Dharmananda: on the farm with the Dharm.

~ DESTINATION FOUR: THE CHANNON, NSW ~

Cows, creepy-crawlies and communal living.

One of the most common remarks that I have heard by folks who lived at or know the Dharmananda community is that they think it’s one of the best they have come across. For two weeks Heidi and I incorporated ourselves into this community discovering that the quality relationships, good ethos, strong values and beautiful location does indeed support the high esteem that this community is held in.

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Interestingly (well, to me anyway), this trip has consisted of us randomly picking communities that we know nothing about but sound good to visit and then turn out to be historically significant in one way or another. It turns out that communal living on the Dharmananda property actually preceded the 1973 Aquarius festival. Aquarius is largely considered to be the birthplace of most of the communities in Australia that have existed for over 40 years. In this region (and arguably Australia), Dharmananda and Tuntable Falls (our second choice while researching) are considered the best known and well-respected communities, with Bodhi Farm right up there (a place we might visit as we head south in July). It was a privilege therefore to be opportunity to spend time with this group and find out what makes it so unique.IMG_8794

Right off the bat, our day-one first impressions were a mingling of the people, the place, the creatures and the dairy. The people were outgoing and friendly though you could sense that WWOOFers and other visitors were a common occurrence seeing as how well-oiled their guest machine worked! My first thoughts of the place itself are rich with adjectives: densely lush tropical forest; creative open-plan homes made from recycled materials; a homey and cozy community house; buggy, rough, open, remote, quiet. IMG_8772The creatures were quite visible from the outset with the web of a hand-sized spider positioned strategically by the door to the community kitchen, a large huntsman welcoming us to our room, skittling cockroaches in and on everything when we opened the door, and a carpet python living in the rafters above our bed. Welcome to the jungle! Lastly, as we were welcomed by mooing bovines, the fact that this is a working dairy farm wasn’t lost on us during planning (an interesting challenge given our leaning towards veganism), but we decided to look past that initially and focus on the people and relationships before delving more deeply into the state of the cows.

What makes Dharmananda such an intriguing place? Well, a few things: the members of the community are an eclectic mix of personalities, many of whom (particularly the founders and those born into the community) have been here more than half their lives. They care for the land and for each other, their bond with both ensuring ongoing health and unity. There is a good blend of creative, practical and relational skills with everyone participating in their roles with dutiful acceptance. There’s also not too few or too many folks here: at around 20-25 at any given time, a good balance has been struck between in-your-face-all-the-time and I-never-see-some-people. DSC02528There is a shared meal available nearly every night at the community house with most people taking part at some point through the week. Besides the humans, an abundance of wildlife and wildness in general is both a virtue and something that you need to get accustomed to, but for the most part it is stunningly beautiful, tranquil and a wondrous thing to be able to be so close to nature. Credit for this forested and lush environment goes to the founders who rehabilitated barren animal-grazing land and made it what it now is. You’d scarcely believe that it was largely devoid of trees 45 years ago given the current diversity of native flora (and, increasingly, eradication of non-native weeds) plus rich habit for birds and creatures.

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The people and the place. That’s pretty much Dharmananda’s magic ingredients in a nutshell!

For Heidi and I, coming in again under the label of WWOOFers, the deceptively simple idea of “people and place” needed to be experienced first-hand, and it reminds me again of the importance of staying in a community for a little while. As we pulled out weeds for folks like Sho – a Japanese chap who came 15 years ago as a WWOOFer and never left – or Leigh – a fixture since 1979 who is the King of the Cows – we gleaned a great deal of interesting info about the community at different stages. IMG_8825Maggie – a stylish, humorous and feisty 84 year old member – makes cheese during the week and has regaled us with stories of the farm. Carol (pictured) – one of the original founders and a sassy tell-it-like-it-is woman with a beautiful house on the hill – was quite candid about Dharm’s history and her thoughts on her ageing community family. We were also lucky enough to experience the group in social activities together, like Saturday dinner where everyone is looser with wine, laughs and board games, or at their monthly meeting where we got to experience their decision-making and democratic behavior with one another at work.

You might note that above I said pulling “weeds” and not “weed”. Dope. Pot. Ganja. Marijuana: no matter what you call it, it’s not available here. Dharmananda has had a strict “No Dope, No Dole” policy for most of its existence which is probably why it is a tight and focused community still after 44 years. Where other communities have to worry about raids and secretive activity surrounding what their community gets up to, Dharmananda seems pretty clean. According to neighbour Chris, that’s not to say that they haven’t been lumped together with the other communities in the eyes of the police. Chris regaled us with stories of actual gunships that have landed on the property from time-to-time as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) periodically perform drug raids. Apparently the AFP refer to Dharmananda as “Sector 4” while Chris’ place has defiantly actually used their Sector 5 moniker as their official community name – in true rebellious activist spirit. Those early days and the busts of the 80’s and 90’s must have been some wild times in this region!

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Leigh, one of the early members, on his trusty tractor

From a farming point of view, the heart of Dharm is the dairy operation. A number of interesting things transpired to do with this, as I went in as a staunch believer that dairy is part of a cruel industry, somewhat unhealthy and ultimately an unnecessary activity. However, heading onto the farm, I wasn’t wearing my Vegan hat and didn’t feel trepidation about the forthcoming experience, likely due to the fact that I really had no basis for comparison having never spent any time on a dairy farm. IMG_8789On about day 3 at Dharm, however, male calves were just being separated from their mother (and due for slaughter; a cruel by-product of the dairy industry) and had started a two day-long crying out to each other, day and night, which was difficult to experience. That evening, at a dinner table filled with community members who spend hours a week processing the dairy and living off of it, we had a fairly lively conversation about the ethics behind it and Leigh surprised me with taking a firm but compassionate stand about how he struggles with parts of the dairy routine, like separating the calves. A sly reminder to the other members at the table, he commented that “this is all done so we can eat our cheese and butter.” This impressive show of humanity was coming from the man who has carefully tended to the cows 7 days a week for over 30 years. I would learn over the rest of our stay that he treats those cows with diligent care, talking to them and calling them by name. Watching the cows follow him around made me realise that there was a lot of heart invested into what he does. It’s one of those strange hypocrisies that humans are often involved with, and despite my inherent objection to the whole idea of dairy, I could see genuine caring and good intentions behind the way the cows were treated here which says a lot about the type of people who live at Dharmananda. Due to the lengths that they go to to care for the animals, who in turn fertilise the land for their veggies, I could no more condemn them than I could myself for driving a petrol-powered car and contributing to polluting the Earth. It was a healthy thing to experience; I could more clearly separate intensified factory dairy farming done by faceless corporations from this sort of small, bio-dynamic and holistic approach. IMG_8788My feelings about consuming dairy remain the same, but I am not lumping everyone together into one box.

The farming part of life inspired some interesting conversations with community members. From at least 4 separate conversations, I was told that Dharmananda wouldn’t have been someone’s first choice anymore if they knew how centred around the dairy, labour and food production that it is. In fact, each of these people mentioned neighbouring Bodhi Farm as their preferred choice. In their next breath though, all those individuals also said that it was the people that kept them here and they were all family so they endured. It did cause Heidi and I to perk up our ears with interest about Bodhi Farm, however. We are considering visiting there on this trip too; from comments we heard, it sounds like the virtues are that that Bodhi is in the quiet forest, more aesthetically-oriented, more focused on music and creativity and less on farming and labour, less about vehicles and more practising/observing Buddhism. Certainly some of those considerations would likely be shared by Heidi and I as we are interested in arts-centred communities with a spiritual core. It therefore makes Dharmananda even more of an enigma; people are compelled to come and stay despite the lifestyle not necessarily being their first choice. It says something about the vibe or people or location or something deeper….but I also sense that change is in the air. IMG_8833The big question will be: once this particular “constellation” of folks (as Carol calls the founders and current group) moves on, will the next generation maintain this type of farm-centric existence?

Overall, our experience of life in the community was very positive. As WWOOFers, we generally worked 4 hours a day from 9am til about 1 or 2pm with generous morning tea and lunch breaks, after which we could do as we pleased. We probably had our fill of weeding tasks as about 75% of what everyone wanted us to do involved that, but we did learn a lot about native vs non-native plants, prepared the food beds for Dharm’s next crops, participated in the regeneration of the bushland and IMG_8839helped improve the community in general. The downside might be that we also got bitten by ticks, jumping ants and leeches in the process, but we worked alongside a 2 metre carpet python one day, which was pretty exciting. We got to spend most of our days outdoors, chatting with community folks, basking in the unusually warm late-autumn sunshine and soaking up the clean air in the beautiful forest.

One of our exciting WWOOFing assignments was to go up to the meditation centre that was co-built and co-owned by Dharm and Bodhi, on the top of their hilly property in the untouched, ancient rainforest. This retreat was graced by hundreds-of-years-old trees, with little “cootees” (or sleeping/mediation huts) dotted around, a communal kitchen and a large centre for group mediation. I thought the farm was pretty peaceful, but up here there were no human-created sounds except the whip birds and wildlife. DSC02501Even the sun and wind could barely get through the dense trees.  We were very thankful for the invite to come up with Jen and her partner and stay over night as this place clearly illustrated to me one of the reasons that people are so passionate to save these forests and to live in this soul-filling region. (I’ve posted a bunch more photos from this beautiful spot plus the rest of Dharmananda in my photo gallery)

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DSC02485We rounded out our visit with trips to the local village, The Channon, which had a throw-back feel to it, plus we saw their famous monthly market which was all local arts and crafts complete with all the old hippies and other locals walking around there. A must-see on our list was also famous Nimbin and it’s healthy hemp and pot industry, but it had a bit of a seedier feel to it than I expected. Still, it was a very interesting spot and worth a visit. The countryside in the region is impossibly pretty; truly Australia’s Tuscany in my opinion. Without a doubt, we need to explore the area more as it is thick with intentional communities and the exciting community-at-large makes it one of the most interesting parts of the country for like-minded folks, I imagine. Dharmananda was a great introduction to the area and I hope we can experience more of it and learn from the pioneers of communal living in Australia!

There was so many amazing photo opportunities in this region and on the property that I made a separate gallery to show off more pics than what fits in this blog post.

As always, please check out Heidi’s site about this visit as well for her unique insights on our journey.

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Cow’s milk (bovine breast-milk): the Great Debate

cowI was recently reading a blog posting about dairy on the controversial and very outspoken blog called the Collective Evolution. I’ve been meaning to post something about this topic as well as I feel strongly about it from an animal cruelty point-of-view but the more I learn about the health implications, the more surprised I am how many people continue to consume it. Even more surprisingly is how many people defend their dairy consumption, but then again, I guess it’s like the meat debate; you’ll always have people steadfastly defending the perceived merits from both sides.

The thing with dairy though is that much of it comes from factory-farmed sources, and while you can argue a case for grain-fed raw unpasteurised milk being better for you, the vast majority of people eat dairy tainted with chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and unsavory other bits, then forcibly over-milked from suffering, unhappy animals. That stuff on most supermarket shelves is arguably the most processed, unhealthy, tainted and cruel beverage you can buy.

There is much I could say in my own words about this issue, but the following excerpt I found was in the comments section on the Collective Evolution article amidst heavy debating on this topic. This particular excerpt stood out due to the writer’s calm logic – a logic with which I completely agree. So to save just repeating what is already a well-written argument, I will add her words here. Unfortunately I don’t have a full name to give credit but I’m sure the writer in question would be happy for more people to hear what she has to say…

This informative piece is from poster “Karen” (22 May 2013)

Every drop of cow’s milk in any cow’s milk product represents a baby that is not getting the milk designed for him or her.

Male calves are taken from their mothers within 12-24 hours after birth, fed a low iron diet and kept mostly all indoors in the hutch in order to induce anemia (for the most pale, tender flesh), and with a bottle of milk not superior to its own mother’s milk, so that the milk intended for it does not go to to the calf, but to humans it was never created for. The only reason the farmer lets the cow suckle for the first few days is to get the milk flowing after colostrum, just like in humans, and then the baby and mother never see each other again.

On the other hand, If nature were allowed to take its course, the calf would breast feed for up to a year (which is about the same time many humans choose to stop.).

In order for that hypothetical cow’s mother to be pregnant, it had to be Artificially Inseminated on what is called a “rape rack”.

The Artificial Insemination process is an element the dairy industry does not advertise when selling their products: a farmer sticking his entire arm up the colon of the cow to his elbow in order to manipulate the cervix and shove a long steel device containing a long needle syringe of semen into the vagina and through the uterine wall. He masturbated the male to climax (Webster’s dictionary definition of Bestiality). This is done to the female as soon as she is possibly able to conceive (imagine in human years what this would mean: it is the equivalent of 10-12 year old pregnant human girls.).

The farmers keep the cows constantly impregnated throughout their lives, starting as young as they can possibly become pregnant, and each time they give birth after gestation period of 9 months (the same amount of time it takes for a human mom to develop a baby), they are impregnated again 3 weeks later, until they are no longer producing milk at the same rate as their younger sisters, at which point they are slaughtered: every female cow still lactating from the nipples as it hits the slaughterhouse floor.

There is no magic cow that magically makes extra milk for humans. Like humans, they must first give birth.

These are what the hutches look like in reality: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=422882381091565&set=a.422499237796546.91761.422224324490704&type=1&theater

Farmers don’t allow the babies to drink the milk (except to suckle for the first few days of their life. That baby can not be called “breast fed”, anymore than you can say a human baby who suckled for colostrum only the first 2 days of its life was “breastfed”).

The next time a farm tells you they allow their male calves to breast feed, be sure and ask: “for how long?” Because stated one more time: they only allow the baby to suckle for the first few days in order to get the flow of milk started, contrary to the feigned pretense that they are actually breastfeeding, or that they are doing it for the baby’s health. They are in the industry as a business and it is not profitable for a baby to cut into those profits by drinking the milk the mother made for it.

The milk that they normally make for their calves would in no way cause their udders to become engorged were they not mechanically suctioned on average of only twice a day, making it very painful for the cow to the point where she is unable to stand from the weight–she would have to be milked and must return for it: this pain is induced and would not occur in nature were she just feeding her calf. (So the whole lie we’re brought up with that “cows need to be milked because otherwise it hurts them! They like being milked, because they walk right in to be milked!” is exposed for why that is. You don’t make the problem and then claim to be the hero for “saving the day”.).

Were you undergoing the same pain from this overfullness of milk, (since they are induced to create 35-50 litres of milk per day (about 13 gallons), which is more than 10 times what they would normally be making for their baby calf), you would want relief too.

The veal industry is a direct by-product of the cow’s breast secretions industry and is inseparable.

The male babies are disposed of in one way or another (either shot within hours of birth, a hammer taken to the head, or raised in a short, miserable few weeks of life away from their mothers to be slaughtered as veal), because they are of no use to the industry, just like male chicks are ground up alive in mechanical macerators, gassed, or suffocated in bags after hatching. The females follow the same slave footsteps as the mother until they too, reach the same death end.

If what happened to female cows happened to female humans, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it would be called rape: they are forced into pregnancy without choice of partner, or choice of when they want to be pregnant, or if they want to be pregnant at all, all so that humans can take and murder the baby for the breast secretions, hook them up to machines in spaces that make them stand until 40% of all female cows are too lame to walk at a pre-determined “slaughterhouse time” and must be dragged by chain across the floor.

The cows watch in complete terror as relatives and people of their social hierarchy in front of them are raised by the foot on a conveyor belt or taken a bolt gun to the head, and have their throats slit, sometimes still conscious and kicking, and shred of their parts within seconds after murder, with no choice to go anywhere but to the same fate forced upon them. The screams of slaughterhouses, the stench, the run-off–it is horrendous.

As a mother, I dreamt of this before I went Vegan, of what it would be like to be a female cow on this planet. And it was a nightmare, more hellish than anything I could possibly imagine. I knew there was no other word for the actions perpetrated on this species than evil.

The tipping point that turned me Vegan: a photo entitled “milk by-products”–a pile of dead newborn calves, shot and piled on top of each other, in a bin, view angled from the top of the bin. They look like baby deer. Then I discovered there is no worse sound than a mother who has been separated from her baby, who will bellow frantically for days, or a baby from the mother.

If given the option, mother cows and their offspring would stay together for life.

On a happier note, a video of a sanctuary who rescued a separated mother and brought the calf back to return:

http://www.godvine.com/Cow-Cries-All-Night-Over-Loss-of-her-Calf-Then-They-Reunite-1903.html

All cows, unless rescued by someone who cares an awful lot, and raised in a non-profit sanctuary, are being killed so someone can have their hamburgers of their bodies and then wash it down with milkshakes of their own secretions.

There are no more wild cattle (except in very tiny amount as endangered species) in any areas of the world because of the tyranny of some humans. This is not an exaggeration.

But if there were, the cattle prefer living in mountain forests–not flat, dry, void, grassland. They can live anywhere from 25-35 years old in the wild. As business commodities for profit, the dairy cows are slaughtered on average between 2-4 years old.

De-horning (the equivalent of breaking our bones), tail docking, third degree burn branding, and burning the tissue (also third degree burns) from their heads where the horns would normally grow so the horns won’t grow in can in no way be called “natural”, so why do people who drink cow’s breast secretions say these standard “requirements” are a natural thing to do?

There are no U.S. laws that give rights to “humane” treatment of farm animals (as long as the businesses get together and decide to do a practice, no matter what that practice is, it is upheld as “industry standard”), none enforcing transportation standards, which result in deaths, sicknesses and injuries. Here are a few research websites:

http://nzdairy.webs.com/thelifeofadairycow.htm

Here’s many different diseases indicted with consuming cow’s milk:

http://www.notmilk.com

This powerful study shows the blood of those on a Vegan diet is 8 times better at both slowing the growth rate of cancer cells and stopping it in its tracks. Check out the results of only 2 weeks on a Vegan diet on breast cancer cells.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTIrmOdmil4

“20 experts on the breast cancer and dairy connection”:
http://freefromharm.org/health-nutrition/21-experts-on-the-dairy-breast-cancer-connection/

What’s in a glass of cow’s milk?

Answer: blood, pus, +80 hormones (including from cows not injected with rBGH), lactose, which our bodies CAN NOT process, so lactase is artificially added (because the meat and dairy industries know what’s best for us, right?), casein (which our bodies can not use & is indicted with many forms of cancer), long-chain saturated fatty acids which do not flush out of the body (unlike the medium-chain length from plant sources such as avocado & coconut), cholesterol, acidic protein which leaches calcium from bones, dioxins, dead bacteria from pasteurization, pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics. Cow’s milk is a mucus and acne producer.

Cow’s milk has an opiate effect on the brain, has been indicted with Diabetes T1 & 2, osteoporosis, arthritis, breast, colorectal, ovarian, kidney and prostate cancer, gallstones, Alzheimer’s, anemia, autism, allergies, asthma, constipation, headaches, obesity, and more.

There is no such thing as humane dairy. With every drop of dairy, rape occurs, a baby is stolen and a murder happens. And all for a product that kills us inevitably, leads to disease outbreaks and environmental destruction, and that we don’t need.

The testimony of a worker who was in charge of separating the mothers from their babies and ensuring the babies accept the substitute powdered water “milk”:

http://motherhooddeleted.blogspot.com/2008/11/crying-of-mothers.html

I could go all night into the environmental and humanitarian consequences, so I’ll save that arena for another time.


My hope – as it is with eating animal flesh – is that while I can’t expect people to completely give up dairy or expect the industry to just pack up and stop, we CAN greatly reduce our consumption to the point that factory dairies can be a thing of the past. My hope is that everyone can consider with compassion the plight of these animals and simply reduce their dairy intake, encouraging others to do the same. At the very least, pay that tiny bit extra to get your milk and eggs, etc. from a humane source.

If anyone decides the want to flame on at me on this topic, please read the whole blog posting first and consider the core argument here: animal welfare in factory dairy farms. Alright; off you go then…