cottage food law

SF Underground Market

Our vendors

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 : I am scheduling to do many venues in and around Oakland in 2011: 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.

SF Underground Market

Underground Market Shutdown : An Update

I started the Underground Market in 2009 as a reaction to the high bar of entry that has been created to start a food business, something that I experienced personally. Starting in a house in the Mission with seven vendors and 150 eaters, the market has grown to feed over 50,000 people and help over 400 vendors get their start.

As many of you have heard, the health department came to the last Underground Market on July 11th and served us a cease and desist letter, stating they no longer considered the market a private event.

The market was able to function to this point because it was considered a private event (hence the market sign-ups). We organized it in this way following a suggestion by the health department. Everyone who walks through the door is a member who knows they are eating un-certified food , so technically the health department doesn't have to be involved.

They have decided (apparently with pressure from the state level), that the market is no longer a private event, and can therefore not continue as it has. We have requested a meeting with the city attorney for a definition of what a private/public event is exactly, so we can determine where the line is, and continue running the market.

This was not an unexpected event. We’ve known that it was only a matter of time until someone became upset about the popularity of the event. Because we’ve been expecting it doesn’t mean that we accept it.

Over the last year and a half The Underground Market has grown into a supportive community of makers and eaters. We see that in the 30-50 new vendors that apply every month, bringing samples of foods they clearly poured their hearts into, and the thousands of people who walk through the door each month to eat that food.

Our goal is to keep this momentum going. We would like to see the market continue to exist much as it has because we feel that it provides a necessary venue for people starting new food businesses. We’re interested in providing a space for entrepreneurs who for a myriad of reasons are not able to abide by the regulations put in place. The regulations, upfront costs, red tape, and lack of clarity in procedures all too often stop amazing food from ever being eaten.

The market is used in different ways by different people. Some are home cooks that have always wanted to sell, but for various reasons have not been able. Cocotutti is a prime example. She sold her first chocolates at the market over a year ago, and has since won national awards, moved into a commercial kitchen, and is approaching markets to stock her goods. KitchenSidecar worked at a bio consulting job, with a food blog on the side, before she found the market. Now she cooks full-time, caters, holds her own dinners, and collaborates on a Vietnamese pop-up restaurant called Rice Paper Scissors with another vendor, Little Knock. Nosh This was working as an architect before he was laid off and turned to the world of candy. Following his recent appearances in the New York Times, his wholesale accounts have exploded, he has moved into a commercial kitchen, and is working to make “Bacon Crack” a household name.

These are a few examples of people whose business, and some would say lives, have been changed because of their exposure at the market. People who have been able to earn money for themselves instead of populating the unemployment rolls. People who are contributing to the local economy while at the same time expanding the local food community.

We want the Underground Market to be a space for food entrepreneurs to get started on a small scale. And we want to continue to offer them more resources to move forward. We have seen the need for some time to have a space where vendors can produce their wares commercially. A space where we can hold classes on food safety/business, have commercial kitchen space for vendor use, retail space for them to sell, and café space with rotating chefs for them to cook. This space will be a hub, a place where people can come together around the wealth of food being produced in our city. We are starting work on looking for a space/getting details together on the project, and will send more information out soon.

On a personal note, I want to say that I really appreciate all the support people have shown. From emails from friends to tweets from strangers, you have all shown that you think the market is an important event and that you want it to continue.

This shutdown is an opportunity to find a workable model that can help not only The Underground Market in SF, but similar markets all over the country. The precedent we set here will ripple across the country. It will effect not only San Francisco vendors, but vendors nationwide. From cottage food laws to street food, we’ve seen an explosion of opportunity for small entrepreneur food businesses pop up over the last several years. We will continue to move forward toward our goal of keeping the market open, and our struggle can be an opportunity to find yet another way to help this movement grow.

Thank you,

Iso Rabins founder, forageSF

------- How to be involved --------

Contact your local city supervisor or: - Call or email the Mission District supervisor, David Campos (415) 554-5144

There are also more tangible ways to get involved, especially if you have legal expertise, so please email us if you’d like to get help out:

1. Keep the Underground Market - Legal and political organizing expertise, email 2. forageSF incubator project - Investors, designers, contractors, lawyers email

We want to hear what you think, so if you have any other ideas, questions, or suggestions, please email To stay up to date on what’s happening, follow our blog at

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