Underground Food

First it was secret supper clubs and now there are complete underground food festival and farmers markets.

They Gather Secretly at Night, and Then They (Shhh!) Eat, by Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times

Underground Market: At this quasi-clandestine monthly event, a tribal gathering of young chefs, vendors and their iron-stomached followers are remaking the traditional farmers market as an indie food rave.

At midnight, the smell of stir-fried pork bellies was wafting through the Mission district. There was live music, liquor, bouncers, a disco ball — and a line waiting to sample hundreds of delicacies made mostly on location, among them bacon-wrapped mochi (a Japanese rice paste) and ice cream made from red beets, Guinness and chocolate cake.

In a sense it is civil disobedience on a paper plate.

How they work is that people sign up as members of a super club. As members they are allowed to attend “private” (public) events. The food vendors post that the food has not been inspected with language to some sort, and that allows them to sell their food to the public without the red tape.

The article says that it provides a kickstart for new chef/food business.

So could this take off in Ann Arbor?

AA is getting an outdoor food cart mall this year (Marks Carts) and the AA Farmers Market is also looking to add Wednesday nights this summer to their schedule.

And the passage of the Cottage food Law has also opened up Michigan for more small-scale food businesses.

We also boast secret supper clubs, breakfast clubs and private fundraising dinners.

And there are local food events like the Home Grown festival and street fairs.

So do we need an underground market too?

If there is enough people to support it, I say sure.

I do feel that Underground Food has a cachet, and in this economy any chance to generate some income and possibly make head way with a potential business is good. Most of these underground food markets are in larger cities where there is most likely competition to get in farmers markets and there could be a lot of fees and start-up costs.

With that said, I really would love to see more local food infrastructure to help create more above ground small food ventures.

This means more low-cost or even free commercial kitchens available to support local food product businesses and prepped food vendors.

Maybe local farmers markets or a group of markets could invest in a few food carts and rent them out to would be prepped food vendor.

I bet there would a lot of people who would like to sell prepped food at a farmers market, but do not because of the huge up front cost and commitment. Starting a small prepped food business is costly.

The LunchRoom, an upcoming Ann Arbor vegan lunch cart, successfully raise over $10K in micro donations for their Kickstarter.com campaign. $8,000 will go to their food cart alone, which is on the lower side because they are doing a lot of the building themselves.

I figure part of a local food system could include a few food carts that could be available for rent for a one day or short-term use. I picture it as a permanent fixture at a farmers market with various would be full-time or one time food vendors taking a turn to provide a variety of offerings.

It would be excited to come to a market and see what kind of prepped food was being offered at say “The Farmers Markets food cart.” One week could be pizza, another Philly cheese steak and another Indian food.

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3 responses to “Underground Food

  1. I agree. More infrastructure for small food ventures would be delightful. I’d love to sell baked goods at one of the local markets but I worry about the commitment required. I don’t know that I’m all for the “underground” food scene, though. I think that, to a lot of people, “foodies” already seem closed-off and snooty and that would only make it worse. I understand why people like the idea of a “foodie rave” but I’d rather celebrate my passion more publicly, myself.

    • Depending on what you would like to bake, the Cottage Food Law has really opened up the opportunity for small at home bakery businesses.

      • It has, and I’m very excited about it. I guess I’m unsure as to how to get started with a customer base, outside of word-of-mouth and setting up a table at the market which isn’t really feasible for me on a weekly basis. So…we’ll see! I think MI has a lot going for it as far as personal food ventures. I’d like to see us become as much of a powerhouse in that arena as we are in microbrewing.

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