Regarding the Underground Market Controversy, and Its Possible Rebirth

The line outside an earlier incarnation of the market, before it moved to Public Works.
The line outside an earlier incarnation of the market, before it moved to Public Works. Photo: Beer & Nosh

The Underground Market has been quite the hot topic over the last year and a half. What began as a tiny, well-blogged-about event at a private home in the Mission in 2009 grew into a major regular happening at the nightclub Public Works, with eager foodies lining up around the block just to sample the semi-illegal, un-permitted, but no doubt delicious wares of various local kombucha and jam vendors. Even the NYT was fascinated with the phenom! But even though no one ever reported being sickened at one of these events, the market remained on the radar of the City’s health department, who kind of gave the event a free pass at the beginning so long as they charged admission and called it a “private event.” But then the State caught wind, and basically told S.F. to shut it down, and this week the Guardian follows up with organizer and ForageSF founder Iso Rabins about what he’ll be doing next, which includes the launch of a new incubator kitchen.

Rabins is OK with the Health Department’s decision, but he’s hoping he can get the system changed eventually. “The Health Department’s position makes sense because this is the system that has existed, this is the system that they know and that their jobs support, and it’s a system that works in a lot of ways. But it’s also a system that was really created for industrial processes.”

The market is not completely dead and buried, however. One option still appears to be to make the event more private again, making people sign up weeks in advance — the State felt the event had become an ersatz public one because of its size and publicity. Another option may be to get the Board of Supervisors to allow for cheaper permits and looser regulations for these homegrown vendors, sort of like they have with food trucks. Still, Rabins insists, “I’m not interested in running another farmers market,” so he won’t be making his vendors pay the standard fees and jump through all the hoops that average vendors have to do to participate in approved markets. He’s all for getting adequate food handling training for his vendors, but not for complying with all the city’s current demands.

As of now he’s moving forward with an incubator kitchen project that may be the first step toward legitimacy for Underground Market vendors, and he has a bright vision for the new space which includes “a rooftop garden with a movie screen, a retail space in front that sells products being made in the kitchen by vendors, and possibly a small-scale brewery in back.” Sounds cool.

The Foodie Crackdown [SFBG]
Earlier: Underground Market Runs Afoul of Health Department Once More, Gets Shut Down
NYT: Kids These Days Choose Egg Rolls Over Ecstasy
The Underground Farmers’ Market Isn’t So Underground Anymore

Regarding the Underground Market Controversy, and Its Possible Rebirth