By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON New Vrindaban Communications
Kicking off ECO-Vrindaban and ISKCON New Vrindaban’s end-of-year Joint Board Meetings, their Department Head Reports on Saturday November 12th were uplifting to members of the community who attended the open event.
Showing steady progress towards Prabhupada’s vision, the reports also revealed that the past half a decade’s concerted efforts at rebuilding New Vrindaban are gradually beginning to move past upgrading existing facilities, and onto new and exciting ventures.
In his introduction, ISKCON New Vrindaban Temple President Jaya Krsna Das laid out a mission to attentively follow Prabhupada’s instructions for the community; to care deeply for visitors, cows, Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra and one another; to cooperate with residents, management and ISKCON’s international leadership; and to one day see every devotee in North America and beyond proud of and honored to be associated with New Vrindaban.
Starting the reports, Brihat Kirtan Das, who became Devotee Kitchen manager in spring 2016, thanked ECO-V’s Nitaicandra Das for familiarizing him with the fresh produce available to use. He added that the kitchen has also been using ghee from protected cows and brown sugar instead of white sugar; and has purchased a commercial oven that can bake much larger batches at once.
The Guest Lodge, managed by Gaura Bhakta Das, has added nine new ground-floor rooms with attached bathrooms and handicapped access. These have dramatically improved the guest experience at New Vrindaban. The lodge has also introduced a new reservation system for online bookings, and furnished its welcome center with a new ATM, reception desk and sofa chairs.
Reporting on Prabhupada’s Palace Restoration, Gopisa Das said that the new rose and black granite front steps have been completed. The outer wall’s saffron topping and ornate black window frames are finished, and the wall itself is nearing completion. The Palace parking lot has been expanded and given clearly demarcated handicapped parking spaces. And Prabhupada’s kitchen is about to be fully updated, so that his resident pujari can cook daily offerings onsite. Gopisa also showed initial architectural plans for simple homes based on Prabhupada’s recommendations for an affordable small housing community within New Vrindaban.
Next, Prabhupada’s Palace manager Vrajadhama Das talked about how the Palace’s growing team has maintained monthly Prabhupada Sangams for devotees; introduced First Friday kirtans for the public; repainted gold-leafing; opened a new smoothie shack; and renovated a room in the Palace for resident pujari Srinama Das. They have also increased tourism and social media presence, and applied to register the Palace as a historic building. This will draw more interest and possibly make the Palace eligible for grants to help with renovations.
Meanwhile, at Govinda’s Restaurant, Vasudeva Das reported a 15% increase in patronage since last year. There’s a new kitchen manager, Dinamani Das, and floor manager, Bhaktin Mar, who have introduced new dishes like burritos, tacos, nachos and Philly sandwiches. There’s a new Point-of-Sale system, which has streamlined ordering for better service. And the outside snack bar, with an improved menu, was kept open throughout the season.
In Congregational Development, Gaurnatraj Das has built a strong team who serve pilgrims and guests. He reported an increase in pilgrims; upcoming yoga, astrology and meditation programs in the spring; and a successful Damodarastakam program in which devotees offered lamps on behalf of long-distance congregation members. He also reported that the team has raised almost a third of the funds needed for the new Yoga Sanctuary; and has traveled the country installing Deities in congregation members’ homes.
In Devotee Care, Sukhavaha Dasi has been facilitating coaching, yoga classes, massage, aromatherapy, and sessions with visiting doctors at the new Wellness Center. She has also researched all products being purchased by ISKCON New Vrindaban’s different departments and found the best locations and prices for them, thus consolidating purchasing and saving the temple thousands of dollars.
Next Vrindavan Das reported on two departments. The Communications team has reached more than a million people through social media; redesigned the New Vrindaban website; and published over 60 articles in the Brijabasi Spirit newsletter and in ISKCON-wide media. They’ve also appeared on TV and radio many times, and have seen many articles published about New Vrindaban in local and national newspapers. They are also maintaining strong ties with the regional tourism board, local media and public interest groups.
Meanwhile Vrindavan helped oversee many Festivals throughout the year including the tenth anniversary of Kulimela and 24 Hour Kirtan, the revival of the Prabhupada Festival, the first ever Rathayatra in local town Wheeling, and yet another successful Festival of Colors.
Bhagavan Das then presented the exciting developments in Construction. In addition to the nine new Palace Lodge ground floor rooms, the guest kitchen in the temple was completely remodeled; one exterior lodge wall got all new siding and landscaping; and the prasadam hall got a new wood floor, new cabinets and sinks, and new metal dishware and cutlery.
Meanwhile the ground was broken for the planned Yoga Sanctuary on the Kusum Sarovara lakeside; the original Vrindaban farmhouse where Srila Prabhupada stayed in 1969 had a wall replaced so that it will remain structurally sound; and the new Vishnu’s Maintenance Workshop is coming up fast and should be up and running within the next couple of months.
Last but not least was the heartwarming presentation on Gopal’s Garden Homeschool Co-Op, started by Ruci Dasi.
Teachers Sundari Dasi and Mercy began by reporting on its Preschool, which they launched in April 2015. With two successful years completed, the preschool currently has seven students aged three to five and has done many fun and bonding activities with them, including a summer camp, picnics and playdates, educational excursions, and a Krishna conscious Halloween party.
Some of the children will soon be ready to graduate to kindergarten, and then on to Gopal’s Garden Elementary and Middle School, which Ananga Manjari Dasi reported on. Ruci Dasi teaches nine children aged six to thirteen with help from many community members, who teach a variety of different subjects such as music and art. New classes introduced this year included interactive science, Waldorf math, Quigon, yoga, and crotcheting.
On behalf of ECO-Vrindaban, Board member Chaitanya Mangala Das then introduced its staff and reminded all of its mission statement. “The two buzzwords we want everybody to connect with ECO-V are cows and gardens,” he said.
First off in ECO-V’s presentations was the Cow Care program with Ananda Vidya Das and Lalita Gopi Dasi, who are milking eight cows, caring for three new calves, and keeping the Deity kitchen stocked with butter and ghee. They’ve also taught hundreds of guests how to milk, engaged devotees in serving the cows, and maintained the grounds and planted flowers at the milking barn.
In the Deity Flower Gardens, Vidya Dasi grew marigolds, zinnias, snap dragons, and dahlias at her own home and at the Teaching Garden, to provide the Deities with organic flowers. After nearly forty years of service, Vidya is soon looking to retire, and during her presentation she passed the torch to Suchandra Dasi. Born and raised in New Vrindaban, Suchandra has already worked as a gardener, taken Lowe’s training program and developed good managerial skills. Vidya ended her report with a tribute to her late husband Madhava Gosh, saying that his vision and hard work made the program possible.
Next Ox and Garden Manager Nitaicandra Das, who previously ran a farm in California, said he had learned a lot during his first full growing season in West Virginia. He battled groundhogs, rabbits, and insects to grow a successful crop including tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, herbs and berries. He has also begun construction on an inground greenhouse which will keep temperatures warm and extend the growing season into the winter. Meanwhile several teams of oxen are being trained in using yokes, learning commands and pulling logs.
Finally, Project Manager Mukunda Das showed photos of the 400 feet of fencing he had rebuilt at the Community Garden, the flower garden shed, where he installed double doors and window trims, and the milking barn, where he replaced old doors, upgraded electrics and painted steel frames that hadn’t been maintained in twenty years with protective coating. He also participated in the first North American ISKCON Farm Conference in Gita Nagari, and was a member of the steering committee that helped elect New Vrindaban’s first Village Council.
Since Mukunda is concluding his service at New Vrindaban and returning to Alachua, this was the last manager presentation he made. Thus the ISKCON New Vrindaban and ECO-Vrindaban Boards of Directors presented him and his wife Bhakti-lata Dasi with a plaque in appreciation of the two years they dedicated to helping develop New Vrindaban village.
“This year, we’ve started to turn the corner beyond long-needed upkeep, and see new construction come into the mix – like the yoga sanctuary, the Vishnu maintenance workshop, new apartments and the inground greenhouse,” says joint-board member Chaitanya Mangala Das. “And as we move forward, we’ll start seeing more and more of that. In the future, I think we’ll reflect back on 2016 as the year we turned that corner.”