I feel that too much of the discussion about the market hiatus has been about the Health Department. Why they closed us down, when they'll let us re-open. While I understand and appreciate the concern for safety, I feel that the real focus of the market, the vendors, has been ignored. Public health is a something we take very seriously, but it is my sincere belief that it is less the stainless steel countertops and three-compartment sinks that makes food safe, but the care and attention of the producer. These small batch producers all have a deep care for what they are doing, and it shows in their products.
What we should be focusing on are the people who create this food, how they have started, and where they are now. The market has enabled them to start a business that they wouldn’t have otherwise started, and many have gone on to become legitimate business owners. We need to expand the ways that these small producers can get their products out to the public. I’ve asked vendors to respond to a few questions about how the market has affected their business, and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the vendor stories:
Randall Hughes: Oaktown Jerk It was forageSF where my business made its debut with the public. The forageSF market place allows me to get great and very useful feedback from the public. With every market comes a wealth of networking opportunity and I always managed to network with people who in one way or another have helped me launch my business. Now I work out of a commercial kitchen, which has allowed me to get my product to even more venues. I wasn't certain that I could justify investing the money ($10,000 in equipment alone) it cost to establish a legit food company. But after vending at several forageSF markets I felt confident that I was producing something that was worth taking to the next level.
Thanks Iso! You've helped me with my business more than you can imagine! Now I am at the Farmers' Market : http://www.urbanvillageonline.com/markets/oldOakland.php I am scheduling to do many venues in and around Oakland in 2011: http://www.oaktownjerk.com/UpcomingEvents.html And I am also still at forageSF because I really like the market and what it stands for.
I started making beef jerky in my kitchen and would share it with my coworkers. This was my market analysis. I started with coworkers and friends but then knew that I needed the feedback from absolute strangers. That's where forageSF became a very key resource in the success of my company. I think forageSF should stay open because it is the birthplace for so many great artisan companies. This market is a serious springboard for so many folks who are trying something new for various reasons. For me and so many others it has been a place to explore the talents that we have decided to tap into for reasons due to the economic downturn. It's truly amazing to see and feel the energy at the market. forageSF is helping to develop small business ownership. We should be embracing the people who provide such a wonderful venue, which allows us to showcase our wares. What a great thing!
Kai Kronfield: Nosh This
The Underground Market has been invaluable to me and a host of other small-scale producers. It has provided me a venue and a "customer base" if you will, to explore different ideas and to do real-time market research into what products have traction as I build a business from scratch. Aside from the opportunity to sell my wares, the Underground Market embodies a community of vendors/producers who feed off each other and raise each other up. There is no "competition" amongst vendors. We assist each other in terms of honest, knowledgeable feedback about ingredients/flavors/techniques and are a source of encouragement for each other. Not having such a venue would re-establish a great obstacle on the path to legitimacy for a lot of people.
Further to that excerpt, the UM provided me with exposure to dedicated foodie customers who were eager to give feedback and when warranted, praise. It has helped to raise my profile from "a guy on a street with a few candies" to a recognizable and trusted producer of fine artisan chocolates. I'm confident I would have gotten to this point eventually, but this market streamlined that process. I am now cooking out of a commercial kitchen and starting to look at wholesaling and online sales.
Of course I believe the market should stay open. I'm thinking mainly about the people who are just starting out and I think it would be such a shame if they didn't have the same opportunities that I and many of the other current vendors had. Sadly, they may opt not to start a business which would be a shame for them and for the San Francisco food community which has always had a bit of an experimental streak.
Ina Golad: Ina’s Kitchen
Ina's Kitchen was organized to raise funds for a non-profit education foundation that helps underprivileged children to advance their skills in athletics and technology. The underground market provided an incredible forum for Ina's Kitchen to sell its food products. Prior to finding the underground market and meeting Iso, the devoted and energetic organizer, Ina's Kitchen faced many challenges. These challenges included costs of setting up fundraising events, finding space and volunteers to run the events, and advertising. The underground market that Iso has organized takes care of all of these challenges and provides an amazing opportunity for Ina's Kitchen to raise money on behalf of the non-profit education foundation. Ina's Kitchen sincerely hopes that this market remains open so that it and other vendors with charitable goals can enjoy the convenience of this perfectly organized market.