health department

wild kitchen

Health Department Blues

01_Wild_Kitchen_Pop_Up_Restaurant_AndriaLo

Our ever evolving saga with the health department has a new chapter. Since June, when The Underground Market was shut down, we have been trying our best to work with DPH (Department of Public Health). We have all the permits we need, fill out the ever increasing number of forms that are required for the privilege of feeding people in our fair city, and jump through all the myriad hoops put in front of us.  I have been trying my best to come up with solutions to re-open The Underground Market that they're ok with, and at every turn we're rebuked. They seem to have no interest in supporting the food community in SF. Every step they take is a step to push anyone doing innovative food further underground. The most recent situation for us is with our upcoming Basque dinners this weekend. After filling out permits, sending in forms, getting a legit kitchen with a permitted dining room, we are still in danger of getting shut down. The space we are using apparently has an invalid occupancy permit the the fire department. This basically means that a form needs to be turned in to prove that people can safely be in the space. This is the same space we have held our events for months, without a peep about occupancy. Suddenly, a day before our event, we're told we're in violation. I can't see this as anything but a move to shut us down.

I realize they have a job to do, but while the city talks out of one side of its mouth about supporting small businesses, and getting people back to work, the very city organizations that deal with small businesses do everything they can to shut us down. If we desire any real change in the way our country eats, we need to do more than just swear off mcdonalds. We need to work together to create a situation where it's easier to serve good local food at a local scale than it is to serve processed crap flown in from all over the world.  We need to do more than just make an effort to shop at farmers markets, we need to work to make it viable for small producers to start businesses using local ingredients.  Thankfully we're moving in that direction, but certainly not there yet.

We are going ahead with our events tomorrow. Wish us luck.

wild kitchen

Health department blues

Our ever evolving saga with the health department has a new chapter. Since June, when The Underground Market was shut down, we have been trying our best to work with DPH (Department of Public Health). We have all the permits we need, fill out the ever increasing number of forms that are required for the privilege of feeding people in our fair city, and jump through all the myriad hoops put in front of us.  I have been trying my best to come up with solutions to re-open The Underground Market that they're ok with, and at every turn we're rebuked. They seem to have no interest in supporting the food community in SF. Every step they take is a step to push anyone doing innovative food further underground. The most recent situation for us is with our upcoming Basque dinners this weekend. After filling out permits, sending in forms, getting a legit kitchen with a permitted dining room, we are still in danger of getting shut down. The space we are using apparently has an invalid occupancy permit the the fire department. This basically means that a form needs to be turned in to prove that people can safely be in the space. This is the same space we have held our events for months, without a peep about occupancy. Suddenly, a day before our event, we're told we're in violation. I can't see this as anything but a move to shut us down. Its ridiculous that DPH can be so shortsighted on these issues.

I realize they have a job to do, but while the city talks out of one side of its mouth about supporting small businesses, and getting people back to work, the very city organizations that deal with small businesses do everything they can to shut us down. If we desire any real change in the way our country eats, we need to do more than just swear off mcdonalds. We need to work together to create a situation where it's easier to serve good local food at a local scale than it is to serve processed crap flown in from all over the world.  We need to do more than just make an effort to shop at farmers markets, we need to work to make it viable for small producers to start businesses using local ingredients.  Thankfully we're moving in that direction, but certainly not there yet.

We are going ahead with our events tomorrow. Wish us luck.

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 : 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.

SF Underground Market

San Jose Market, or How the health department showed up (again)

This past Friday we had our first Underground Market in San Jose. At 5:10, 10 minutes after the market was scheduled to open, I was standing in a circle with a San Jose police sergeant, health inspector, and the fire marshal.  The three people I would least like to be talking to before a market of un-certified foods.

We had made the trek down to the South Bay for the 01SF biennial festival in San Jose, a festival that celebrates art whose tagline is "Build your own world.” From what I saw between meetings with the health folks, it was actually a pretty cool festival. However, it felt like a bad idea from the beginning. Usually we have our market in an enclosed space, or in an out of the way parking lot.  We organize the market as a private club, which is not open to the public, so has been able to avoid government scrutiny, but I’ve always felt that they really don’t want to see it in the open. To have the market in the middle of a city funded festival that the health, police, and fire departments were sure to attend, seemed a bit fool hardy (as my grandmother would say). We have worked it out with the SF health department, but had no idea what the San Jose folks would think. To make sure it was legit, I asked the Zero One folks to probe the health department about the market weeks in advance, to see how they would feel about an event like ours. I was told that they were amenable, if not necessarily comfortable.

Back to the parking lot. It was us, the health, fire, and police departments, and the Zero One organizers standing in a circle. The health and fire inspectors detailing why we were going to get shut down, the Zero One organizers suddenly explaining to us that they had contacted the health department, and they had been told that a market like ours would definitely be shut down! They had known all along, and instead of letting us know, they had forgot to mention that little point. I have not been that mad in a long time.  Suddenly they were acting like we had just shown up, without any partnership with them, to put on the market.

I was sure the market was over.  The conclusion of our talk was a laundry list of the laws we had violated, and an explanation that the next step would be for the inspectors to go around and shut down the vendors one by one. They explained to me that all 29 vendors would have to 1. Go home, wasting all the food they had made 2. Those that had produced their food commercially (about 3 amongst the lot) could buy them for an intensely inflated fee.  The idea of this market is to give a chance to people who are just starting out. To lower the bar of entry in a way. This would have killed the chances of many of the vendors there if it had been shut down.

As we started to accept this as our horrible fate, the health inspector made a phone call and the other person at the end of the line said it would be okay to let the market carry on. With one phone call, the issue quickly went away, as if there was no threat to the market to begin with. We had to give assurance that the market was only one day, and that everyone who entered got a wristband, but that was about it. The health and inspectors still inspected vendors, but it was more a friendly attempt to do the best they could with what they had, and no one had to leave.  The inspector went booth by booth, outlining ways vendors could hew closer to health department regulations, which we try to do as much as possible.

I don't know who this faceless person on the other side of the phone was. One of our vendors suspects that San Jose city lawyers recommended they leave it open less they open themselves up to a lawsuit. A cop who was standing near by told us he thought the whole thing was a publicity stunt to amp up Zero One. I heard a rumor that a channel 5 reporter was taking the angle that the cultural commission had pushed our market as an event that they knew would get shut down, as a way to make the city look bad, although I never saw the story.  To be honest I’m not sure what happened. Maybe San Jose didn’t to shut down an event they allow in SF. Maybe somebody knew somebody, maybe we’ll never know. (if you do know for some reason, please pass it along)

In the end it worked out. The market happened. It started three hours late, but about 1,200 people came. What's so amazing to me about this experience is the clear line it drew of the way bureaucracy works.  Everything the health inspector told us before that phone call was legit. She detailed the law, and why and where we had broken it.  Then she called someone, and the law changed. Which is great. I think the law should change – if an adult chooses of their own free will to eat food that was made in someone else’s home they should be able to.  As it stands now, the government doesn't agree. That night, someone decided that they did.  Every time we succeed putting this market on we set more of a precedent.  A precedent that states that food made at home is just as safe as food made in a commercial kitchen.  That stainless steel and walk in freezers don’t make food safe, but rather the care of person producing it.

Uncategorized

"A successful night", or "how the health department showed up at the market, but were very nice"

So the first of many (hopefully) underground farmers markets is over. It was a total success. People showed up, but not so many that the cops came. Vendors brought enough that there was something for the late comers, but just enough so they sold out. The music was amazing (although I didn't get to hear as much as I would have liked, tethered to my vendor table). It was a really cool mix of folks; hipsters, seniors, toddlers, old school hippies, young urban farmer types.

The vendors who showed up were.... Slow Jams-Really great Jam, and Shakirah sold out! - Forage SF - Will Schrom: homemade sarsaparilla - Captain Blankenship: soaps and salves - Garden Fare: edible garden gift boxes - The Golden Crust: pies ($15-20/pie or $3/slice) and chai - The Girl From Empanada (aka. Chile Lindo): empanadas - Lauren & Jon Bowne (aka. Pearl's Kitchen): homemade Jewish deli fare, they had a pasta and cheese casserole - Five Flavors Herbs: wild foraged tinctures - Honey vendor

I think its great that people will come out to support their local producers. The vendors at this market are all pros, they know their stuff, how to make it good, and how to make it safe. The only reason they aren't legit is money. It was great to see them get an opportunity to get their stuff out there, make some cash, and get some exposure.

So....the health department did show up. Was a pretty nerve wracking couple minutes. I've never actually dealt with the health department before, and I must say that I've always had the feeling out them that I do about most government organization, dread. They're scary, showing up with their notebooks, checking boxes, with the power to command an army of police to shut you down....but I must say that the health department was very nice. I was amazed. We had a 10 minute chat about how I might do the market again in the future, and ways to make it more legit. I was totally amazed, and pleased with the interaction. I know what you're thinking, I'm just writing that to suck up, so they won't bust me, but it's true. In the end I wish they hadn't come at all, but if they had to come (because tipped them off!), then I have to say they came correct ("correct" is what the kids are saying these days).

Apparently they showed up because SOMEONE FROM A LEGIT FARMERS MARKET RATTED US OUT!!!! You hear that!? Can you believe it? I can't. What happened to community? Supporting our local food producers? I guess only if they have $100/hr to spend on commercial kitchen space do they deserve to share their products. I'd like to know who did it. I'd like to have a conversation with them. If they had concerns about the market, they should have come to me. We could have discussed ways to make it better, they could have helped rather than sicking the hounds on us. Bastards.

But on a lighter note, everything worked out. I had a really good time, hundreds of people came, we had some drinks, ate some food, met some great people, listened to some music, and made some cash. Doesn't get much better.

If you missed this one, and are interested in finding out when/where we're doing it again, sign up for our email list.

Check out our facebook page for more pics from the market