“It’s really important to support the local farmers,” says Bitterman, corporate executive chef for The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group’s six restaurants. “Especially since Katrina, we all really learned that we needed to come together as a community and support each other. And that’s my part. I try to buy product for the restaurant at the farmers market as well.”
In part because of sentiment like that, the number of farmers markets around the country has more than doubled during the last decade, according to federal statistics. Last year alone, the number of markets jumped 17 percent to 7,175.
In one form or another, farmers markets have been around for quite a while. But culturally, the timing is right for growth. Consumers are increasingly interested in eating locally and sustainably produced foods. Government programs that channel funds to small farmers also have helped.
“They are a way people can reconnect with agriculture, with farmers, with how food is produced,” says Kathleen Merrigan, deputy agriculture secretary. “Once farmers markets start popping up, people start to see this works, and they start replicating.”