Growing Gilbert's Grapes

Oct 23, 2015

Chris and Sara Gilbert of Gilbert's Grapes in Bettendorf

Laura: Chris and Sara Gilbert have turned their backyard in Bettendorf into a profitable mini-farm. Just 27 years old, the couple sees the garden that covers about one-fifth of an acre as an integral part of their future. Chris was first inspired to try his hand at farming by a college professor.

Chris: Well, I've been going to school at Western Illinois University and then I was kind of inspired by one of my teachers who was also a farmer. She was doing that, so in the summer, when she was not doing teaching she was doing that. So I was like, well, I'm a student, you know, I can do that, too.

Laura: Chris is still in school and Sara has a full-time job, but in the summer Chris works the farm and on the weekends they can be found selling their vast array of produce under the company name Gilbert's Grapes at the Freight House Farmers' Market in downtown Davenport.

Sara: I think a lot of people love our arugula and spinach. So, you know, when we didn't have it and when it got hotter out, people were upset because they were getting it every week and they wanted it. And so now that we're starting to get it again, all those customers are coming back really excited about spinach.

Laura: Now in their second year they have made some changes.

Sara: I was in Wisconsin and I got a text message of a picture of him digging up half our yard going, "Surprise!"

Chris: But we've got plenty of yard, too.

Sara: We do. From last year to this year we doubled our space and we more than tripled our profits, so we're just trying to figure out what people want and like I said next year we'll reassess from this year and probably do things a little bit differently, and take it from there. But Chris is the one who does it all. I help on weekends to harvest in the spring and the tomatoes, but he's home and he has the kids and he does the farm, so it works.

Laura: The first summer with the garden was a learning experience and a great deal of work. Although they have not gone through the process of getting certified, the garden is organic.

Chris: But growing organically and not using any sprays or anything like that, sometimes you have years where there's no bugs and you have years where theres just a big huge infestation of a certain kind of pest and that put a damper on this year.

Sara: Yeah, you don't know what, we had a lot of rain at one point. And that really destroyed a lot of different crops. You don't know, there's things you can't really plan for. You just have to figure out how to react appropriately.

Laura: The Gilberts are interested in educating others about intensive gardening -- using a small space efficiently -- and growing organic foods.

Chris: I say go for it.  I mean seiously, we started in a duplex. We had probably a four foot by thirty foot space.

Sara: We're just your average joe. We're not farmers. We don't have all these acres. We live in a residential neighborhood, with neighbors right next to us. We love it because we can feed our family and feed our community and have really great food, but anyone can do it. We started small and everything's a learning experience.

Laura: You can read the full article about Gilbert’s Grapes by Lillian Zier Martell at and discover more people involved in healthy living from the ground up in the pages of Radish Magazine. For Radish on the Radio and WVIK, I’m Radish Magazine editor Laura Anderson Shaw.