Prairie Oaks Institute

cultivating the earth, rejuvenating the spirit


Board of Directors

Kathy Farmer, President, Belle Plaine

Chris Johnson, Secretary, St. Peter

Kim Johnson, Treasurer, St. Peter

Board Members

Claire Curran, Minneapolis

JoAnne Gill, Belle Plaine

Kali Higgins, Stillwater

Cindy Johnson, St Peter

Shelly Olson, Cleveland

Julie Plaut, Minneapolis

Board Member Biographies

Kathy Farmer is a senior information technology manager for Cambria and has extensive experience in public, private and non-profit organizations with a focus on project management, system implementation and application support.

Kathy has lived in Belle Plaine since the mid-1980s with her family, husband Tim Lies and six children. With an interest in building sustainable and supportive communities, she has been active in public policy advocacy, political organizing and direct action. Most recently she has been working with the local food shelf to engage food shelf users in community gardening.

Kathy joined the Prairie Oaks board in June 2010 and is currently serving as Board President. She believes Prairie Oaks is bringing together people and organizations that share a common vision of building systems and communities on a human scale and preserving our natural environment.

Kim Devine-Johnson is co-founder of Prairie Oaks Institute (along with husband Chris Johnson), having grown up on the century farm that became the Prairie Oaks farm campus. Mother of three, she works as a pediatric physical therapist at Pediatric Therapy Services, Inc., Mankato, Minnesota. She is an active member of her church and community. Environmental stewardship and conservation practices are an important focus for Kim, along with nurturing what makes her heart sing and supporting others to do the same.

Chris Johnson is proud to be co-founder (with Kim Devine-Johnson) of POI.  Much of his work here grows from the same roots as a nearly 30-year career in teaching, mentoring, speaking, writing, facilitation, and consulting.  He’s recently launched a new endeavor called The Milkweed Group, LLC, whose mission is to create safe, courageous spaces that nourish inner wisdom, sharpen clarity of purpose, and fuel capacity to live and lead for a better world.

He has been active with state, regional, and national projects around issues of  vocation, calling, and purpose; life transitions; leadership development; personal, social, and ecological sustainability; experiential learning; civic engagement; and spirituality in life and work.  He’s a Circles of Trust® facilitator in association with Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal, and facilitates several Courage retreats at POI (and elsewhere) each year.

Originally from a dairy farm-family of six kids, he’s now a proud parent (with Kim) of their three children and lives in St. Peter.

Claire Curran is the Communications Manager at Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light where she leads their policy advocacy, communications, and storytelling work.  Claire completed her Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Peace Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College. While a student, Claire worked in the Center for Vocational Reflection with POI co-founder, Chris Johnson, and cultivated a lifelong passion for intersectionality, storytelling, and creating spaces for people to join their deep gladness with the world’s deepest needs. Claire lives in Minneapolis and dances with One Dance Company in St Paul.

Kali Higgins is the founder of Moon River Wellness, a small business that empowers people to be well through engaging, holistic health services, spiritual classes and retreat work.  She is a certified health and wellness coach, yoga instructor and herbalist. She specializes in heart-centered living and soul exploration, mindfulness training and healing with herbs and flower essences. She facilitates regular meditation classes with Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in the East metro area Allina hospitals.  Kali lives in Stillwater with her husband, daughter and dog where they enjoy the beauty of the land’s natural resources and a slower pace of life. Together they enjoy learning, reading, writing, being in nature and being of service to others. Though she lives a distance away from POI, a big part of her heart lives at the farm where her love for retreat, eco-justice, inspiring minds, and community come together.

Cindy Johnson is professor of biology and environmental studies at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. She is a self-proclaimed “plant pusher” with passion for plant biology, ecology and the importance of wild beings in our world. She has a soft spot for all things wild and is especially interested in species conservation and recognition of the role non-human species play in the natural world. Cindy believes that to live deeply within the natural world is to savor the breath within each of us that cycles among all living beings, rocks and clouds. Cindy is especially interested in prairie restoration at Prairie Oaks Institute.

Shelly Olson grew up in southern Minnesota and treasures her memories of work and play on her paternal and maternal grandparents’ farms. Her family’s faith and God’s creation nurtured her gifts for listening, learning and praying. She has been a pastor for over twenty years, and has been at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Cleveland for almost nine. Shelly and her husband, Erik, live in North Mankato. They are blessed with three children and a Puggle to love. Shelly finds deep joy in encouraging people, especially women and children to strengthen their voices and sense of place in God’s world. She is grateful for the people she has met at POI and is honored to be a new part of this humble community rooted in believing that when we care for the earth we care for each other.

Julie Plaut’s community and professional work is grounded in a deep commitment to lifelong learning and asset-focused collaborations that contribute to just, democratic, and sustainable communities–and healthy, joyful people. A historian by training, she also believes that the stories we tell about the past shape everything we think and do. Julie has served as executive director of Minnesota Campus Compact since 2009, supporting community engagement at all types of colleges and universities.


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