Eco Exploration: A Sustainable Eastern Iowa Spirituality Center

One thing I miss most about my undergrad college years was when I would learn something new that completely enthralled me. Different things would grab hold of my mind and thoughts, and I'd almost develop an obsession for discovering more about that topic which captured my attention.

It's been seven years since those undergrad days, and five since I completed my masters degree. Granted, I took part in a lot of professional learning as a teacher, but it was rare to find that topic or idea that kept my rapt attention for more than a few minutes.

That is, until I reconnected with agriculture.

And my roots.

About two years ago I took a class called Homegrown Lifestyles from the Iowa State Universtity County Extension Offices. Y'all remember that, right? I went from zero to 60 in a summer, and dove headlong into sustainable living and city homesteading. Who does that?! My mind was like a sponge, soaking up as much information from the REAL PEOPLE who taught the course (yep, no stuffy professors in that class, baby!).

The best part of the Homegrown Lifestyles class is the Network that we automatically join after 'graduating'. It allows us to stay connected to our classmates and continue our learning. Almost monthly there is an event for HGLS Networkers, and it's usually a tour of a farm, greenhouse, a productive backyard, a sustainable urban project, or eco-friendly business or organization. We're expounding on the topics from the class, and get to see them in action.

Like on Sunday, when myself and about 10 other HGLS Networkers took a tour of the Prairiewoods Spirituality Center. It was something I had been looking forward to for weeks!

And, let's just set the stage here, shall we?

For three days leading up to the tour, meteorologists forecasted 2-4 inches of snow for our area, which made me worried our tour would be cancelled. The morning of, I didn't hear word from Elizabeth, the HGLS organizer, so everything was a go. This would mean we would be touring a portion of the 70 acre property (indoors and outdoors) no matter the weather. By the time 2 p.m., our start time rolled around, snow was really accumulating.

No wind. Not too frigid of temperatures. Just big. fat. snowflakes.
(And, mind you, my sole of one of my snowboots dry-rotted and had a huge crack in it, so I laced up my ol' Converse sneakers and put a smile on my face. Booya.)

We arrived, met Emy (Prairiewoods employee and tour guide of 7 years - hey, girl!) and bundled up for what I will always recall as one of the most inspiring and informational HGLS tours I've ever attended. And trust me, the HGLS tours kick ass.

I'll let the photos do the talking a bit, and interject some information about Prairiewoods here and there. Let's do this:

First, something I've never seen before - or even knew existed - was a trombe (pronounced "trom") wall. Does anything look funny in the house above? The windows? That's the trombe wall!

Essentially, it's a set of huge windows that are bricked in. The heat from the sun on the windows warms the bricks and provides heat for the dwelling.

Prairiewoods has 100 solar modules, which is tied into the grid and provides the center with 45% of their total electricity for the main gathering center.

Yet, despite the huge wall of solar panels, visitors don't really see or come in contact with them, unless it's intentional. The layout of the property was well-planned. All of the buildings on their grounds have eco-friendly architectural designs that blend in with the beautiful Eastern Iowa landscape. Even in the dead of winter. Even when there are no leaves on the trees. Even when it's snowing like crazy.

My heart was fluttering when we toured the garden, greenhouse, and root cellar. They have a nice composting area, and a solar hot water system provides heat year-round for the hoop house.


The garden provides guests with all of their fruit, vegetable, and herb needs. The root cellar preserves most of those goods.


Prairiewoods Spirituality Center isn't a church, which is what I thought it was before arriving. It's actually a place for peace and transformation, where people of all cultures and all religions can gather and reconnect with whatever it is they are seeking. Best of all, their focus is for visitors and occupants to have a simple, holistic, and spiritual experience. Nature and eco-living are key tenants to this objective.

Isn't that an amazing concept? I'm not a very religious person, but Prairiewoods is speakin' my language when it comes to spirituality and the earth.

Moving on.

There's a guest house on site that uses a cool solar hot water system for shower, laundry, etc.

There are two hermitages, which look like little cabins, that were made out of straw bales.

I've never seen one before in 'real life', and was fascinated to learn these particular cabins are completely, 100% off grid. Seriously! How awesome is that?! They were beautiful, inside and out. I would totally live in one full time. (Hey John, are you reading this? Just sayin'...)

Oh, yeah. Did I mention there was a sweat lodge going on last weekend? See, it's legit:


We finished our tour with a winter hike during the snowfall, which was like the cherry on top of this whole experience. If you've never experienced the beauty of winter walk or hike, you're missing out. It's beautiful, and took me right back to my childhood when Ryan, Stephanie and I would hike down to our parents' cattle pasture to sled down the hills. Simply. Beautiful.

There was so much peaceful seclusion, which was amazing since Prairiewoods is located right on the edge of a major city. I didn't hear a single car in the two hours I was there.

I'm actually looking forward to going back in the summer. My sister in law (Hey, Dawn!) is a yoga instructor, and my sister (Hey, Steph!) is an esthetician, and I think it would be fabulous to hold a little afternoon retreat for the women in our families out at Prairiewoods, where we could walk the trails or labyrinth, do a little yoga and get a spa facial in a natural environment.

Disclosure: I was in no way compensated for this post, the images, or any of the content. I just had a killer time and wanted to tell y'all about it.


  1. As a participant in the sweat lodge, I could feel your good energy with us.

  2. Kelli, great job! I love your blog and thank you for the kind words about Prairiewoods! p.s. Can I be your soul sister for your weekend with your sisters - yogi and esthetician - HECk yes!!!

  3. very cool! I'm at the Iowa Turkey Federation and I'm amazed at the number of farmers putting solar panels on their barns this year! We're going to look into it!

  4. This really makes me want to move back to my parents farm and make a greenhouse and build a root cellar. Great post!

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