Prairie Oaks Institute

cultivating the earth, rejuvenating the spirit

Leave a comment

Leading with Heart: Courage and Resilience for Challenging Times A Courage to Lead® / Daring Way™ Retreat

Leading with Heart: Courage and Resilience for Challenging Times
A Courage to Lead® / Daring Way™ Retreat

We live in challenging times, bewildering times of great change, uncertainty – and promise. The more frustrated, confused, or passionate we are about our lives and our work in the world, the more vital it is that we find time to renew our spirits and to re-connect what we do with who we are. As the grip of winter gives way to the restless energy of spring, cultivate a deeper capacity to contribute and thrive with greater wholeness and authenticity.

Weaving together the work of best-selling authors Parker J. Palmer (Let Your Life Speak, A Hidden Wholeness) and Brené Brown (Daring Greatly, Rising Strong) this retreat offers a rare opportunity to:

  • enhance your sense of calling, direction, and confidence to navigate change.
  • develop daily practices and skills to rise strong when you fall.
  • reconnect what you do with who you are.
  • replenish inner reservoirs of courage and resilience so you can live, work, and lead wherever you are, for the common good.


This retreat begins at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, April 19, 2018 and concludes by 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. The retreat will include ample time and space for solitude and conversation, journaling, silence and dialogue, rest and relaxing walks in the glorious outdoors. The retreat will be led by Daring Way™ facilitator Rev. Sarah Ciavarri ( and Courage and Renewal® facilitator Dr. Chris Johnson, founder and principal of The Milkweed Group (

The suggested donation for registration of $325 includes overnight lodging (shared occupancy) in either “Harvest House” or “The Farmhouse” at POI, all meals, refreshments, and materials. The “commuter rate” of $225 includes everything except overnight lodging and breakfast. Some scholarship support is available; please contact Chris via email at Also, please let us know well in advance – with your registration is best – if you have any dietary restrictions.


Deadline: April 2, 2018

Space is limited, so register now at

Prairie Oaks Institute, is a nonprofit education- and retreat center located on a 115-year-old farm campus on the edge of Belle Plaine, on the southwest outskirts of the Twin Cities. POI’s mission is to be a catalyst of rejuvenation for people and the planet, and its work is to nourish expansive imagination, bold thinking, wise action, and cross-sector solutions to the unprecedented environmental and social challenges of our time. Please visit for more information.

We look forward to having you with us!

Leave a comment

Support POI during Give to the Max — November 1 – 16, 2017

GTMD17LogoVerticalReverse_previewBe a catalyst for change by supporting Prairie Oaks Institute, a community grounded in the work of caring for the earth and the human spirit.

Click here to support POI now!

Prairie Oaks Institute is again participating in Give the the Max, 2017!  

This year, we have a special need in the form of significant time sensitive, county-mandated updates to the septic-system infrastructure for both the Harvest House and the Farm House. Your donation will directly impact our ability to make the required updates.

Will you help support our work? The Give to the Max campaign begins November 1, 2017, and ends on November 16, 2017.

Community is at the heart of Prairie Oaks Institute (POI) at Robert Creek. The mission of POI is to cultivate ways of living and leading that affirm the interdependence of all living things and connect self, spirit, community and earth for a resilient, renewed future. Our 20-acre farm campus is framed by the natural beauty of magnificent bur oaks and graceful prairie grasses; truly a place to pause, refresh and join together with a renewed commitment to our world and each other.

We put our mission in action by sponsoring educational and leadership programs, offering our 20-acre farm campus for retreat and renewal, and connecting with other organizations and communities to promote sustainability.

This year our emphasis is on three areas:

– Care, maintenance, and upkeep of the campus

– Expanding programming efforts

– Developing sustainable ecological practices

In this coming year, we hope to take POI to the next level, which will include major changes to campus infrastructure to support an expansion of community and programming.

Join us at POI for a program, retreat, or walk in the prairie. You are always welcome at Prairie Oaks.


Leave a comment

Finishing Strong! Join us to explore “What’s next?”

A retreat for mature individuals interested in intentionally directing the next stage of their life. Tickets found here.
March 24-26, 2017
Prairie Oaks Institute

What’s next? Would you like to be intentional about your next steps? Whether it is leaving a lifetime career for retirement / re’fire’ment or transitioning to new ventures this workshop will guide you in thoughtfully creating a plan for directing this transition. Throughout the weekend we will use meditation, writing, sharing, movement and music to create a setting for mindfully crafting what’s next. Are there unrealized dreams that need voice or do you simply need an open canvas on which to paint next steps? We will use life maps, visioning and time outdoors to examine who we were, who we are and what really matters as we move forward. Join Michele and Cindy to explore what is next in your life, ‘finishing strong’.

Cost: Participants pay for meals and lodging ($175 for the full weekend) and are asked to make a tax-deductible tuition contribution at the end of the weekend based on the value they received from the workshop, ability to pay and interest in supporting Prairie Oaks Institute. (Bring a checkbook or credit card.)

Times: We will start at 7 pm Friday evening and finish by 1 pm on Sunday. Participants are asked to minimize usage of electronic devices during the workshop to facilitate full immersion and intentional cultivation of contemplative and creative space.

Michele Rusinko
is a teacher, writer and resiliency coach. Michele has spent her entire career integrating the life of the mind with the wisdom of the body. Navigating her cancer diagnosis gave her new skills which allowed her to feel empowered and joyful as she adapted to the changing landscape. It is these skills, and this dance, she enjoys sharing with students of all ages and backgrounds.


Cindy Johnson is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. She holds sacred all things wild and is especially interested in conservation. Reconnecting with the natural world and cultivating these connections in the “next stage” of life is vital to transitions. Lessons from the natural world enrich our understanding of transitions / change. 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.

Leave a comment

Carnival de Resistance Artivists at Praire Oaks!

Prairie Oaks Institute is excited to host the merry artivists from the Carnival de Resistance for 10 days as they train and prepare for their residency at Redeemer Lutheran in north Minneapolis, September 13th to 26th.

The Carnival de Resistance is a traveling arts carnival and ceremonial theater company, a village demonstration project exploring ecological practices, and an education and social outreach project; all focusing on ecological justice and radical theology.

You’ll find the complete schedule of events here.

We are honored to host the coming together of the 2016 Carnival de Resistance!



Leave a comment

Full Voice: A Day with Barbara McAfee

How can you speak so people will listen?

Are you using the full capacity of your voice in service to your intentions, visions, and purpose?

What gifts reside deep inside you that are yearning for expression?

These complex, challenging, and exciting times are calling you to “show up” with authenticity, integrity, and courage.  As important as our voices are, few of us know how to use them to their full potential. Working with your own full voice makes you a more skillful listener as well.

We’re thrilled to welcome Barbara McAfee back to Prairie Oaks Institute. Please join us for this extraordinary day, Saturday, July 30, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.   Then stay (and invite your friends and family to come too!) for a fantastic, free potluck meal and community sing with Barbara at the Granary, on the edge of the prairie overlooking Robert Creek.

For more information and to register (on a “sliding scale suggested donation” basis), please visit today!  Optional overnight lodging is also available Friday and Saturday in either the Farmhouse or Harvest House, with a light breakfast the following morning. Come early, stay late, or make it a full weekend!

More about Barbara:download (1)-003

Barbara McAfee is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynoter, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformative power of sound.  Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years of supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships.

Barbara’s work blends practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement.

She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with author Peter Block.  Barbara has produced seven CDs of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities.

She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Leave a comment

On the Commons with Jay Wallsjasper

Join us for our May Community Potluck with our inspiring special guest Jay Walljasper. Editor of Commons Magazine and a noted writer, speaker and thought-leader on  building and sustaining strong communities. This night is sure to stimulate some great conversations!

Here’s a link to an article on Jay’s book on the Commons, All That We Share.

We provide the soup, bread and beverages. You provide the great company and interesting conversation (and a dish to share, if you like.)

Gather at 6pm, eat at 6:30pm at Harvest House, 1200 W Main Street, Belle Plaine.

We’d like to extend a particular welcome to our volunteers and will be serving an ice cream cake in honor of all their work.

Please RSVP on Facebook so we can make sure we have enough soup!

Leave a comment

Courage to Teach Retreat June 26-28!

“Breathe, trust, and hold the space open for the U N I M A G I N A B L E to flow into your experience.” Happiness Project.

What in your life…

  • is flourishing and in full bloom?
  • needs tending or extra care?
  • needs to be weeded or cut back to make room and space for what’s needed.

Do you…

  • crave a chance to explore big ideas in a safe space with like-minded colleagues?
  • want to “reconnect what you do with who you are?”
  • hope to return to your work with renewed energy?

The “Taking Care of Self” Retreat offers a quiet, supportive space for such exploration. Surrounded by the abundant of summer, this retreat offers a place of self care in community in the midst of our hectic world.  It’s an opportunity to explore your own sense of identity, purpose, and calling; to reweave the deep connection between your “soul and role”; and to renew your capacity to live and work from a place of wholeness and authenticity.  Grounded in the truths of your own stories and questions, and guided by the Circles of Trust® model and the bestselling books A Hidden Wholeness and The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer, this retreat invites you slow down, partake in healthy food, rest and gentle movement while you reflect on your own beginnings and endings.

Some additional details:

We’ll begin with dinner Sunday evening, June 26 and end shortly after lunch on Tuesday, June 28.  We will gather in community at Prairie Oaks Institute, at the edge of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, just southwest of the Twin Cities.  The retreat will be led by Laura Kinkead, a leadership development consultant and Courage and Renewal® facilitator-in-preparation Patti Hoffman, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

We are able to make this life-giving opportunity available for a cost of only $255* because of support from the Center for Excellence and Innovation at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The registration fee includes lodging, meals, materials, and program. A lesser rate of $175 is available for commuters or those wishing to camp onsite or make their own lodging reservations. Accommodations at Prairie Oaks are double occupancy. (*Limited financial support may be requested from CETL for MSU faculty and staff.)

Please let us know well in advance if you have any dietary restrictions.  You’ll receive further details about what to bring, how to prepare, and so on, from the facilitators in early June.

Space is limited to 15 participants, so please register early (by June 8th at the latest) or at


Laura Kinkead, MBA is a leadership development consultant. Her work includes executive coaching, leadership and team development, and organizational and individual renewal. She works with teams and individuals to build leadership capacity and the ability to deal with change, conflict and ambiguity. Laura also facilitates Courage to Lead retreat series for teachers, health professionals, leaders and other service professionals. She has facilitated The Courage to Imagine retreat series for medical fellows through the Archibald Bush Foundation and she has been a member of the community faculty at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota where she led a renewal retreat series for health professionals. Laura studied Adaptive Leadership at Harvard University and teaches a graduate program in leadership at Concordia University. She has an MBA from the University of St. Thomas and is a partner in the leadership development firm, The Collabrium.

Patricia Hoffman and her husband Allen live in rural Courtland, Minnesota along the banks of the Minnesota River where they raised four children. She currently works as Director of professional development for faculty and staff at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has been an educator of English learners, students with special needs, and foreign language learners in the K-12 setting and abroad as well as taught in teacher education at the University. She is grateful to her family and students for preparing her for the joy of becoming a life-long learner.

What are the benefits of Courage to Teach?

CTT helps each educator strengthen his or her sense of identity and integrity. Men and women, individuals of all backgrounds and belief systems, experienced educators and novices—each has a unique experience based on the questions she or he brings. Across the nation, educators report common powerful benefits:

  • a renewed passion for teaching
  • strengthened relationships with colleagues
  • increased commitment to vocation
  • more time spent reflecting on professional practice
  • improved relationships with students
  • revitalized capacity as leaders for educational change.

For more information about Parker J. Palmer and the Courage to Teach, as well as the Circles of Trust approach, please visit the website for the Center for Courage and Renewal

We look forward to having you with us!


“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher….”

~ Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscapes of a Teacher’s Life



Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 6:00 PM – Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 2:00 PM (CDT) – Add to Calendar


Prairie Oaks Institute: Harvest House – 1200 West South Street, Belle Plaine, MN 56011 – View Map