Forage S.F. Underground Market Shut Down by Health Department

Jake Poehls
Iso Rabins
San Francisco health inspectors abruptly shut down the "underground" market run by wild-foods cooperative ForageSF last weekend, calling the future of the event into question as its popularity continues to grow.

ForageSF founder Iso Rabins told SF Weekly that he was issued a cease-and-desist order by two officials from the Department of Public Health at the market on Saturday. He said he will meet with health inspectors on Thursday to try to determine a way to bring the market into line with regulations governing food vendors that it has so far managed to circumvent.

"I can't do it again until I meet with them and figure out how to do it legally," he said.

State and local regulations dictate that food sold at farmers' markets be produced in commercial kitchens. The underground market had gotten around this restriction -- at the suggestion, originally, of a San Francisco health inspector -- by billing itself as a private, "members-only" event. Patrons can sign up for membership online and pay a $5 entrance fee to the market.

Rabins and ForageSF, both the subjects of heavy media attention in recent months, were first profiled in SF Weekly in March 2009. Even then, Rabins was walking a delicate line in his effort to purvey food from unconventional sources without violating health regulations.

Rabins said he was under the impression that the enforcement action on Saturday was a result of pressure from state regulators, who may not have been thrilled with inspectors' permissive attitude to the market. "I guess they've been getting pressure from the state, which wasn't really happy about the market," Rabins said. "They're not buying the members-only thing."

We'll let you know more when we hear back from the Department of Public Health.

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