At the Hare Krsna farm in Pennsylvania,
devotees work for peace in a revolutionary way.
Cows munch pasture under clear skies. Waves of grain restle in the summer wind. Silos flank a white barn, where a husband and wife clean stalls and get ready for the next milking. It looks like an ordinary dairy, but if the cows here could talk they would tell you differently. It's Gita-nagari, the Hare Krsna farm in central Pennsylvania, home of a novel peace project called Adopt a Cow.
"Ever wonder why humanity is always at war?" an American devotee asks a barn guest. "India's sages say that man's inhumanity to man is largely a product of man's inhumanity to animals especially the Cow."
Generally. as soon as a cow's milk output starts to slip, modern dairymen sell her for slaughter. When they look the cow in the eye, somehow they don't see a sentient being like themselves; they see a dollar sign. "A sign," says the devotee. "of our predatory times. "
Begun in 1975, the six-hundred-acre Gita-nagari farm runs much as Indian villages have for centuries. The keystone is the cow. Like a mother, she nourishes the hundred-member community with her milk. And like a father, the bull helps till the ground to provide food. The devotees protect them for as long as they live; they will never hear the sound of the slaughterer's gun.
Man's "dominion" over the cattle, the devotees say, is clarified in the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krsna recommends cow protection for the peace and prosperity of society.
Have Gita-nagari's cow protectors prospered? Devotees point to the farm's successes. In 1977 they managed to build their own temple, in 1980 their own school, and in 1983 the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association commended the farm for managing the top-producing herd of Brown Swiss cows in the state.
That same year, to accommodate their hundred-plus herd, the devotees broke ground for a new barn, complete with methane digester. The cows' dung contains enough methane gas to power the whole community. But lack of funds since then has brought construction to a halt.
Nevertheless, the devotees' struggles inspired a few of their Indian friends to pull together and help. As educated Indians working in America, they appreciated the farm as a haven from the modern McDonald's culture, and they saw a chance to proclaim India's message of peace and goodwill. How could Indians at large help build a new barn for Krsna's cows? Simple. Adopt one.
In the fall of 1985, the devotees organized Adopt A Cow, placed ads in newspapers for natives of India, and sent solicitation letters to fifteen thousand Hindus in the U.S., encouraging them to "make a stand for world peace" and fulfill their religious obligation to "protect the sacred cow."
Jag Bushan Kaul and his wife, Veena, were among the first to respond. In their suburban Detroit home hangs a framed color photo of their adopted cow.
"In India, cow protection is as sacred as motherhood," says Kaul. "All of us were raised on cow's milk. When we were growing up, every family in the village kept a cow as part of the family. But in America we tend to forget our intimate relationship and debt of gratitude to the cow."
Says adopter Shyamasundar Mahajan, a physician from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: "In America alone, more than forty million cows and calves are slaughtered every year. This is needlessly cruel. We can live a healthy life with a properly balanced vegetarian diet. Available statistics now point to beef-eating, not smoking, as this country's greatest health hazard."
For $3,000, subscribers like Kaul and Mahajan can support a cow for life. Besides a color photo, they receive a gold certificate of adoption, a brass plaque, milk products, periodic news of the cow's progress, and a free "get-acquainted vacation weekend at the farm. A wonderful opportunity to visit with your family cow."
Other plans allow subscribers to give $30 or $ 100 monthly for a year, with option to renew. The half-million-dollar barn complex will require at least two hundred adopters; to date, about half that number have adopted cows.
Predictably, Adopt A Cow has drawn peals of laughter from the American press. "It's No Bull Hindus Adopt Cows." Vegetarians and animal rights activists, though, have taken serious notice. Adopt A Cow ads now appear in their publications, and today most of the project's inquiries are from Americans.
Gloria Perlis is president of the Lehigh Valley Vegetarian Society, which has sponsored a bus trip to the farm, brought devotees to Allentown to cater the club's social functions, and recently adopted a cow.
"The devotees cater all our events now," says Perlis, who regularly orders cheese, yogurt, and desserts from the farm. "It's the only kind of cheese I'll eat, because it comes from animals that will never be killed."
"I wanted to stop enriching the veal industry by buying dairy products at my local Acme," says Jane Tufton, an animal rights activist from Allentown, who also receives the farm's products.
As Perlis and Tufton are well aware, veal is a by-product of the dairy industry, since it comes from calves bred to maintain milking stock. Such calves live in particularly inhumane conditions on food-industry factory farms.
If you're still wondering about the sages' link between slaughter and war, the devotees recommend a visit to a slaughterhouse preferably a modern one, where hundreds of cows daily are bound, shot, shackled, hung, knifed, dehided, split, weighed, and shrouded for chilling coolers. Concentration camps never enjoyed such efficiency, or such good public relations. After all, the public's dinner table is the last stop on the production line.
"You have just dined," wrote Emerson, "and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."
On my one visit to a slaughterhouse, I noted employees of many extractions a kind of General Assembly of butchers. I thought of the United Nations, of how its buildings stand on the very spot where New York City slaughterhouses used to, and how its members have failed to keep the peace. The "progress" that produced the slaughterhouse, two world wars, and the pandemic carnage since then, has at last summitry notwithstanding stockpiled enough bombs to slaughter us all.
Adopt A Cow may not close the slaughterhouse tomorrow, but it can certainly help us reconsider our responsibility to this beneficent animal. And humane considerations aside, is America really more peaceful and prosperous for having entrusted the cow to a "dairy industry" perennially awash in a sea of surplus milk? Or for having discarded the bull for the tractor, partly for which she must risk her sons' lives in the Middle East to keep fuel lines open?
Says Adopt A Cow promoter Gaura Hari dasa: "The idea is to getpeople thinking of Elsie and Elmer as part of the family not dinner. Otherwise, you can talk of peace till the cows come home."
For more information on Adopt A Cow, write or call the Gita-nagari farm. See address list on page 12.