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Sustainable co-op provides students with connection to South Bend community

| Tuesday, April 13, 2021

At Purple Porch — a South Bend co-op grocery store that has a café, an ice cream stand and a weekly farmer’s market, and which takes Domer Dollars — students can both escape the Notre Dame bubble and, at the same time, eat good food.

The store aims to sell local and regional food and gift items as much as possible. Local items are categorized as within 60 miles and regional items as within 300 miles. All of the farmer’s market items are locally grown or produced.

As a co-op, the store depends on its member-owners: members of the community who are willing to invest in the store and become partial owners.

Purple Porch started as a weekly farmer’s market in 2009 and eventually opened a storefront in 2014. Its initial goal was to reach 300 member owners — there are 1,400 owners today. Ownership requires a $200 buy-in — or $100 for students and those who self-identify as low-income — and can be paid all at once or in installments.

Ownership lasts a lifetime, and member-owners get perks such as 10% off a purchase total once a month, special discounts and access to community events, such as cooking workshops or shared recipes. The application is available in-stores or online.

As an environmental science major, junior Lindsay Shank said she decided to become a member-owner of Purple Porch because she is interested in sustainable farming and plant science.

“I think you don’t find a good relationship between food and farmer very often,” she said. “I really appreciate the sustainability of the store and the cooperative model.”

In addition to being an owner, Shank works at the front desk as a cashier and stocker. A common misconception about co-ops, she said, is that every owner has to be an employee; at Purple Porch, that is not a requirement.

Junior Denise Shaffer became a member-owner a few weeks ago. She chose to pay her ownership fee in installments and pays just $10 every three months.

“I co-own a grocery store with a bunch of people, which is really cool,” she said. “And it just feels really nice to go and think that the stuff that I’m buying here is good for me and it’s good for the planet.”

Although she only recently made the jump into ownership, Shaffer said she has been going to Purple Porch since the fall of her sophomore year.

Besides its wide selection of organic and local food, she said she was drawn to their vegan and vegetarian options both in the store and at the café. The vegan jerky, she said, is one of her favorites.

Both Shaffer and Shank said the community is what makes Purple Porch stand out among other South Bend grocery stores, whether they be as large as Meijer or small organic markets. Many shoppers get all their groceries from Purple Porch, Shank said.

Purple Porch’s location is also appealing, Shaffer said, because it’s right next to Howard Park — what she called the perfect place for a spring picnic with Purple Porch food.

Whether it’s for one of their fan-favorite burritos or just to check out a staple of the South Bend community, Shank recommends that all students go spend a weekend afternoon exploring the store.

“The investment can sometimes be daunting to people,” she said. “But if you’re wanting to be a part of something that is giving back to the community, [that is] more environmentally sustainable… And if you’re using it as your normal grocery store, it pays for itself. But overall, I think that it’s a really great opportunity to engage with South Bend community.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated Purple Porch was founded in 2012 and misdefined the definitions of the store’s local and regional categories for food. The Observer regrets these errors. 

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