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Guide to the San Francisco (SF) Underground Market

Updated on September 30, 2010

On any given day of the week there is a farmers’ market in San Francisco. This is a terrific thing. However, there are some limitations on who can participate as a vendor in these traditional farmers’ markets. That’s why the Underground SF Market was launched. It allows a new variety of vendors to sell their food. And it allows the residents and visitors of San Francisco the opportunity to try out foods from vendors that they may not otherwise ever have access to. This article is a guide to what the market is all about.

Difference from a regular farmers’ market

In some ways, this market seems a lot like the other farmers’ markets in San Francisco. One difference is that there is more prepared ready-to-eat food here than at some of the other markets in the Bay Area. Another difference is that nearly all of the traditional farmer’s markets are held during daytime hours and this is a nighttime affair.

However, these are small differences. The main difference is that vendors are allowed here who aren’t necessarily allowed at other markets. Why? Well, there are some rules in place about who can sell food at regular farmers’ markets. For example, you have to be certified as the primary producer of the food that you sell. If you’re selling ready to eat food then it needs to be produced in a commercial kitchen.

These rules bar a lot of people from selling at traditional farmers’ markets. For example, there are a lot of urban farmers in the Bay Area. These are people who grow their own food (usually plants but sometimes turkeys, rabbits, chickens and pigs) and then cook it in their own private kitchens for others to enjoy. Since they don’t use commercial kitchens, they can’t sell at traditional farmers’ markets. They can sell at the underground market.

Another important example is the food from ForageSF. This is an organization that’s all about learning to forage for food in the local area. (It’s unrelated but they also do walks to teach you how to find natural foods here in San Francisco.) Because the food isn’t actually produced on a farm, they can’t be a vendor at regular Farmers’ Markets. In fact, that’s why they got the idea to do this underground farmers’ market.

History of the SF Underground Market

The underground market started off as a small word-of-mouth thing. It was held in a person’s residential home in the Mission neighborhood. The first time that it was held, there were only eight different vendors. Approximately 200 people attended. The event got national media coverage. The event has now grown so that there are dozens of different vendors and over 1000 people who attend the event. There is live music and drinking in addition to the food. Sometimes there are workshops or other things that go on as well.

Location of the market

The market is held at various locations throughout the city of San Francisco. These are often fun spots like art centers and galleries. To find out where the location of the next market is, you need to sign up to receive the location via email. This is due to the fact that the nature of the market requires some legalities to be covered. After all, you’re eating food in places that aren’t meant for food (they aren’t formal restaurants). And you’re eating food that’s been grown and prepared in non-conventional, non-commercial places. They need to make sure that you know that to cover their own legal situations so you need to sign up for the market information. The map below this article shows some of the previous locations where the market has been held.

Cost

The cost to attend the market is about $5. There’s generally a daytime market and a nighttime market held on the same weekend day. It’s $5 each or $8 if you want to go to both parts on the same day. This gives you access to all of the vendors, the music and any art things or other things that are going on at that particular event. Of course, you pay the vendors for the food that you purchase from them. Note that there’s no cost to sign up to receive SF Underground Market information.

What you might buy at this market

The foods that are available to purchase at this market obviously vary depending on the vendors that are participating at the event. Some of the items that you are likely to find when you go include:

· Jams and jellies

· Breads, pastries and other baked goods

· Sausages and salumi (salami, coppa, prosciutto, etc.)

· Homemade gumbo

· Granola

· Wild mushrooms and other foraged foods

· Ethnic cuisine including Indian, Vietnamese and Thai food

· Raw foods

Some other stuff to know

Some people worry that the unconventional nature of the market means it’s somehow not safe. Not true. The health inspector came out to the very first market and provided tips and information on how to keep it safe and healthy for everyone who attends.

Another thing to know is that there’s a true combination here of foods that you can take to make at home and foods to eat right then. It’s a wise idea to plan on eating lunch or dinner (or both!) while you’re there. The tough part is choosing what to eat!

Finally you should know that it’s totally okay to ask for samples from the vendors. They don’t necessarily put them out and make them available but most of them are really liberal with them if you ask. And, of course, since these are people who are growing/finding/making their own food they are more than happy to answer your questions about where the food came from and how it was made.

Past locations of the SF Underground Market

show route and directions
A marker9 Langton Street Gallery -
9 Langton St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
get directions

B markerSOMArts Cultural Center -
934 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
get directions

C marker199 Capp St. -
199 Capp St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
get directions

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • ethel smith profile image

    Eileen Kersey 

    7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

    Sounds a great quirky market

  • ahostagesituation profile image

    SJ 

    7 years ago

    Definitely up for this. Great hub!

  • Denny Saloon profile image

    Denny Saloon 

    7 years ago from Surabaya, Indonesia

    Hi Kathryn,

    I like this article indifferent to enjoy ethnic foods originating mainly from Asia. Good work with the next article.

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