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Yosemite's winter hush

Winter magic snowshoeing to Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. Majestic sequoias are the largest living thing on earth. Credit www.YExplore.comIn winter, a hush and holy stillness settles over Yosemite National Park. It is, by any standards, a most magical and enchanting time to visit. On peaceful walks, you can easily imagine John Muir's first sighting of these granite domes and thundering waterfalls. In the chill of the day, under sapphire skies, the howls of coyotes drift across the Valley and mingle with mist floating above the meadows. 

During this season, Yosemite’s waterfalls come roaring back to life courtesy of winter snow and rain. Any visit should include a hike to Yosemite Falls. Stream-fed, the voice of Yosemite Falls is a constant this time of year. The reality that this is the highest waterfall in North America is drowned out by the crashing din, “it’s overwhelming – dizzying,” says one couple. “The word ‘awesome’ simply isn’t enough.” In the morning chill, early risers are treated to snow showers created by the fall’s spray.

During warmer months, visitors from around the world flock to Yosemite. Post-summer and autumn, the visitor tide ebbs, heralding an unhurried transition into a frosty hibernation. Following major holidays, Yosemite settles down for a winter nap. Less traffic in, out and around the Park is a bonus, not to mention that accommodations are more attainable.

Opened in 1927, the majestic lady of Yosemite is The Ahwahnee hotel. This celebrated Four-Diamond resort perches grandly amid the pines and by the granite Royal Arches. The Ahwahnee’s regal architectural details combine the best of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements with a splash of Native American and Middle Eastern influences. Spacious common areas, 99 elegantly Chefs' Holidays Gala Dinner in The Ahwahnee Dining Room Courtesy of Delaware North at Yosemiteappointed rooms and 24 cottages offer exceptional romantic appeal and stunning views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls – three of Yosemite’s most famous natural landmarks.

Sun-drenched days in the Valley can be warm, but anytime is optimal for snuggling in front of a roaring fire. The Ahwahnee’s massive stone fireplaces and comfortable lounges offer reprieves from the cold.  Guests Linda and Brad retreat to the Great Lounge to relax and read. “They wait on you hand and foot,” say Linda and Brad. Celebrating their anniversary, they both agree that, “If we could only go one place, it would be Yosemite.”

Yosemite Village is an easy walk or shuttle ride from The Ahwahnee and other Valley lodgings. Leave your vehicle parked during your stay and take advantage of environmentally-friendly transit. Snow doesn’t stay long on the Valley floor, so walks and hikes are always possible. You don’t have to be a rugged outdoors person to enjoy Yosemite. Walk outside and you’ll see things you won’t find anywhere else on earth – relish the peace and quiet. There’s plenty of that in winter.

Besides the usual seasonal pursuits, indulge in some retail therapy at the hotel gift shop and world-famous Ansel Adams Gallery. Interpretive displays at the Yosemite Museum depict the rich heritage of the Valley and its native people the Ahwahneechee. An exhibit of Native American basketry by Lucy and Julia Parker is renowned. 

Food, Glorious Food! Extraordinary celebrations are a given in Yosemite. The Ahwahnee dining room is a gourmet experience, with the heart of the menu steeped in California cuisine. Whenever possible, dishes feature both organic and sustainably-harvested, locally-grown ingredients. Heavenly combinations, just for starters, include an Artisan Cheese Board featuring California’s delectable Humboldt Fog, Fiscalini and Golden Valley cheeses and Membrillo, a luscious quince jelly. Or a new twist on an old favorite, El Capitan Deviled Eggs with pesto, arugula, and bourbon-cured bacon. Like days of old, this grand dame Vintners Gala Dinner-at the Ahwahnee Hotel Credit DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.requests dinner attire – fitting accompaniment beside so much grandeur.

The Vintner’s Holiday is the ultimate for couples visiting Yosemite early November and December. Wine enthusiasts can avail themselves of six sessions and multi-night packages at The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls.  Wine tasting seminars, private “Meet the Vintners” reception and a five-course gala dinner leave  devotees delightfully giddy.  Visitors are welcome, free of charge, at all Vintner’s Holiday seminars and panel discussions, and may also purchase gala dinner tickets.

A legendary gala, adapted from Washington Irving's "Sketch Book," Bracebridge Dinner marks its 89th year this winter. Trumpets announce the arrival of Squire Bracebridge and presentations of an elaborate seven-course feast are Chefs Holiday at the Ahwahnee Hotel plating beets Credit DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.made on cue by the sounding of chimes during the performance. The main dining room of The Ahwahnee is transformed into an Elizabethan Yuletide pageant. Elaborate props, costumed characters, and period entertainment bring this 17th-century fête to life. You will, quite literally, be left speechless by this most sensory of celebrations. The experience of a lifetime, the always coveted Bracebridge tickets – eight December performances – are available online.

January would be Yosemite’s quietest month of the year were it not for the influx of food-and wine-minded guests who visit specifically to attend Chefs’ Holidays, a gourmet treasure. Over the course of four weeks and eight sessions, acclaimed chefs from around the country come to The Ahwahnee to practice their culinary arts. Each session features a “Meet the Chefs” reception, cooking classes and demonstrations, and kitchen tours where you can visit The Ahwahnee’s pantry and see some of the original kitchen tools. The astonishing Chef’s Gala Dinner is certain to send you into a gastronomic coma as five courses, paired with complementing wines, are crafted and prepared by each session’s guest chef. Bejeweled by tapered candlelight, there couldn’t be a more exquisite setting then The Ahwahnee’s regal dining room.

Chef’s Holiday 2015 features chefs from California and as far away as New York.  The event features some of the country’s most innovative and acclaimed chefs including Elizabeth Falkner and Ryan Scott.

Wawona Hotel in Winter Credit Nancy Robbins, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, IncUltimate Escapes: Yearning to unwind and avoid the last vestiges of winter crowds in Yosemite Valley, but still want endless distractions? Head to the Wawona Hotel. It’s an escape to days of old: No TV. No phones. And limited Wi-Fi – what madness! Whether romance or family time is on the agenda, the Victorian-era Wawona Hotel provides the best of all possibilities. Located on the southern end of the Park, the oldest Yosemite accommodations (a National Historic Landmark) is reminiscent of a gentle southern belle, offering the epitome of hospitality. Known for its exceptional fare, the winter menu highlights local organic and seasonal foods, and breakfast is included with all rooms. Some rooms are European-style so, if you prefer, specify en-suite.

Outside Yosemite’s boundaries, elegant and historic lodging comes in many guises. Two miles from the Park’s southern entrance, the Four-Diamond rated Tenaya Lodge offers superb accommodations – nothing less than luxurious. Native American and western-style décor honors the hotel’s legendary namesake, Chief Tenaya, roaring fires, five seasonal restaurants, and heart-stopping scenery. In the midst of a multi-million dollar remodel, 240 of the main lodge’s rooms and suites will be completed by spring 2016. But wait, there is more!

Couple enjoys a quiet moment in  the Relaxation Room at Ascent Spa Credit Tenaya Lodge at YosemiteAfter a day exploring, hiking, or snowshoeing unwind and indulge at Ascent the Spa. Inquire about kid activities and personalized babysitting services. While you wine and dine or soak up some sun, off-spring can unwind at the expanded arcade or indoor heated pool. When the snow flies, an open-air ice-skating rink provides miles of chilly smiles. Incidentally, pet friendly, yes! Indulge your loving pooch with a Pampered Pet Package.

Evergreen Lodge, off historic Highway 120, offers couples and families a rare opportunity to enjoy the little visited and secluded northwest corner of Yosemite National Park. Down Evergreen Road, Hetch Hetchy Valley is waiting. In the early 1920s, damming of the Tuolumne River created the 8-mile-long Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. While surrounding landscapes may be winter white, Hetch Hetchy is frequently spring-like and otherworldly. You’ll delight in fern grottoes, sunlit granite, crashing waterfalls and tree-frog wetlands. The bonus is that you can hike for hours undisturbed by other day-trippers. 

Evergreen Lodge Cabin in winter. Fully furnished and all the amenities is perfect for groups, families, friends - Kim Carroll PhotographyBuilt in 1921, the main lodge houses a historic tavern and restaurant. After a day of hiking or skiing, a steaming bowl of apple and butternut squash soup with candied pecans or bacon-wrapped elk meatloaf with sweet potato puree, roasted Brussels sprouts and an oyster mushroom jus will fill that hunger void. Menus change seasonally to incorporate the finest local, organic and sustainable ingredients.  Retire to the Great Room for roaring fires, s’mores, and classic films. Honeymooners, Kahdijah and Alistair, enjoyed five nights at Evergreen, “It’s amazing,” says Kahdijah, “we love it! Evergreen has a faraway feeling and we can still spend time in the Park.” A variety of fully furnished cabins and cottages accommodate up to six guests.

Scenic Highway 120 passes through the Gold Rush-era town of Groveland and provides year-round Groveland Hotel Lyle's Roomaccess to the Park. If you choose to stay outside the Park, this small town offers big hospitality. Embrace the warm welcome of the Three-Diamond Groveland Hotel. Seventeen uniquely decorated rooms provide outstanding lodging for adventures both in and out of Yosemite. Greeting guests since 1849, the hotel’s Cellar Door is known for its extraordinary cuisine and wines and boasts a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

Opening June 2016, Rush Creek Lodge sits just half a mile from the Park’s Highway 120 west entrance, providing an ideal launching point for exploration into all parts of Yosemite. The opening coincides with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Family Ice Skating at Curry Village Ice Rink  Courtesy of Delaware NorthAs temperatures drop and snow flies, nothing is quite as special as ice skating at Curry Village beneath the splendor of Half Dome and Glacier Point, the warmth of an outdoor fire ring and scrumptious winter s’mores…is a winter dream. Yosemite Valley lodges provide shuttle service to Badger Pass Ski Area. If there’s significant snow at Wawona, people cross-country ski on the golf course across the road. Built in 1878, the 130-foot Wawona Covered Bridge crosses the south fork of the Merced River and leads to the 1880s Pioneer History Center. 

The road is closed to the Mariposa Grove, but you can still hike, cross-country ski or snowshoe to visit the giant sequoias – the largest living things on earth. YExplore Global Adventures offers Yosemite guided snowshoe treks to both the Mariposa and Tuolumne sequoia groves. Beginner or extended hikes to Dewey Point on the south rim of Yosemite Valley and photography workshops capture landscape views and the natural “firefall”, one of Yosemite’s most amazing spectacles.

Badger Pass Snowboarder_ Credit Chris Falkenstein - Delaware North at YosemiteGet Your Badger Pass On! Like an old friend, Badger Pass Ski Area is quaint and welcoming. Generations of parents and children have cut their skiing teeth at Badger Pass, California’s oldest downhill ski area. With more than 85 percent of the slopes devoted to beginner and intermediate levels, this is understandable. There’s no friendlier place for the little ones than the Badger Pups program that offers customized instruction, ages four to six. The sundeck at Badger Pass answers all your wintertime prayers. After time on the slopes or trails, you’ll be ready to enjoy lunch with a full view of downhill daredevils. After refueling and relaxing, embrace your sillier side with a little snow tubing. There are also daily ranger-led snowshoe walks.

Cross-country skiing, snowboarding and showshoeing experiences in and around Badger Pass are both scenic and serene. Miles of groomed trails and fresh powder are unsurpassed even for first-timers. For those with true gusto, the 10-plus mile trek to Glacier Point Ski Hut will reward you with stellar views of Yosemite Valley. Excursions to the rustic stone and log lodge include lodging, meals and layover activities. Experiencing Yosemite’s wintry-white back county and starlit skies? Simply priceless.

In snow season, access to Yosemite is via highways 140 (west) 41 (south), and 120 (north). These scenic byways pass by historic towns and untold scenic wonders. Enjoy the sights and an occasional stop along the way for sightseeing and shopping – antiques, art galleries, museums, state parks, trendy boutiques, and wineries – California’s past and present lives on in these Gold Rush-era gems. Iconic Tunnel View in Winter El Capitan Half Dome and Yosemite Falls Courtesy of Delaware North at YosemiteEven in sunny California, winter weather is unpredictable. It’s best to check ahead for road conditions and always travel with snow chains!

Millions throng to see the splendor of Yosemite’s granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, giant sequoias, and the magnificence made famous by the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams. Retreat urban environs by way of traffic-laden highways. Soon, slow rolling valleys, wide-open spaces, neatly hemmed by fences, and carefully rowed orchards and vineyards lead to snow-capped peaks, the promise of winter, and Yosemite!


Food & Travel Magazine Winter 2015-16 - by Barbara L. Steinberg 

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OWAC Craft Award Best Outdoor Magazine Feature 2015
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Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services is farm-to-every-fork

Cultivating a Path to Defeating Hunger in Sacramento County

The face of hunger….would you recognize it? Thousands of your neighbors live in food deserts and insecure lives when it comes to food.  One in five (18.8%) Sacramento County residents are food insecure living at the poverty level; half survive in emergency poverty not knowing how they will secure their next meal.  

Sacramento County, located in the center of the food universe, effortlessly embraced the farm-to-fork movement that has swept the nation in recent years.  Despite its agricultural bounty, thousands of residents go hungry with scarce access to food for lack of money SFBFS Volunteers Food Distribution Lodation Credit Barbara L Steinberg3or other resources. Geographic areas known as “food deserts” exist where affordable, nutritious food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those without transportation. Imagine a business that feeds clothes and educates tens of thousands of Sacramentans free of charge. Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) is that winning enterprise. With its mantra, “farm-to-every-fork,” and a cadre of like-minded partners, it is revolutionary in its vision to eradicate hunger and bring self-sufficiency to the working poor.

SFBFS wasn’t always the only food bank in town. At one time, Senior Gleaners, Inc., California Emergency Foodlink and SFBFS supplied 220 food pantries and closets throughout Sacramento County, according to Blake Young, SFBFS president and CEO. In 2014, Foodlink stopped its food distribution program to focus on statewide distribution of government commodities. That same year, financially-strapped Senior Gleaners approached SFBFS about a merger; about a merger to create a more sustainable model for feeding low-income people. In essence, the Sacramento County network of food banks went from three to one, with SFBFS providing 220 partner agencies with food.

Sacramento’s only food bank works overtime to clothe, educate and feed local children, parents and seniors. Prior to the union with Senior Gleaners, SFBFS fed approximately 50,000 clients per month. Afterward, the number skyrocketed to 150,000.  Every month in Sacramento County, more than 240,000 children and adults, including many seniors, go hungry.  “We’ve become the food bank of the Sacramento County, which is more the rule,” Blake says. “We created a food bank revolution in Sacramento. We’re not just feeding people. We invite them in. It’s a gateway SFBFS Food Distribution Center Credit Barbara L Steinberg2and gets people to the next level of self-sufficiency through family services.” 

Blake believes the merger was the right thing to do, but it came with a huge price tag. SFBFS inherited Senior Gleaner’s 110,000 square-foot Distribution Center, The size of a small town, major health and safety improvements were imperative. The increased numbers of families now served by SFBFS added further costs. Tripling the number of clients required an immediate increase in food, trucks, fuel, staffing and volunteers. Plus, the renovation of the historic Arata Brother’s building which previously housed SFBFS to house improved clothing donation and shopping areas and room to grow services.

Accepting this responsibility, the food bank is experiencing a $600,000 funding gap and is looking to the community to become a partner in its desire to make Sacramento County the first food secure county in America.  Many positive economic impacts were realized as a result of the food bank’s merger:  employment of 73 workers and countless contractors (ranging from refrigeration to automotive repair), purchase of produce from local companies and farms, reduced costs in food waste from local grocers, renovation SFBFS Nutrition educationof older facilities, new construction and opportunities for volunteers to give back.

Nearly a decade ago, SFBFS improved its distribution to include fresh fruits and vegetables. It was farm-to-every-fork –a cutting edge concept – before the movement took hold.  Diabetes and obesity, especially in children, was spiraling out of control, particularly among economically challenged populations where access to fresh food is limited or non-existent. An increase in food distribution (9) sites directly brought fresh food to families experiencing food insecurity, and health issues. Families in need can walk or take public transit to their local church or community center where SFBFS staff and volunteers provide healthy groceries and nutrition education.

Recently, we met Maria at an Oak Park distribution site. “Even though I work, this year it just wasn’t enough,” she said. “My daughter told me about the food distribution, and I feel truly blessed. It’s great; everything helps!”

People in need also receive groceries from the 220 charities that acquire food from SFBFS. Meeting client needs requires collaboration, innovation and participation. Growing partnerships, volunteer programs and fundraising are mission-critical.  Local nonprofits, businesses and farmers joined forces with SFBFS to feed and educate low-income populations about good nutrition. Top food allies in this effort include Raley's, Capay Organic, SaveMart, Bimbo Bread and General Produce.  SFBFS receives almost no monetary support from the state or federal government. Survival depends on building and maintaining relationships within the community.

Sacramento Food Bank Run to Feed the HungryWells Fargo supports us behind the scenes. They’re the largest Run to Feed the Hungry team, plus staff regularly volunteers at our distribution center and other events.” Blake notes. “They really stepped up when we acquired Senior Gleaners, Inc. to help with a renovation on the 110,000 square-foot distribution center and equipment.” 

Giving and contributing is part of the DNA of locally-owned Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, which partners with SFBFS and other nonprofits to supply thousands of pounds of fresh produce each year.  “We’ve provided families with building blocks for healthy meals,” says Jenny Teel Wolter, Raley's Food for Families development officer. “It’s not just about a full belly, but nutritious food and education, too." Since 1986, she notes, Raley’s has furnished 24 million pounds of food and $33 million from donations, sponsorships and an employee giving campaign. One hundred percent of the money goes directly to the food banks, and Raley’s absorbs all costs.

SFBFS Nutrition educationFood banks are making a huge impact on the health scene, adds Blake. SFBFS uses part of its budget to buy produce from local farmers.  “We’re in strong partnerships with nearby farmers,” he says. “They can grow year-round. The whole community benefits if people are healthier. If we can’t do it in Northern California – the Emerald Valley– it would be hard to do it anywhere.”

Soil Born Farms, a nonprofit community garden, provides 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of organic farm produce to SFBFS and the underserved each year, according to Shawn Harrison, the farm’s founder and co-director. In West Sacramento, urban farms supported by the Center for Land Based Learning also supply fresh produce. SFBFS further provides funding to increase urban farmers’ capacity to grow healthy food for distribution.

Demonstration Garden Sacramento Food Bank & Family ServicesSFBFS stands for food, but also provides a wide range of services that have increased exponentially since its inception in 1976. The educational component is equally critical. “SFBFS’s approach is holistic,” according to Blake. “It’s not just about food, but services that lead to healthier lifestyles and self-sufficiency. Since moving our food distribution up to North Sacramento, we’ve been able to expand the facility in Oak Park. We offer 14 services including Adult Education, Technology, Youth Education, Health & Nutrition, and Clothing.”

In the food bank’s demonstration garden, farm-to-every-fork is about growing and preparing food. At food distribution sites, SFBFS offers recipe cards in multiple languages.

Food Bank Drop Off Sac Food Bank from Farm Fresh to You Credit Farm Fresh to You“Produce plus education is the winning formula,” says Barbara Archer, spokeswoman for Farm Fresh to You/Capay Organic. “It’s made a big difference in the health of SFBFS clients. When we first started donating, clients didn’t know what to do with Swiss chard – now a recipe cards showed them the way. Then SFBFS couldn’t keep it on the shelf. A little push makes all the difference.”

“Most people don’t know there are two sides to SFBFS,” adds Pat McClain, chairman of the SFBFS board. “We distribute more than 1.5 million pounds of food monthly. The kid that goes to school hungry isn’t going to get educated. Poverty is cyclical, but you won’t break the cycle through food.” 

The family services help people advance—everything from English as a second language and career development to parent education and computer technology.  “We give them the tools. They have to do the work,” says McClain. “Food banks support the working poor who are getting by on a day-by-day basis. It’s important to support our future work force. As business owners we should care about this.”

Who is the face of hunger? It’s the working poor, the seniors stretched beyond their means and the children who go to school hungry.  Food security comes at a tremendous cost, but goes far beyond food; it’s about education and providing services to raise hungry populations out of poverty and to that next level of self-sufficiency.

We say we want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world. That’s exactly what’s happening at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. It represents a new paradigm that rises above and beyond to provide new meaning Sactown Magazine scan of article to community growth.  Eliminating chronic illness requires focus on people’s health. Education assures that clients are more informed about what they eat.

Help Sacramento, America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, become the first food-secure county in the nation and learn how SFBFS is revolutionizing food banking! Volunteer at SFBFS. Get to know partners and volunteers who contribute time and resources. Meet families in our community who have benefited, and learn what it takes to contribute to the health and well-being of working poor families, children, and seniors.

We hope you’ll join this revolution. An integrated system of educational services with food will change the future not only for Sacramento families, but likely families in need across the globe.

Originally published in Sactown Magazine 2015. Read more and be inspired by Spotlight stories and successes of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services' clients.