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.