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5 Ways to Live Sustainably: Lessons from Prairiewoods FSC

Over the weekend, I was happy to join a great group of Iowa bloggers on a lovely snowy day to network and tour the Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. Not only was it fabulous connecting with a group of bloggers I greatly admire, but I was delighted to tour the Prairiewods facility and take away great calls to action for our own efforts to live sustainably on our little homestead in Eastern Iowa.

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably

What is Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center?

Prairiewoods FSC is a 70 acre facility (30 acres of prairie and 40 acres of woodland) that integrates ecology and spirituality based on the book The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. It’s a place of peace and transformation with retreats and programs to help people find healing for their bodies, minds, and spirits by focusing on three core teachings: ecology, spirituality, and holistic health. I am intrigued by their ideas and took a look at their event schedule! There are some great course listings that I might sign up for one of these days. I’m delighted to see all of the ways they lessen their impact on the earth, and although we already do some of the same things, I took away a few ideas to integrate into our homestead, too!

5 Ways to Live Sustainably: Lessons from Prairiewoods FSC

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably

1. Grow your own food

Prairiewoods grows a large portion of the food they eat, like I try to do here too. But they’ve taken their gardening endeavor a little more seriously than I have, by trying to extend their growing season. I loved touring inside their hoop house. The concept is simple – a solar hot water system is piped to the hoop house that they built themselves so they can grow greens and other veggies even during the cold of the winter.Ways to Live Sustainably

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably - hoop house

Unfortunately, the hot water system wasn’t working properly when we were there, but inside the hoop house was still quite a lot warmer than the outside air. And look how many people fit in there! Isn’t that awesome. 🙂 By the way, that’s Nic & Kier in the front of the photo – Kierstan blogs at Life in Iowa. In the back of the photo is Jenny from In the Kitchen with Jenny. Her husband is half visible. Jenny and Kierstan are two amazingly talented bloggers – you should check them out!

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably-spinach growing in hoop house

And check out that spinach! Wouldn’t it be nice to pick spinach in the dead of winter?

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably - compost

2. Compost

So, I compost already. Well, I dump some of my food scraps in a composter. I also feed some to the bunny and some to the chickens. I dump some on the ground for the chickens to root through. My version of composting is really kind of gross and not very productive –  I have not managed to create a great composting system yet, but I love these composting bins at PWFSC. They look to made from pallets which I happen to have a ton of. I think I can talk my husband into making me something like this with the proper motivation. 😀

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably - keep bees

3. Help pollinators survive

You’ve probably heard about the colony collapse problem we’re currently facing. Bees are dying out in alarming numbers. Not only are they necessary to pollinate our crops, but they also make fantastic honey. I think it would be wonderful to keep bees – if I could get beyond my fear of dealing with them. Another concern is the amount of pesticides that are used locally. A recent Harvard study says pesticide use (specifically of neonictinoids) may be to blame. While I don’t use pesticides on my gardens, they are widely used on the fields all around me – and I’m not sure how that might impact keeping bees. BUT, since 1/3 of the food we eat relies on honeybees to pollinate, I might have to try to keep bees some day and make my own small mark.

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably - root cellar

4. Store food you grow to eat all year long

PWFSC has an awesome root cellar! I wish we could have gone inside, but we were not able to. Essentially, their root cellar is built into a hill and looks to be quite large. It has ventilation pipes and stores lots of root veggies that they eat all winter long. I grow a lot of potatoes and would love a root cellar to store them in. Right now, I’m storing them in too warm of a location and they are sprouting too quickly.

5 Ways to Live More Sustainably

5. Generate your own power

PWFSC has several different power generation methods, including a 70 KW solar panel system tied into the grid, as well as other solar panels that are off-grid. We’re building our passive house right now that will be 100% electric and have plans to install our own 5-7 KW solar panel system as well. It will be tied into the grid and should generate most of the energy we will use. Obviously, this system pictured above wasn’t generating much electricity on the cloudy, snowy day we were there, but on average, solar panels produce quite well in Iowa. They come with great tax benefits and a quick pay-off time as well. I was shocked by all the solar panels I saw when we were in Germany this past summer – if they can do it, we can do it! You can read about federal tax credits for renewable energy here, and for Iowa tax credits here.

These are the lessons I learned while touring Prairiewoods FSC and five ideas I’d like to implement to help us live more sustainably. If you’re in Iowa, I highly recommend a visit to PWFSC! What are your goals for sustainable living?

Linking up: Mostly Homemade Mondays;

Sarah Koontz {Grounded & Surrounded}

Friday 30th of January 2015

It would be great if you could get plans on that hoop house, and water system. We really want to build one of our own, but for right now it has been cost prohibitive. And a root cellar would be awesome!

Michelle Marine

Saturday 31st of January 2015

That would be awesome, Sarah. I'll see what I can do about hoop house plans! They said it wasn't too expensive, but I didn't ask for the price. :-)


Friday 30th of January 2015

Michelle, all the ideas here are great. Unfortunately I have a small space, 32 x 110, so what I have been doing is purching multigrafted fruit trees to espalier along my fence line, extending the fence to the rear of the garage for more gardening space and working on soil amendments in hopes it will be sufficient for 1 person. I have purchased and planted a 4 grafted of each: pluot, peach, & cherry tree. I have also planted a Niagara grapevine and plan on blackberries and raspberries this spring. I am so looking forward to the spring. I have a key lime and a red orange tree to plant as well. Blessings

Dan (the husband)

Thursday 29th of January 2015

I anxiously await the "proper motivation." :-)

Michelle Marine

Thursday 29th of January 2015



Thursday 29th of January 2015

Robin!!! Thank you SOOOO much for the great article, pictures and positive words!!! Hope to see you again soon! Peace and all good! Emy

Michelle Marine

Thursday 29th of January 2015

Was lovely meeting you! You have great boots. ;-)


Thursday 29th of January 2015

i like the compost setup too. Adding it to the list...

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