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Urban greenmarkets

Ask chefs for the secret behind their finest creations and chances are they'll mention fresh, high-quality ingredients. Yet for the city chef, getting those ingredients is often a pain in the asparagus.

But that's changing. From small beginnings 20 years ago, greenmarkets—public, open-air exchanges where farmers sell their goods to eager urbanites—have grown by 79% between 1994 and 2002. Today, there are more than 3,200 of them across the country, according to the USDA.

That means more and more chefs can basically step outside their doors (and usually down the street a bit) and be surrounded by local, right-off-the-farm ingredients that they can smell, taste, and buy, often at rates lower than shipped goods. Not only that, but the farmer who grows the produce is right there, too, ready to take the chef's order for next week.

But does any of this matter to customers? You bet, says Danny Meyer, owner of several New York fine-dining destinations including Union Square Cafe, which stakes its very reputation on the ingredients Meyers' chefs buy from the nearby greenmarket. "If the Union Square farmers' market was to close," Meyer has said, "I may as well not even have restaurants."

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