Our Origin Story

After leaving successful corporate careers in insurance and marketing, Convivium co-founders, husband and wife team Mike Muench and Leslie Shalabi set out to give back to the community through the creation of Convivium Urban Farmstead.

Convivium’s mission – to create community around food – began with the premise that most problems and challenges we experience in our culture today come from a lack of connection – from each other, from the environment, from the food we eat and from traditional skills and methods.

Every single activity, event and interaction at Convivium is designed as an antidote to the core issue of disconnection. In recent times, especially, finding ways to come together and connect which span political differences, socio-economic status or ethnic background is paramount to preserving and enhancing the fabric of our culture.

We believe that having a pleasant, enjoyable, engaging reason to connect is what will heal our fractured society and design every activity we produce to meet this goal.

Mike and Leslie bought the 1920s-era greenhouse complex that is now Convivium in October 2013. Their vision was to completely transform the historic, but rundown, property into an urban educational farm and focus not only on gardening education, but also cooking, food preservation and woodworking.

“We believe that having a pleasant, enjoyable, engaging reason to connect is what will heal our fractured society.”

Mike Muench and Leslie Shalabi, co-founders of Convivium Urban Farmstead.

The greenhouses were in complete disrepair when Mike and Leslie bought them in October 2013. This area is now our commercial kitchen and learning center.

They partnered with Milwaukee-based architectural firm, Galbraith Carnahan Architects, to help with the award-winning rehabilitation process. The idea was to use the existing footprint and buildings and create a variety of different spaces – each positioned to help with the overall mission of creating community around food.

Convivium is located on Jackson Street, in the “North End” of Dubuque. The area is a traditionally working class German and Irish immigrant neighborhood that was home to many of the employees of the nearby millwork factories and meat packing plant.

By the mid-1980s, many of the residential and commercial properties has fallen into steep decline and disinvestment. The loss of longtime residents and community institutions contributed to an enduring decline. Challenges of housing and building conditions, a concentration of distressed properties and a need for education, services, food access and training have required a coordinated revitalization effort between the city, non-profit entities, local businesses and investors.

“Over 30% of North End residents live below the poverty line.”

The Convivium Farmhouse, where Mike and Leslie live year around. Notice the edible landscaping.

Mike and Leslie wanted to be part of this revitalization effort. In fact, they felt so strongly about it that in addition to the $1.3 million greenhouse rehabilitation project, they bought the house right next door to Convivium and live there year around.

Poverty and food insecurity is an everyday reality for many North End residents. Over 30% of North End residents live below the poverty line and between 25% and 50% of households receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps).

The re-construction on Convivium began in October 2015 and continued (with many ups and downs and twists and turns) through February 2017, opening its doors to the public on March 17, 2017.

Read more about the construction of the facility here. 

Convivium Urban Farmstead is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to create community around all aspects of food. Your patronage helps support our non-profit activities.