ISKCON Family Finds Real Wealth in Cows and the Land
It’s a Wednesday evening, still bright, when I step into the spacious barn Adikarta Dasa and Ruchira Dasi have right next to their home in Alachua, Florida. Their sons Madhumangala and Kirtan are milking two beautiful Jersey cows, Jamuna and Kalindi, by hand, as bhajans play in the background.
Kirtan invites me to help out, milking his cow on the opposite side. He shows me how: it’s a squeezing motion, like getting toothpaste out of a tube. After a few minutes of struggling and squirting milk onto my shoes, I start to get the hang of it, rhythmically squeezing one teat and then the other.
After half an hour, by which point my forearms are aching, we have filled a three-gallon bucket with rich, foamy milk, and it’s on to the next cow.
As Madhumangala—who takes care of the cows full time—leads Jamuna back out to the 20-acre pasture to join her friends, the sun is setting, infusing the sky with pink and gold. Time doesn’t seem to matter, and I’m transported back to the days when all life was lived at this slow, pure pace.
Of course, Ruchira and Adikarta had to work hard to create this way of life for themselves, starting from scratch as it was completely unfamiliar to them at first.
“I grew up near farmland in Missouri, but my parents weren’t farmers,” says Ruchira. “And Adikarta grew up in London, England and only went to the country during holidays.”
The couple, however—having heard how Srila Prabhupada encouraged his disciples to keep cows and land, describing them as ‘real wealth’—were inspired to follow his instructions.
“When I was young, we went to visit one of my great uncles, who had a dairy, and I thought it was amazing,” Ruchira says. “I kept saying to my parents, ‘We have to get a cow!’ But when they told me I had better be joking, I forgot about it, until I became a devotee. Then, in 1993, when I was living in Mayapur, something amazing happened. I was walking through Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi on the way to the temple, when I had a vivid vision of myself milking a cow. I was bewildered, because I had never milked a cow before in my life.”
The vision was soon to become a reality. The following year, Ruchira, her husband and four of their children moved to the rural community of Prabhupada Village in North Carolina, USA. Adikarta would travel to local towns regularly to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books, sleeping in his van, and one night, he parked next to a small Jersey dairy.
The next morning, as he watched the cows while chanting Hare Krishna on his japa beads, he thought about Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on cow protection. Inspired, he approached the dairyman to ask him if he ever sold any.
“You’re in luck,” said the dairyman. “I don’t usually, but I have a pregnant one right now that might be good for milking by hand.”
When Adikarta brought his wife out to see the cow, the dairyman was having trouble spotting her amongst his 100 other cows. As he searched, Adikarta and Ruchira scanned the herd too, stepping close to the fence. As soon as they did so, all the cows stepped back, except for one, who walked right up to them.
“That’s her!” the dairyman exclaimed.
Amazed, Adikarta and Ruchira took her home, and named her Jamuna. Jamuna had a little bull named Bhima, and they began to train him, and milk his mother.
“None of us had ever milked a cow before,” Ruchira says. “We basically just put her in the barn and all had a shot at trying to get milk out! Luckily, she tolerated us until gradually it became second nature.”
Meanwhile, ISKCON cow protection minister Balabhadra Dasa lent a hand with training Bhima to plow and transport crops, until Madhumangala took to the work like a fish to water at fifteen years old.
“It’s his life,” Ruchira says. “He’s such a natural with them, it’s amazing.”
Today Ruchira, Adikarta and their family live in Alachua Florida, where they take care of ten cows—the milking cows Jamuna, Kalindi, and Nandini; the retired cow Shyamala; the bull Bhima; the ox Dharma; and two ox teams, Padma and Pishan and Balarama and Gopal, whom Madhumangala trained since they were calves.
The animals are all treated kindly, getting brushed and groomed every morning, washed in the hot weather to cool them down, given a shaded area in the heat, grazing throughout the day on the 20-acre pasture, and fed hay in the winter and grain while they’re working. Madhumangala makes a special natural fly spray for them, and the family spends a lot of time with them, keeping a close eye on their health.
“Cows are not just dumb animals, as many people think—they’re intuitive, and they know when you’re taking good care of them or not,” says Ruchira. “When we lived in South Africa for some time, the ISKCON farm there would sometimes employ local Africans to milk the cows. One of the workers would get drunk on weekends, and if he ever came in to milk when he’d been drinking, the cow would kick him every time; but if he was sober, she’d be fine.”
“They can sense your attitude, too,” she adds. “Once one of my boys was showing off to someone, saying, Oh yeah, I know how to milk this thing!’ But when he sat down, the cow kept kicking him until he let me milk her instead, and then she was calm.”
Caring for the cows nicely, and with a loving, respectful attitude not only saves you from being kicked—it also increases the quality and quantity of milk production.
Adikarta and Ruchira’s cows give twelve gallons of milk every day.
“We milk the cows every morning and evening at seven o’clock,” Ruchira says. “After the morning milking, which takes about two hours, I bring the milk in to make something with it, because otherwise there would be too much. To make our own butter, I collect the thick cream from the top of every milking, until after about a week, I have nearly a gallon of cream. Then I heat it up until it bubbles, cool it down, and add a buttermilk culture to it. Once that’s done, I put it in the fridge, then later churn it with a butter churn. Besides butter, we also make our own yoghurt, curd, ghee, buttermilk, sour cream, and even ice cream!”
What’s more, the milk is the creamiest, most nutritious and delicious milk you’ll find, and the products made from it have a full, wonderful flavor.
“There is no comparison whatsoever with milk products you can buy at the store,” Ruchira says. “We also supply about ten gallons of milk a week to our local temple, and more to the devotee community, and everyone who tastes it is amazed at how good it is!”
Meanwhile the oxen, trained by Madhumangala, plow the land where the family grows half of the vegetables they eat.
“Madhu grows potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, okra, beans and even popcorn,” says Ruchira. “And in the winter we have lots of cabbage and kale.”
By providing for themselves, and owning their land, Adikarta and Ruchira keep their costs down. And with a little extra income from Adikarta’s selling Srila Prabhupada’s books on the nearby University of Florida campus every day, they don’t have to work at other jobs.
“We live very simply, but I love it!” Ruchira says. “I remember when we first moved here, we had to leave our cows behind while we searched for land, and we felt rather poor and bereft. When guests came over, we had nothing to offer them, or we had to go to the store and get something of inferior quality. But now, when we have guests, we can immediately make them a delicious curd subji, or srikhand, or hot milk. We’ve experienced first-hand that cows and land is real wealth.”
In the future, Adikarta and Ruchira hope to develop a community of like-minded devotees. But for now, they’re happy with the simple, spiritual householder life Krishna has given them.
“I think that the agrarian lifestyle goes so much better with Krishna consciousness,” says Ruchira. “It slows you down to a more meditative pace, where you start observing nature more, and really seeing the cows as spirit souls. Our philosophy comes more alive in that environment.”