Tour The Country Life Center
The Country Life Center location of The Wallace Centers of Iowa is the birthplace farm of Henry A. Wallace, born in 1888. He served the nation as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1941, U.S. Vice President from 1941 to 1945, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 1945 to 1946. Earlier in his career, he founded seed corn company Pioneer Hi-Bred in 1926 and was an editor at Wallaces' Farmer magazine. In 1999, The Des Moines Register named Wallace the "Most Influential Iowan of the 20th Century."
The birthplace farm includes:
-40 acres of the original Wallace farm
-Restored Iowa Prairie and Pond
-Sculpture Walking Path
-Themed Flower Gardens
-Orchard and Produce Gardens, and
-The Gathering Table Cafe, Gift Shop and Market
Walk around the farm and enjoy the history and landscape that helped shape the life of one of Iowa's most important native sons.
Location: The Country Life Center is located at 2773 290th Street, Orient, IA, just off the Henry A. Wallace Road (P-33). From I-80, take Exit 93 at Stuart, IA and travel south 12 miles to Highway 92. Turn west and travel 2 miles, then south 5 miles on the Henry A. Wallace Road. The Center is 1/4 mile west on 290th Street. IMPORTANT! DO NOT FOLLOW GPS DIRECTIONS AS THEY ARE INCORRECT.
For a map and printable directions, please use this Adobe PDF document for your convenience!
Hours: Open daily, self-guided tours of the Country Life Center are available any time of the day or evening. The Center is staffed Monday-Friday from 9 am to 4 pm nearly year-round. Free will donations are accepted.
The Country Life Center includes 40 of the original 160 acres of the Wallace farm. The land was owned by “Uncle Henry” Wallace who later become the first editor of Wallaces’ Farmer magazine. His son, Henry C. (Harry) Wallace moved there in 1886 to raise purebred Shorthorn cattle, Percheron horses, Poland China hogs, and feeder cattle. His new bride, May Brodhead, joined him in late 1887. Harry planted a grove of fast-growing catalpa trees to provide wood for the operation, and the farm became known as “the catalpa farm.” Henry A. was joined by his sister Annabelle in 1891. Farm prices were poor, and after five years of struggle, Harry decided to return to Iowa State College to finish his education.
The house is an example of early 20th century rural homes throughout Iowa. Often a one-story home would serve the farm family for a few years until the farm was established, then the two-story addition would be built. Currently the house serves as the gift shop and produce market and includes offices for the staff.
The Gathering Barn was completed in 2003 as a meeting and educational facility. Since it replicates the barn that stood west of the house in the early days of the farm, it adds authenticity to the historical site which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Iowa’s historical architect, William Wagner, designed the building so that it is similar in general appearance to the original Wallace farmstead structure. The Barn is used for programming and is available for rent. Reservations for its use can be made by calling 641-337-5019.
Themed Flower Gardens
Henry A. Wallace was always interested in flowers. His favorite was gladiolus. Long before he developed hybrid corn, his first hybrid experiment was in his mother’s flower garden, crossing pansies. The floral gardens each have a theme and use flowers started in the greenhouse and plants shared by area gardeners. Themes include Henry's Garden, the Farmer's Garden, the Wedding Garden, the Fairy Garden, the Cottage Garden, the Herb Garden, and the Fishpond Garden.
Sculpture Walking Path
Five outdoor sculptures and other features along a gentle three-quarter mile prairie walking trail beckon visitors to see and contemplate. Each piece tells something about the work and accomplishments of Henry A. Wallace.
1. Soil, Seed, Soar created by Concetta Morales, Des Moines, Iowa
Soil and water erosion is interpreted in this exhibit. One of Henry A. Wallace’s greatest legacies was his attention to soil conservation. Completed in 1996, the vignettes are angled to represent side hills where soil can easily erode. Water, wind and weather have all done away with some of the tiles, the same way that soil washes away from cultivated hillsides. The two west structures represent water diversion which includes tiling and water’s pathways. The two north structures represent the corn and grasses associated with Henry A. Wallace. The east structure is his birthplace home and the land that drew him to his life’s work as a humanitarian, scientist, public servant, and writer.
Funded in part by Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, Iowa Community Cultural Grant Program, and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.
2. Iowa Prairie
The minimalist fence posts in “Iowa Prairie” reflects the scarcity of what was once abundant grasslands in the state. This installation was constructed in memory of Country Life Center board member Kyle Swanson.
3. Grasses/Voices created by Susan Gardels, Des Moines, Iowa
This artistic interpretation represents Henry A. Wallace’s attention to and respect for grasses as a way to save topsoil. By 1934, 61% of U.S. cropland was subject to continued erosion or was of a quality too poor to be profitably farmed. Grass root systems help hold soil in place, add nutrients to the soil, provide food for livestock and shelter for wildlife. Wallace felt that grasses were an essential part of agriculture. The three towers have carved grass sections and quotations from Henry A. Wallace and from the Bible. Wallace often included biblical references in his speeches and writings. Other quotes from local children about their perspective on grasses represent the future.
Funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and Iowa Community Cultural Grant Program.
4. Scarecrows and War created by Jim Russell, Des Moines, Iowa
Henry A. Wallace served as Vice President of the United States during World War II. Following the war, he envisioned a world reborn from the destruction. This interpretation represents that viewpoint. The cannon issues forth seeds and plants indicative of the corn stalk. Integrated are two scarecrows, one a traditional image juxtaposed with a more literal angelic guardian figure. Together they provide stewardship to the land and lend spiritual shelter to humanity. Russell explains the imagery by stating, “For as Henry A. Wallace envisioned a more enduring world reborn from depression and war, so must I attempt to symbolize its arrival.” The symbolism of the sculpture can also be seen by the use of old, discarded farm machinery parts.
Funded in part by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and Iowa Community Cultural Grant Program.
5. Wallace’s Victory Garden created by Jim Russell, Des Moines, Iowa
Completed in 2008, the sculpture features an oversized fence, various gardening tools, and a farmer’s hat. The artwork is also a memorial tribute to Ray Jensen of Fontanelle, IA who served as the Center’s farm manager from 2002 to 2007. Ray died of pancreatic cancer in September 2007. Throughout his illness he continued to work at the Country Life Center. Because of his dedicated work, the Center’s produce gardens flourished and allowed the Center to expand its offerings to the public.
In an artistic statement about his work Russell explains, “When considering a ‘Victory Garden’ commemoration, and when paying tribute, it seems important to identify the culture of the heartland and those who reflect its strengths. Certainly Henry Wallace comes to mind, and what a fitting environment for such a tribute, right here at the Country Life Center. Equally important to recognize and pay tribute to as well, are the people who presently till these soils here at the farm. Those people who daily offer their personal passions, their instinctive and scientific hands-on expertise to further perpetuate and reinforce the value of land stewardship and hard work.”
Farm Fence Area
Located north of the pond, this section of the walking path pays tribute to the role that fences have always played in farming. A fence is an essential farm tool as it acts as a border, boundary, and pen for livestock. This portion of the walking path was an Eagle Scout project completed by Matt Hoger of Clive, IA. The north fence is estimated to be from the mid-20th century. He planned and executed the project with assistance from Boy Scout Troop 208. Enjoy the shady trees and various wildflowers.
Orchard & Produce Gardens
Vegetables and fruit grown on the farm are sold in the Community-Supported Agriculture program, at area farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and at the Thursday and Friday Garden Market inside the on-site Gift Shop. In addition, the fresh produce is used in food preparation at the Gathering Table restaurant. The Center produces 8 to 10 different kinds of fruits and 30 to 40 varieties of vegetables from its four working acres.
Restored Iowa Prairie
Located west of the Gathering Barn, this nine acres of former pasture was renovated to Iowa prairie in 1996 and reconstructed in 2007 to incorporate additional native grasses and forbes. Currently, about 20 grasses and 120 forbes result in an ever-changing vista.
In 1996, more than 100 members or associate members of the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association volunteered their time to construct this 1.5 acre pond along with three grassed waterways and a terrace. The Country Life Center was selected as a field day location because Henry A. Wallace, while U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during the 1930s, brought the idea of soil conservation to the forefront of agricultural practices. He was a very vocal advocate for constructing terraces and ponds, contour farming and reforestation. For a two-day period in August 1996, equipment, volunteers, tools, materials and spectators came together for the construction project.
Appreciation is extended to the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and contractors and suppliers from Walnut, Sidney, Grinnell, Bedford, Greenfield, Fontanelle, Hendrick, and Independence, Iowa.
Gathering Table Restaurant, Gift Shop & Market
Lunches and dinners are served Fridays in the Gathering Barn from 11 am to 1 pm and 5:30 to 8 pm nearly year-round except between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Menus are built around what is available to harvest from the gardens.
The Gift Shop consigns a diverse selection of items from artisans throughout southern Iowa. The shop attracts artwork and craft work, giving local artists an opportunity to share their work. Gift items include jewelry, ceramics, note cards, quilted hangings, primitive art, handmade lotions, bath salts, aprons, and garden art. Along with the handmade gifts, the shop also stocks an array of Iowa wines.
During the growing season, the Market offers fresh produce for sale to the public from the organic garden and orchard. Stop in!