Nov 202012
 November 20, 2012  Posted by at 9:29 pm  Add comments


The Last Underground Market


On Saturday, December 22nd, we will hold the last-ever Underground Market.  The Underground Market was an event I started in December of 2009 with the idea to allow myself and a few friends to sell the things that we made, without the red tape and cost of permitting through the city.  The market grew, attracting national attention, and soon it was drawing thousands of people every month. Then, following a front page story in the NYTimes, it got shut down.

But the movement had already spread. It spawned other markets, from Boise, Idaho to Amsterdam. It promoted the idea that people should be able to eat food made in their neighbor’s kitchen just as easily as food that’s been trucked in from across the country.

The idea that what makes food safe is at the local level is not inspectors, but the inherent responsibility and care created by the local community. I think we proved that point. With over 50,000 people eating everything from Webber grill fired pizza to pulled pork, there was not one illness reported to the health department. Over 350 home cooks who’ve sold at the market have gone on to start restaurants, catering companies, foodtrucks and sell their products all over the country. It’s been really amazing to witness how hard everyone has worked to make it happen

Since the market was shutdown last year (the rumor is that SF Department of Health was getting pressure from the state level), we havn’t been able to allow new home cooks into the event. Everyone must be permitted, and I have trouble justifying what is “underground” about the event. That’s not to say the food isn’t still great, and what’s been cool about these last few markets is seeing how successful and professional all our returning vendors have become.

This is the last Underground Market, but not the last market we’ll create. There are too many people making amazing food in this city not to bring them together. We’re still working on the idea, but hopefully by spring we’ll have a brand new event, full of deliciousness to enjoy. We plan to have this event be an outlet for makers from Forage Kitchen, as well as other great cooks around the city, to share what they’re up to.

I am insanely proud of all the vendors who’s hard work and innovative cuisine made this event what it was. Thank you to everyone who helped this happen, whether as a maker or an eater, I feel lucky to have been a part of it. So on December 22nd, we’ll be bringing our favorite vendors and success stories from years past back to SOMArts for the last event of its kind, I hope you’ll join.

The market was a moment in time, a great time, an exciting time, and one of the things I am most proud of creating. I’ve come to realize that it has served its purpose, and now we need to focus on taking the next step in this movement. It’s been an amazing experience. Meeting the eaters as well as the makers. Seeing how excited and inspired people were by seeing what others were creating .

There were seven vendors at the first market, and around 150 eaters coming to feast. We had homebrew in the kitchen, and Ayla Nero playing acoustic on a chair in the living room, surrounded by a semi-circle of folks listening from the floor.

What’s great is that many of the vendors who started out at the market as home cooks have since progressed. Some have opened restaurants, others have gotten great press for their accomplishments, and still others are in stores and shops all over the city. It’s really amazing to see how everyone has worked to make their  dreams a reality.  It’s great to think that we had any part in helping to make that happen.






  9 Responses to “The Last Underground Market”

  1. Iso: Congratulations on doing something really innovative with Underground Market. Really looking forward to the delivery of your next project!

  2. I want to thank you for the Underground Market for giving me the opportunity to taste great foods prepared by loving hands and before the “shut down” it was something so spectacular. It’s not to say since Underground Markets return it hasn’t been a good thing, But, I agree that it has taken on a different type of market and well, not so much underground.
    I have met vendors like “Simply Mochi” who are yummy. I had never had mochi before I went to the Underground Market and there was my initiation into the delightful tastes of mochi. I have followed Simply Mochi since and have turned on many family and friends to this yummy treat.
    Thank you for the years of turning on so many folks on wonderful new foods.
    Adios amigos,
    Joanna Chavez

  3. congrats on a great run. good luck in the next phase.

  4. Still looking for the bacon and jam couple. She made real deal orange marmalade. His bacon sweet. Thank you Iso for your vision.

  5. Iso, we have been in new product development with a range of food and drink and medicinal products and yet are nowheres near applying for a permit and taking a share of a commercial kitchen. The tone of your letter submits to the inevitability of everyone having to be permitted and is justly congratulatory about those who have graduated from the pop-ups.

    Nonetheless, I want to stress that we STILL have an urgent need for exposure for those engaged in product development (be it foraging, wildcrafting or resurrection of lost recipes) to the public.

    Keep your thinking cap on, Iso, and others who support this movement! We’re happy for your mainstream success but don’t forget about those of us still in development.

  6. Iso, I wish you all the best with Forage Kitchen but I am sad to hear it’s the end of the SF Underground Market. Your market inspired me to start one here in Toronto (Canada) & it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. The Toronto Underground Market (TUM) began as a passion project that turned into a business. We are about 18 months old but have accomplished so much.

    We had 9 events this year with over 30 vendors & 2200 people to each & every TUM. It’s only going to grow from here & it’s an exciting time for us.

    Thank you for all the guidance & inspiration you have offered TUM.
    – Hassel Aviles (Founder of TUM)

  7. Is there a such thing as a underground market checklist… i am here in new orleans, louisiana and spend the last month seeding interest which is sprouting quickly… any pointers you can throw our way would be greatly appreciated… our goal is to have the first one in about 3 months the weekend after Mardi Gras…

  8. Just wondering, since you’re in SF, and commenting about the insane red tape and regulations, if you, the vendors and the eaters typically vote for democrats. Part of the great beauty about the free market is what you described: personal responsibility, not excessive government oversight.

  9. Thanks Iso for letting us be apart of this wonderful event, You have given us ( and countless owners) the drive to make our dreams into a reality.

    Even though it’s ended, we will still keep the passion that Underground Farmers Market was founded upon.

    Thank you again for the fond memories being a vendor and we can’t wait for the next chapter of Forage SF. Hopefully as Katy said, another type of venue.

    Betty and Patrick

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