasrama means. Varnasrama doesn’t mean that we simply philosophize about a way of life, but what are the duties of varnas and asramas, what are the duties that are common for all Vaisnavas, for all humans. And one of them is the protection of cows, just like chanting Hare Krsna is a common responsibility as mentioned earlier.

So, similairly, cow protection is a common responsibility for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily always occur to us, and even when it does, it’s difficult to get devotees interested. More difficult than getting devotees to do sankirtan, more difficult than getting someone to cook in the kitchen or be temple president, is to get devotees to be cowherds. To make devotees work with the cows, bulls, and oxen and to make that their life, it is very difficult for devotees to do this. “I am an educated person, I have this diploma and you want me to take care of cows? You want me to do that thing that God does? You want me to do that activity that is going on in the spiritual world?”

And that is what is going on the spiritual world. That is what is going on where we are going–at least where I want to go is where there is only gopas and gopis. The whole social identity is based on go, on cows. There are milkmaids and there are cowherd men. And if we are not willing to be milkmaids and cowherd men here in the material world, if this service is beyond us and we cannot forsee how we are going to dedicate our lives to working with the cows, then were are we going? Then you had better look for somewhere other than Braja. Then you had better go to Dwaraka or Vaikuntha, where that is not a compulsory, integral part of life.

Because in the spiritual world, in Goloka Vrindavan, Krishna goes out every day to tend cows. And yet it is so difficult to get devotees to be cowherders, to see that this is a respectable future, and to stick with that service. Because once again, cow protection is something that we talk about as being against the principles of slaughtering the animals. We don’t believe in slaughtering the cow, we don’t believe in eating the meat of the cow, cows should be properly protected. But, when it comes to properly protecting the cows, are we willing to do it? Are we actually willing to dedicate our lives to taking care of cows? Or are we willing to participate and support the protection of cows?

Therefore, we should ask: “What am I doing for protecting my mother? What am I doing to sustain cow protection in my zone? It is my responsibility, my duty as a Vaisnava. Am I performing my dharmic duty?”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Our Beaker Is Starting To Boil

From Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times

David Breashears is one of America’s legendary mountain climbers, a man who has climbed Mount Everest five times and led the Everest IMAX film team in 1996.

These days, Mr. Breashears is still climbing the Himalayas, but he is lugging more than pitons and ice axes. He’s also carrying special cameras to document stunning declines in glaciers on the roof of the world.

Mr. Breashears first reached the top of Everest in 1983, and in many subsequent trips to the region he noticed the topography changing, the glaciers shrinking. So he dug out archive photos from early Himalayan expeditions, and then journeyed across ridges and crevasses to photograph from the exact same spots.

The pairs of matched photographs, old and new, are staggering. Time and again, the same glaciers have shrunk drastically in every direction, often losing hundreds of feet in height.

“I was just incredulous,” he told me. “We took measurements with laser rangefinders to measure the loss of height of the glaciers. The drop was often the equivalent of a 35- or 40-story building.”

Mr. Breashears led me through a display of these paired photographs at the Asia Society in New York. One 1921 photo by George Mallory, the famous mountaineer who died near the summit of Everest three years later, shows the Main Rongbuk Glacier. Mr. Breashears located the very spot from which Mallory had snapped that photo and took another — only it is a different scene, because the glacier has lost 330 feet of vertical ice.

Some research in social psychology suggests that our brains are not well adapted to protect ourselves from gradually encroaching harms. We evolved to be wary of saber-toothed tigers and blizzards, but not of climate change — and maybe that’s also why we in the news media tend to cover weather but not climate. The upshot is that we’re horrifyingly nonchalant at the prospect that rising carbon emissions may devastate our favorite planet.

NASA says that the January-through-June period this year was the hottest globally since measurements began in 1880. The Web site, which calls for more action on climate change, suggests that 2010 is likely to be the warmest year on record. Likewise, the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that the months of May and June had the lowest snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere since the lab began satellite observations in 1967.

So signs of danger abound, but like the proverbial slow-boiling frog, we seem unable to rouse ourselves.

(Actually, it seems that frogs will not remain in a beaker that is slowly heated. quotes a distinguished zoologist as saying that frogs become agitated as the temperature slowly rises and struggle to escape, although it does not specify how the zoologist knows this.)

From our own beaker, we’ve watched with glazed eyes as glaciers have retreated worldwide. Glacier National Park now has only about 25 glaciers, compared with around 150 a century ago. In the Himalayas, the shrinkage seems to be accelerating, with Chinese scientific measurements suggesting that some glaciers are now losing up to 26 feet in height per year.

Orville Schell, who runs China programs at the Asia Society, described passing a series of pagodas as he approached the Mingyong Glacier on the Tibetan plateau. The pagodas were viewing platforms, and had to be rebuilt as the glacier retreated: this monumental, almost eternal force of nature seemed mortally wounded.

“A glacier is a giant part of the alpine landscape, something we always saw as immortal,” Mr. Schell said. “But now this glacier is dying before our eyes.”

An Indian glaciologist, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, now at the Stimson Center in Washington, told me that most Himalayan glaciers are in retreat for three reasons. First is the overall warming tied to carbon emissions. Second, rain and snow patterns are changing, so that less new snow is added to replace what melts. Third, pollution from trucks and smoke covers glaciers with carbon soot so that their surfaces become darker and less reflective — causing them to melt more quickly.

The retreat of the glaciers threatens agriculture downstream. A study published last month in Science magazine indicated that glacier melt is essential for the Indus and Brahmaputra rivers, while less important a component of the Ganges, Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The potential disappearance of the glaciers, the report said, is “threatening the food security of an estimated 60 million people” in the Indus and Brahmaputra basins.

We Americans have been galvanized by the oil spill on our gulf coast, because we see tar balls and dead sea birds as visceral reminders of our hubris in deep sea drilling. The melting glaciers should be a similar warning of our hubris — and of the consequences that the earth will face for centuries unless we address carbon emissions today.

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