Underground Markets Popping Up Everywhere!

We finally had our first underground market meeting here in Vancouver. It went really well, we met in a lovely old house in a nice central location. I even–just barely–remembered to get a photo to document the event–too bad my camera sucks at indoor photos-this was the best I could do. We decided that we need to work on our mission statement to be clear about what our purpose and goals are, but we all seemed to agree that it should include both food and handmade crafts, be geared towards supporting the local economy, and that sharing and bartering should be included in our discussion. We also seemed to be determined to keep it open for all, and would like to have a way to help subsidize low income vendors and members, although we haven’t worked out any details.

We also seemed to like the idea of a floating market that would be able to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, and that we would need venues with a door, or some kind of a controllable entrance as we will have to make sure that everyone is a member or becomes a member, as this is a private club that is open to all. Since we still have a lot to figure out I will not try to go into too much detail about it here, and recommend that folks check out the post on Village Vancouver to get involved and find out where and when the next meeting is. We would also like for people who want to be vendors to start sharing what they are planning to sell, so that we can get an idea of what we are looking at, so please join us at Village Vancouver for now.

In the meantime I did a intensive google search to try to find out what other cities are doing with their underground markets. I discovered a market in Atlanta, Amsterdam, Boise, London, and of course there is the San Francisco market that inspired this one. So far I think that covers it, but if you know of another one please let me know.

A quick glance through these markets showed that the basic agreement for the Underground Market Club was pretty much the same for all–I posted the agreement in an earlier post here. Each of the markets has set up their own requirements, so let’s have a look at what those are, some are more restrictive than others:

Atlanta: This market charges $50 to the vendors and the vendors need to audition for a spot so a sample of what they plan to sell is tasted by the coordinators. They want unique food and they encourage their vendors with this slogan:

Be wild! Be daring! Experiment!

They say food carts, caterers, home cooks and restaurant chefs can all apply.

The Atlanta Underground market changes location every time and they email out the location to their members the night before the event. Members are charged $2 to get into the market, but they have the option of getting a member card for $5 to make it faster and easier to get into the market. It seems that this market is mostly food vendors from the reviews I read. There were rave reviews:

Another perk of the evening was that entry was only $2, and most dishes were $2-3. Additionally, many vendors donated some or all of their proceeds to Field of Greens. Field of Greens is an annual festival here in Atlanta geared toward promoting sustainable farming. Review with great photos by Dr Princess

And an annoyed and disappointed review: The Atlanta Food Snob complained about the long lines to get in, that much of the food seemed like a bake sale, and that some vendors just seemed to be interested in making a quick buck with store-bought empanadas they were reheating in a toaster oven. Although he complained a fair amount, he also seemed to enjoy some of the foods he found there, and it was Atlanta’s first market.

Amsterdam: Unfortunately most of what is written about this market is in Dutch so I can’t give you many details. From what I can tell is that the market sells traditional foods and is supporting sustainable farming. Talking Food is the organizer. This post by Dutch Grub mentions that micro-producers are selling jams, sausages, cheeses and other items.

Boise: It seems the Boise market sometimes charges under $5 for members to get in-this depends on the venue and if they have musicians or not, they also have quality food. They are also on facebook and twitter and change the location of the market, sending out the location a couple days before the market day. I am not sure how much they charge their vendors, but they have a very simple application form for them to fill out, micro-producers are also asked to provide a sample. On their website it says:

If you thrive on hand crafted, unique, exceptional foods, you have come to the right place! The Boise Urban Market is a group of food enthusiasts in the Boise area. Our private market is held once a month (or every other month) and is only open to club members. Participants can be sure that they are getting homemade products made with loving and thoughtful hands. Products offered vary from market to market but you will always see a large variety of food items including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options!

I found some great reviews this one by Treats and Tragedies was quite interesting. Some of the things being sold are:

There are raspberry plants, fresh spinach, catnip, quinio cakes that you can eat today, different kinds of cupcakes, andouillie sausage made locally….a lot of these things are actually better for you because we’re not using nitrates or nitrites and because we’re not boiling the kimchee to make it so that it has no bacteria in it, and we’re not boiling the goat cheese so it’s completely flavorless and bad for you. Check out the whole interview here.

Also check out this link for some great photos and list of vendors for one of the Boise Underground Markets. Seems like some pretty delicious and interesting food on offer. This market seems quite well organized, they also have a place for folks to volunteer to help as well as to host an event.

London: I haven’t found that much information about the London market, it seems that there has just been one so far. It was held in the home of MsMarmiteLover (UK’s supperclub pioneer) as a Christmas food and craft market. AForkfulofSpaghetti has some great photos of the event. That first market included fun food demos and talks. Here’s what MsMarmiteLover had to say about the event:

It’s gonna be a mashup between an edgy cool entrepreneurial anti-establishment anarchist fair, Borough market and…a school fete! Check out this link for a vendor list and some photos

She also didn’t charge the vendors, but charged the guests instead:

Many people make great produce at home, but do not have a commercial kitchen. They are often intimidated by high startup prices and the commitment of a conventional farmers market. This Underground farmer’s market is an opportunity for them to test the waters, sell what they make. I’m not charging stallholders…which is a reversal of the usual thing where stallholders pay and the punters come in for free. But I want to encourage people who may not have done a stall before…therefore the goods will be unique and individual not just the usual suspects! But guests pay £5.50 entry fee which will be well worth it as I’m sure you can see.

San Francisco: This market is what started this whole underground market club off. So it is interesting to follow what is going on there. They seem to charge $50 for vendors (rent in SF is expensive) and $2 for members. The market also seems to have grown to an unmanagable size. I recently came across a blog by broccoliandchocolate who was complaining about how long they had to wait in line to get in, how much the food cost, how cool everyone was trying to be and how crummy the food was–have a look at the blog post here, there are also photos–including one of a guy smoking as he made a grilled cheese sandwich.

The founder of this market obviously was aware of these problems and has been working on making it more accessible, in this post questioning whether the market should have a bigger venue and how much that will cost the vendors. Some people suggested making several smaller markets, which seems to me to be a good solution, but I don’t think that is what they have done in SF, in fact from this list of vendors for their latest market it seems that they are bigger than ever!

So from what I have seen, there is quite a variety of what people decide they want to do with this underground market concept. It seems that the vendors producing food to eat generally do pretty small portion sizes so that folks have the opportunity to try out a variety of foods. They often have tables available for people to sit and eat at and they usually have long lines that people have to wait in. There seem to be people who love them and people who think they are over-rated.

Anyway I hope all of this will help us here in Vancouver to define what we want from our underground market a little more clearly. Personally, I am very interested in using local quality food as much as possible, although I do think it will be too restrictive at this point to make that a requirement. It seemed that many of us are interested in selling some of our excess urban garden product as well as folks who are interested in selling pickles, jams, honey, crafts, baked goods, food carts, or whatever and work towards creating greater food equality as well as greater food sovereignty in Vancouver BC.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Jeff

    Any progress on this concept?

  2. suzanne

    Thanks for this combrehensive info. We are hoping to start a market in rural (yet sophisticated) virginia and are curious to see how others are doing it.


  3. Michaela

    Hi, Hella,
    Thank you for this detailed blog. I’m organizing the Atlanta market and we just had our 2nd one (rain – damn) yesterday.

  4. Ravi

    thanks for reporting on this! if enough of these get rolling, then the government cannot control! of course – they will try to find a way – fake food poisonings and so on – rock and roll people – find a way to go around your insane and maniacal government! attempts to control us!
    Ravi, Daiasolgaia

  5. Richard

    To answer my own question,

    Is the requirement of being a member a distinguishing factor? They’ve got that at Costco too.

    Is it the frequent changes of venue? That makes it hard to track down or suppress.

    is it the intention of being private rather than public? A legal distinction for sure. The special stuff at the underground market is NOT being offered to the PUBLIC.

    Is one of the factors in preferring this sort of the market the desire to operate outside the purview of government knowledge, awareness and regulation? Gee, I wonder what that would be such a big deal.

    Come to ze Casbah…..

    BTW I wrote this before I read your back-comment.

    1. Richard

      That should read “I wonder WHY that would be such a big deal.”

    2. hellaD

      I was just checking out some of the Night markets they are getting rolling in San Franciso now as well and that brought back memories of some amazing street markets we used to go to in S. E. Asia, so of course I started dreaming about how maybe every ethnic community in Vancouver could get involved and we could have a really yummy night market. The other fun thing that people are doing in this same vein are supper clubs, I just saw one they are calling a popup supper club which they are doing to raise money for the Earthquake in NZ. It would be nice to do one for the poor Japanese as well!

  6. Richard

    What distinguishes these so-called “underground” markets from regular farmers’ markets?

    1. hellaD

      Main difference is that you don’t need to produce your food in a commercial kitchen.

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