Earth Day: From Farm to Table at Yosemite

During the Clinton Administration there was a move to green up the national parks.  One of the mandates was to source food locally.  Today one of the most successful examples of this is Yosemite National Park.  All the concessions are run by Delaware North and it has chosen not to go with commodities but rather to buy the produce, meats, eggs and dairy from local growers within a 150 mile radius of the park who use organic standards.  Yosemite’s restaurants and concessions use the goods exclusively. 

The relationship between Yosemite and small growers is reaping a harvest of good.  Yosemite is helping support small businesses so that they can be sustainable.  Yosemite also features them on their menus and educates the public about their contributions.  Visitors to the park are able to have a connection to food and “eat their view.”  The restaurants are able to offer menus with the freshest seasonal products at lower costs because they are not passing along shipping to the guests.  For example this past spring The Ahwahnee had a four course prix fixe menu with seasonal food for $45.  If they had used commodities the same menu would have cost $65 to $70.     

When Percy Whatley became the executive chef of The Ahwahnee he realized he could save money with commodities but chose not too.  He had lived off the land when he was young and helped push the park to go organic.  With him as a catalyst, the park has come to realize the importance of buying locally and serving food from farm to table.  Yosemite buys from larger growers like TD Willey in Madera but they also work with small growers and customize menus so they can purchase product that they have available.  For example Brenda Ostrum of Mountain Meadows Farm in Mariposa plants more varieties of heirloom tomatoes requested by Yosemite and Seth Nietschke of Open Space Meats in Hornitos says the chefs work with him to buy what he has available.  TD Willey agreed to plant fennel and fava beans at Yosemite’s request and Percy buys it all.  The relationship is very symbiotic for Tom and Denness who plant 75 acres and are finding more and more pressures that are driving medium sized growers out of business.

It has also been a huge boost to small growers who are finding the economy difficult at the moment.  Clients are buying less so to have an anchor client like Yosemite is good for their farm economy and also the economy of their communities.  Brenda Ostrum who started farming around the same time Percy took over The Ahwahnee says that what makes small farms viable is support of the local community and people like Percy.  She has only 5 acres for her eggs, chicken and tomatoes.  Seth has only 40 to 50 head of cattle and employs two people.  They are sustainable in part because of Yosemite’s mission.  Farmers are proud to be associated with Yosemite and believe this is a natural marriage.  Yosemite is on the cutting edge of this trend and visitors benefit because they are able to not only enjoy pristine wilderness but also the unique flavor of the region.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit

2 thoughts on “Earth Day: From Farm to Table at Yosemite

  1. As an employee of Delaware North Companies I am proud to be associated with the operations at Yosemite National Park and of Chef Whatley. All of the employees there continue to look for ways not only to provide unique and exceptional experiences for the millions of visitors to the Park but also for ways to ensure that millions more get to have that same experience in the years ahead.

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