Despite the continued media focus on industrial food production and fast food, there are signs of change right here in South Bend. The Purple Porch Cooperative is a group of local farmers that work together to bring their fresh produce, meats, eggs, and baked goods to South Bend residents. A number of Michiana families started the co-op just over a year ago when they began questioning why the food they bought in the grocery store traveled thousands of miles when so many farmers were growing food right in their own hometown.
Co-op food is grown within 60 miles of South Bend, explained cooperative business manager Greg Koehler, with some exceptions for products such as coffee that is roasted in Michiana, but not grown here. “By putting our emphasis on local food, we are supporting the small farms and businesses in our local economy and providing fresh products that didn’t have to be transported across the country,” said Koehler. “Food grown closer to where you live requires less transportation fuel and less preservatives.”
“Eating local necessarily means eating seasonally,” added Koehler. While eggs, meat, and baked goods are sold year round at the co-op, fresh produce is plentiful in the summer and fall but harder to come by in January. However, pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables are available year round.
In addition to selling local, the Purple Porch embraces transparency. The person sitting at the table selling steaks is the same person that raised the cow. Ask any farmer there what they feed their livestock or how they grow their crops and they will gladly share the details of their operations, such as which items are organic and what steps the farmers take to preserve the health of their land. You may even get invited to see their farm in person.
Co-op producers and neighbors Marty Fair and Rob North weren’t always farmers. Before they raised grass-fed chickens and baked bread, Rob owned a security system company and Marty worked in construction contracting. “When Rob needs a hand on his farm,” Fair explained, “I’m there for him, and when I need a hand, he’s there for me. We all get along and help each other.” Fair and North also say that since they started growing their own food they feel healthier than ever.
Purple Porch customers place their orders over the weekend and pick up their food at the distribution center on Wednesdays, giving the producers time to harvest and bake the orders. Producers also bring extra food that hasn’t been pre-ordered for those shoppers that drop by.
Beyond the food, there is a sense of community at the co-op that can’t be found at a grocery store. It doesn’t take long for Kohler and the co-op producers to know each customer’s name and there’s always time to shoot the breeze. Even the co-op’s new location in LangLab, a once abandoned warehouse soon to be transformed into shared office space and an art gallery, is a sign of urban renewal. Notre Dame student group GreeND helped Purple Porch fix, clean, and paint the warehouse during CommUniversity Day on April 10th. Founding member Brooke Peterson commented “Restoring this warehouse is really like a metaphor for what we’re trying to do with food.” The co-op is transforming South Bend into a healthier, friendlier, and more sustainable place to live.
Word of the co-op is spreading on campus. Mendoza College of Business marketing professor Jennifer Mish is a member of the co-op and shares information about it with interested colleagues. The co-op’s plans for the future include accepting government food stamps and increasing the number of distribution days. To learn more, visit the Purple Porch Website, or drop by the LangLab on Wednesdays to see, hear, and taste the difference.