Bidya Prasad has a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Drexel University, and current works at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. Her husband Vasudeva is a priest who serves at The Bhakti Center.
When my Dutch husband initially suggested we take a short trip to a Hungarian eco-farm run by spiritual practitioners, my curiosity was naturally piqued. Nava (New) Vraja Dhama, or Krisna-vӧlgy (Krishna Valley) as it is known to locals, seemed somewhat folkloric to me: a thriving, environmentally sustainable devotional community that emerged just 4 short years after 1989, when communist rule ended in the Eastern Bloc nation.
After a 3-hour flight from Amsterdam to Budapest and a 2.5-hour drive from Budapest to the village of Somogyvámos, we had arrived. Located just 30 minutes from Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, driving into Krishna Valley was like entering another world entirely.
Located on a lush tract of land spanning 110 acres, Krishna Valley is a farming community dedicated to the principles of sustainability and spiritual life. The project has four main focus areas: ecology, spiritual life, community, and tourism. One hundred and twenty people live on the farm property, with another 120 devotees in the surrounding village. A thriving gurukula (school) provides education for 60 enrolled students, which follows the Hungarian curriculum with the addition of spiritual study. Cows, bulls, and calves graze the local pastures, brushed, clean, and content in the knowledge that they are loved and respected by their caretakers, and will be until the end of their natural lives.
Dozens of organic vegetable gardens located around the property feed the entire community and visitors year-round. Tomatoes, karela (bitter melon), peppers, rhubarb, potatoes, kale, and lettuce grow in tidy gardens, which are rotated each planting season to avoid nutrient depletion in the soil. Gardens of flowers and fruit trees surround the property, the latter which bears copious amounts of apples, peaches and cherries. Seeds from vast sunflower fields are pressed into oil for use in the community kitchens. Each fall, the community come together to harvest wheat, barley, and quinoa fields by hand using scythes.
The only electricity used on the property is generated using solar panels and windmills. To store the crops for the winter, then, an alternative to high-energy refrigeration must be used. Devotees have found a solution by using the earth itself, through the use of an underground storage bunker located just a few dozen feet below the surface. The high heat capacity and the soil and the thermal insulation provided by vegetation and soil keep the bunker at a cool 15° C (59° F) year-round – it is the planet’s own natural means of refrigeration. Vegetables are stored here in layers of soil that are sectioned off in such a way that when someone needs a potato, they can put their arm through the dirt and pull out a potato. The bunker also houses a seed bank containing thousands of seeds that are planted each spring. Jars of fruit are preserved without the use of toxic chemicals last through to the next season.
The residents also strive to cook for themselves in a sustainable way. Since 1993, they have planted 500,000 trees to harvest for cooking firewood. There are no fossil fuels used in the kitchen here. For water, the entire community draws from wells in front of their homes.
What drives the devotees to take up this life of simple living is the knowledge that they are living for a purpose higher than themselves – that their lives are dedicated to the service of God. The temple, located at the center of property, can itself be called a work of art, but it is perhaps more accurate to call it a work of devotion. Stunning, hand-painted pictures of ancient pastimes adorn the walls. The whole building is lit with natural light that comes through a skylight. And in the heart of the temple, as in the heart of their lives, are the devotees’ worshipable deities, Sri-Sri Radha-Syamasundar. These beautiful deities are worshipped with the highest standard: a dressmaker living on the property makes their outfits, which number in the hundreds; they are offered various fruits, vegetables and dairy products prepared using farm resources; and various priests worship them throughout the day. If you are very lucky, as we were, you may have the fortune of seeing the deities after H.H. Sivarama Swami, the visionary behind the farm project, dresses them. Sivarama Swami’s love for Radha-Syamasundar can be seen in the detailed and gentle way he worships. He inspires the community to come together to worship Radhe-Syama in the early mornings before settling into their day and meditate on them as they work throughout the day. This practice allows them to align themselves with the divine source regardless of what challenges they may face. It transforms the mundane to the spiritual.
Each year the number of visitors to Krishna Valley reach 20,000 to 30,000, and these visitors are sure to be met with incredible hospitality and friendliness. My husband and I didn’t often meet devotees who spoke English, but there was a warmth to them that could be conveyed without the use of language. We were even invited to one devotee’s home in the village, where we were served Rooibos tea and the best gluten-free cake I’ve ever eaten.
Developments are coming to Krishna Valley in the near future, but in a sustainable way. Plans to establish a sustainable clothing cooperative are well underway, and the first year of cotton plants are being cultivated to weave into cloth in 2020.
As concerns of anthropogenic climate change continue to rise, human activity must counter it. Krishna Valley is a fantastic example of how seamlessly people can live in harmony with the earth and God through simple living and high thinking. My husband and I left feeling inspired by the hard-working devotees who have dedicated themselves to God, and in the course of that dedication, have chosen to live a sustainable and cruelty-free life. Krishna Valley showed us that our relationship to God can be cultivated through honoring and respecting the gifts that Mother Earth has given us. We hope to carry those gifts with us as we return to our city lives.
To find out more about Krishna Valley, or Sivarama Swami, please see the following links: