The Reason for The Underground Market, and A bit of a rant on the state of the industrial food economy


It is technically illegal to sell wild foraged foods. In our present paranoid age, everything must be tracked. There is a logical reason behind this. If there is a problem, the Health Department must be able to track it back to its source, in order to correct the problem. As with most food regulations, this is borne of mass production. If you have just a handful of organizations feeding the entire country, you lose the ability for direct feedback from customers. Do you have any idea where the veggies from your dinner came from? Maybe (and this is a big maybe), you know which country it came from, or even which state. The only way you could possibly know which farm it came from would be if you had gotten them from a farmers’ market or a CSA. To be honest, I don’t know where most of my food comes from. We don’t know who grows our food, so the direct customer feedback loop that’s always existed around small producers is defunct, so the government has had to step in to protect us. This I completely understand and agree with when working on such a huge scale.

The problem is that the rules and protection necessary for a farm growing ten thousand acres of spinach are not the same needed when you’re growing two acres. Someone making a thousand jars of jam should not be expected to pay the same fees and to have the same oversight as Smucker’s. But this is what has happened. 

We live in an amazing time and place, where we can pull up to any restaurant or buy from any supermarket, and have almost 100% confidence that the food we eat won’t make us sick. Reflect upon this for a moment. Just think of the incredible organizational effort that’s needed to protect 300 million people, each eating three meals a day, every day, in a country as large as ours. It’s really astounding.

The unfortunate byproduct is that top-down regulation needs to be one size fits all, which means that small producers have to live by the same rules (and that means permit costs, expensive equipment, lawyers) as the big guys. This stifles small business and favors the economics of scale, forces people to use cheaper ingredients, and, most importantly from where I stand, stops tens of thousands of people with great ideas from seeing that idea come to life.

What we need are regulations that are tailor-made for small businesses. Regulations that will protect us while supporting the small, up-and-coming entrepreneur over the large corporation. There’s nothing wrong with a company being large, but an organization that receives $100M/year in revenue doesn’t need tax breaks or looser regulation.