Greg Koehler is the general manager behind South Bend’s Purple Porch Co-Op. Located at 123 N. Hill Street, the co-op functions as a farmer’s market, grocery store and café, all of which aim to bring locally produced and organic food to the South Bend area. The co-op moved into its current building in March. The farmers’ market is open Wednesdays from 5 — 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. — 1 p.m.; the store is open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. — 7 p.m.
Q: What is the main goal behind Purple Porch?
A: We’ve been around for over five years now. For most of our existence we’ve operated as a farmer’s market and really focused on connecting local food producers with local customers. The people that started the co-op were interested in finding local food and weren’t necessarily happy with the South Bend farmers’ market. There wasn’t a lot of transparency, we didn’t know how things were grown and there weren’t a lot of organic options. We’re really trying to create a market for local and organic products.
Q: How exactly did the co-op get its start?
A: It was really a small group of people who were talking with each other and had similar desires for what they wanted to get out of their food. For example, we were ordering black beans, and we realized that they were coming from China. We knew that in this area there are lots of opportunities for agriculture, and it just didn’t make any sense when there’d be farmers around here, our neighbors, that could be growing those. We had a meeting at the library to get a feel for interest and had a lot of people show up, and we decided to create the co-op. The people that are members of the co-op are those that make the decisions, and it was really important that we had that kind of democratic process.
Q: What do you offer beyond the farmers’ market?
A: If you come on a Wednesday night, you’ll get to visit with the local producers. Our definition of local is [within] a 60-mile radius around South Bend. If you come any other day, you’ll find a small grocery store. We branch out into some of the things you wouldn’t find at your local grocery store. In the café, we have two hot soups every day. Depending on the day, the kitchen creates various things like curry or roasted vegetables. We try to be as full service as possible. And we are cooperative so we have member-owners who pay a $200 equity share. It’s a different kind of business model: we don’t have one owner, we have many owners. We have over 525 member-owners right now.
Q: Besides being member-owners is there any other way that people interested in the co-op can get involved in it?
A: Sure. First of all, shopping. Everybody’s welcome; we exist to serve the needs of the member-owners, but encourage everyone to shop. We also have some volunteer opportunities. We have dishwashing opportunities, which are very, very helpful and we have committees we’re trying to develop for education and producer relations.