ANCIENT ORGANICS LAKSHMI KAMADHENU
ORGANIC DAIRY AND CREAMERY
I moved to India in 2011 and have been spending my winter months near the Ramana Ashram in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, and the rest of the year in the Himalayas up near Ladakh since that time. In 2012 I helped start an organic dairy in Tiruvannamalai with Govinda Raj, the man who was the personal attendant of Annamalai Swami for 12 years. I used the name of the ghee company that I founded in America in 2004: Ancient Organics, in the name of the dairy here, but there is no relationship between the two companies other than myself. The tale of how this came about is as follows:
Several months after I began to live in Tiruvannamalai, Govinda Raj, still a young man in his early thirties, knocked on my door and said he wanted to work for me. I had no idea of who he was and I did not need anyone to 'work for me.' But, we quickly found things for him to do and he was and still is a great blessing and a wonderful friend for me in this country in which so much is strange and different from the west where I was born and raised.
After trying several business ventures to help him, such as running a small cafe or baking bread, in each one investing money from my own small savings, I finally hit on setting him up as a 'Gopala,' or a cowherd. 'Gopala' means 'protector of cows.' After all, Govinda is a Yadava, a member of the same caste as Lord Krishna, and his name, Govinda, means, 'he who brings pleasure to cows.' I remember the moment that inspiration struck when I visited his small house and saw he had a cow and her calf literally living in one of the rooms . . . of course, he was a cowherd! His father had been a cowherd and his father's father as well, and I and many other Westerners needed organic milk, curd, paneer, and ghee.
Since the purchase of a cow was so expensive here in India and the type that we settled on was a Gir cow, one of the most ancient breeds of India and one of the most expensive (one cow now costs nearly 120,000 rupees or about $2000, nearly twice what we needed only 4 years ago) we needed to collect some money and decided to create a Kickstarter site to help raise the needed funds. The project failed on Kickstarter but several individuals gave large donations and we were able to purchase seven cows, each of whom has now had a calf, and nearly all of them were female. The following is what I wrote on our Kickstarter website:
Throughout India, for thousands of years, life revolved around the cow. In agriculture, work, and religion, the cow stood at the center of daily life. It is said that 20 cows were needed to support 100 people. In India today, that ratio has dropped to 5 cows for every 100 people. What we are trying to do is one small drop in a bucket of necessary change.
"If the cow is kept happy, the land is prosperous and the people are satisfied."
We want to purchase 10 Gur Dairy cows to bring the very best organic milk products to our community of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India. We already have 4 cows (not Gurs) and once we have 10 more for a total of 14, we will have enough cows to go forward; our daily expenses will be covered by the sale of milk products and future growth will be self-sustaining as the herd will increase from baby cows or kine (this is where 'payment in kine' comes from). We need more cows to make enough daily income to pay our way forward. This is because in a dairy, half of the cows are pregnant at any one time and not available for milking. With 14 cows, we will have only 7 giving milk at any one time. Once we have established our dairy, we will continue to grow as new calves are born.
Young, recently born calves, and none of our cows, male or female, are ever sent for slaughter
Organic milk is an increasingly rare commodity in India. Less and less people keep cows and of those that do, and who supply milk to the public, according to newspapers and government surveys (see below), over 80% of their milk is adulterated using water and hazardous chemicals such as urea, melamine, hydrogen peroxide, ammonium sulphate, hydrated lime, glucose, table sugar, benzoic acid and ammonium sulphate.
The situation has gotten so bad that the supreme court of India has stepped in, creating laws to improve the situation. But, even if that works, which is yet to be seen, it is not enough. What is needed is not merely a lack of adulterants in the milk, but a dairy model that is organic in the growth of its grass and grains, one that provides an optimum grass-centered diet to its cows, is compassionate in its treatment of all animals, provides a living wage including rent, food, education and transportation ($320 for a whole family) to the people who work there and is thorough in the ever-changing details of its practices. This is why they say, "When cows are kept happy, the whole community is happy."
Creating an organic dairy farm will provide meaningful work to a large extended Tamil family, needed milk, curd, ghee and paneer to many people and improve the health of all the members of our community, adults and children. Our small, community-centered, self-sustaining organic dairy will offer a superior form of a basic and much needed food and show a way forward to others all over India.
The Gur is considered to be the best milking cow in the long history of India. They are known for their gentle disposition, love of human company, (they like to be brushed and petted) loving and herd-based care of their young, and best quality of milk. They are exquisitely adapted to the tropical climate of India. While consuming the same feed as other breeds, they produce superior milk and in greater quantity.
In modern India, the search for higher fat content amongst dairy producers and a milk cow that needs less nutritious types of grass that are cheaper to grow has led to more use of buffalo milk and the popularity of Gur cows faded over time. The Gur breed was on the verge of extinction, but many are trying to reverse that trend and we are among them.
According to Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India, the milk of a buffalo and that of a cow are dramatically different in their effects on the human body. The milk of a buffalo is thought to be dulling or tamasic, while a cow's milk is purifying or sattvic. Of all the cows, the Gur stands supreme. By creating our dairy with Gur cows, and using their milk for all our dairy products, we seek to produce the very best milk products and preserve the traditional culture of ancient India.
We live in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India, close to the Ramana Maharshi Ashram at the foot of the sacred mountain, Arunachala. Ramana Maharshi was one of the greatest sages of modern times and people from all over the world still come to this pilgrimage town to visit his ashram and bathe in the atmosphere of the sacred mountain, Arunachala.
Who we are:
Govinda Raj is member of the Yadava Caste, the same caste as Lord Krishna. Govinda lives with his wife, Bhumadevi and their two children in a small hut on a 4 acre plot of rented land in the countryside just outside of town. For generations, his family has cared for cows and brought milk and milk products to their community. This tradition had nearly ceased in his family, when his father began to work in another occupation, but with this dairy, Govinda hopes to return to the work of his forefathers.
Govinda and his wife-Bhumadevi and two children,
Janani and SriRam
Peter Malakoff is an American who first came to India in 2004 to attend Kalidas Sanskrit University where he attained a degree in Ayurveda. He met Govinda in Tiruvannamalai in 2011 and is helping him to create and fund this project through Kickstarter.
Peter in South India
In 2005, Peter founded Ancient Organics Ghee, in Berkeley, Ca. (www.ancientorganics.com). Soon after moving to India in 2011, Peter saw the need for organic dairy products, both for himself and his local community. The quality of commercial milk and milk products in India was terrible and filled with adulterants of many kinds. Peter had been familiar with Straus Organic Dairy and Creamery in northern California, the premier organic dairy in America. It was their, "best in the world, " award-winning, grass-fed, organic butter that he chose to make Ancient Organics ghee. Using such superior butter made a huge difference and Ancient Organics ghee has been named the #1 quality ghee in the United States.
Peter thought, “Why not create an organic dairy here in South India? Grass and grains are easy to grow and relatively inexpensive compared to the West. Rent is cheap and labor is not so much a job, but a way of life, and his good friend, Govinda, is a Yadava who knows how to take care of cows.” (When Peter met him he had one calf living with him inside his parents' house).
The primary obstacle was the initial cost of purchasing high quality cows. In spite of working very hard, the rural people of India remain poor and unable to move ahead in improving their lives. The costs of everyday living always seem to consume any excess that is generated. The inability to purchase more cows (which are relatively expensive) was the only thing keeping us from creating a successful and thriving dairy; that is how this Kickstarter project began.
What we have done so far:
Two years ago, my brother Michael and his wife Louise, contributed $5000 seed money to begin the dairy. With that money and what we could contribute ourselves, we bought four Gur cows and constructed a cow barn and living quarters for Govinda and his family. With the additional funding of several generous donors, we eventually purchased 6 more Gur cows. (Only some of the cows in the movie aboce were Gur cows, but now every cow in the dairy is a Gur cow).
Over the last two years we began delivering milk, curd, ghee and paneer to the Tiruvannamalai community. The quality of our milk products is outstanding and the people of our community are very appreciative of what we are doing.
Below is the poster we put up all over town:
Poster selling our milk around Tiruvannamalai
We will purchase our cows as soon as we receive the funds. We plan on taking a train to Gujarat, in western India, and purchasing the cows from a farm that raises and sells Gur cows. Then, we will load the cows onto a truck and drive back to Tiruvannamalai. If we receive any monetary contributions over and above our requested amount, we will use that money to purchase even more cows and improve our operating facilities.
There is an ancient tradition for the gifting of cows in India:
"The gift of a cow is truly regarded as a superior gift. Cows, by yielding milk, rescue all the world from calamity. Verily, if one gives even one cow and a calf to an appropriate person at the right time, one is sure to see that cow approach one in heaven in the form of a river of sacred water capable of granting the fruition of every wish"
– The Mahabharata
We appreciate your interest and your help.
A question is asked, "What are the risks and challenges that may come?"
To ask, "What are the risks and challenges that may come . . .?" reminds me of the saying: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Our project is straightforward: We buy 10 Gur cows, milk them twice daily and sell the milk products to our very receptive community. What could go wrong? A lot. There has been an off and on shortage of water throughout Tamil Nadu for years. Groundwater supplies have become drained like never before. In our first year, the well on our rented property ran dry for the first time ever and we had to move our dairy farm to our present location. But, these are things that farmers have lived with for years. Thieves tried on one occasion to steal one of our cows at night. We now have two dogs to protect the cows.
There could be a failure of the monsoon on any year due to a variety of factors including climate change, and the ability to grow our grasses and grains would be diminished, increasing the costs of feeding our cows. As you can imagine, it is clear to any farmer, we are in the hands of forces far greater than our own. These are but a few examples of the risks and challenges that present themselves to the simple plans of a dairy farmer anywhere in the world. Multiply that by a hundred and you begin to understand India.
What will we do if any problems arise? We will do what farmers have always done; the best we can; we expect things will be challenging and the work of a dairy farm is very hard. Our extended family and friends will help out as has been done all over Tamil Nadu for thousands of years: we will pray for help and surrender to what cannot be changed as the will of God. Knowing the difference between what we can control and what we cannot is one of the great mysteries of life.
So, here is the movie I made for Kickstarter to let people know what we are doing.
ANCIENT ORGANICS LAKSHMI KAMADHENU
ORGANIC DAIRY AND CREAMERY