“Let’s go eat some stuff” announced A.J. Schultz, the Farm Manager at Convivium Urban Farmstead in Dubuque, Iowa as our group tour was about to start. He’s not talking about heading into the store to place our lunch order. Instead, we are getting a tour of the many gardens that help support their mission and A.J. is telling us this is an eating tour – we’re going to taste our way through the gardens.
The outside patio of Convivium Urban Farmstead in Dubuque, Iowa. The large hall inside is used for both serving meals and is also available as a rental space for meetings, gatherings, or weddings. All proceeds from the venue hall are directed back to the nonprofit that runs Convivium. To the right is their coffee shop and merch store, which also directs its proceeds back to the nonprofit.
First up are the demonstration gardens outside their facility, which were once a pair of abandoned greenhouses located on the north side of Dubuque. In these initial gardens, they showcase how even a small area can be used to create fresh produce.
A.J. is showing the potato towers, which are basically vertical bins that are used for growing potatoes that have alternate layers of compost and straw.
In fact, the house next door to Convivium is all edible landscaped. “Why would you grow grass, when you can grow food?” A.J. states.
As the tour continues, you’ll walk a few blocks into the neighborhood and discover that there are private and public gardens. Private gardens are used by the convivium and/or the owner only. The public gardens are available to anyone. Yes, anyone. AJ talks about how adults and even kids can stop by a public garden for a quick snack.
All along the tour, A.J. is explaining each of the plants and what it’s used for and how to know when it’s the best time to pick.
This is a common scene during the tour – A.J. just picked a few samples of the two doctors tomatoes and places them in his open hand and extends it to you. However – he does NOT ask “Do you like tomatoes? or Would you like to try some?” Instead, he just moves them close to you and says “The smaller ones are the juiciest. Try it” or something like that to lead you into knowing which one to pick. This man knows how to sell veggies.
They also raise chickens. Notice the red swing set near the fence. We asked A.J. if the chickens actually play on the swing, and he responded that mostly the younger chickens – and the older chickens just watch and don’t typically participate.
A.J. is showing the outdoor cooking area that is being built. Lots of organizations are trying to solve food insecurity in their community, but Convivium is truly unique as they don’t want to just provide you with a meal. They want to help you learn how to grow your own food and cook simple meals with real ingredients. They offer recurring classes in gardening, composting, and cooking.
The large hall serves as a place to eat during store hours, but can also be rented for gatherings, meetings, and even weddings.
For lunch, I had a veggie wrap, kettle chips, and a cookie. The wrap was made with fresh ingredients from the gardens that we just finished touring.
After lunch, I checked out the kitchen space. It was Wednesday afternoon and every week at this time, volunteers are gathering fresh ingredients to make casseroles because they provide free casseroles to the public every Thursday. Anyone who walks in can ask for a small or family-sized casserole and it is completely free. A.J. stays they distribute between 200 and 300 meals every Thursday.
The store sign reads “Eat Local. Feed Local”
Location: 2811 Jackson Street, Dubuque, Iowa 52001
All photos by Brian Abeling / Iowa Road Trip