Back in 2009, a little 1-inch notice in the South Bend Tribune Classified section invited one and all to a meeting at the library to discuss how to increase the availability of local food for purchase. To the organizers’ surprise, well over a hundred people showed up. Some were food producers, and some were consumers. That was the beginning of the Purple Porch Co-op 💡
But why a co-op?
At the heart of the co-op business model are like-minded individuals willing to pool their resources to make something happen. The people at that library meeting, and the hundreds more who have joined in the following years had some common economic, cultural and social needs; needs they couldn’t meet as individuals. The need for locally-produced food, for food safety, for food justice, for a low carbon footprint, for organic food, for sustainably produced food, for a stronger local economy, for an enterprise of like-minded individuals, the list goes on and on. Read that list again and you’ll see that no one person can fill those needs. So, the group formed a cooperative to work together.
As first formed, the Purple Porch Co-op was an online cooperative; members ordered from local food producers who had been vetted for their sustainable and transparent farming practices. Farmers and producers delivered the food to the weekly Wednesday night pick-up. Soon more farmers and producers were attracted to this particular (in both senses of the word) customer base. More people began showing up to buy, and it became obvious that a brick and mortar local food store was a possibility.
To raise the money collectively, people bought in with a $200 member-owner share. Some contributed to a Kickstarter campaign. Some loaned the budding co-op money. Together, member-owners formed a board of directors, wrote by-laws, filed paperwork with the State, found a building, arranged financing, and cleaned and painted. Four years after the online co-op formed, the Purple Porch Co-op Grocery Store and Cafe Max opened its doors.
The Co-op continues to attract new member-owners 🤝 There are over 1000 member-owner families at present. Why would one join an existing co-op instead of just shopping there? For many of the same reasons that the original group formed: they share the common economic, cultural and social needs of the other member-owners. It turns out belonging is good for your health, as good as kale.
Fortunately, an unlimited number of like-minded individuals can join the Purple Porch Co-op, and each one has a voice as strong as every other member-owner who came before. Nobody can own more than one share, and nobody has more than one vote. If you want to, you can run for a seat on the Board and help oversee the General Manager and set policy and direction for the future. If you want you can apply for a job at the co-op — or volunteer for co-op events.
Regardless of the extent of your interest in co-op activities, the one thing every co-op member-owner really needs to do is shop at the co-op. The Purple Porch Co-op simply won’t prosper if the member-owners don’t shop there. After all, it is a cooperative business, this grocery store we all own together.