When a friend mentioned the upcoming Northeast Florida Veg Fest, set to take place in nearby Jacksonville, on Saturday March 7, I immediately marked my calendar. Since this would be our first ever Veg Fest (me + Andrew), we were both eager with anticipation as we counted down the days.
What’s Veg Fest all about? If you aren’t familiar with such festivals, Veg Fests are dedicated to local, sustainable, eco-friendly, compassionate, organic, healthy and humane organizations and businesses. In short, a dream festival for this vegan. Known for their tasty samples and vegan treats, Veg Fests are also family-friendly events, open to anyone (not just vegans).
Although in the future, I’m interested in having my own booth or participating in a cooking demo, Saturday, we were simply there to share the experience, and soak up all the veg-friendly goodness. And of course, I was representing myself, Vegan on the Run.
Veg Fest Vendors
After arriving at Jacksonville’s Riverside Park around 11 a.m. and doing an initial walk-through, we took our time, stopping and speaking with vendors we wanted to learn more about. Here are five standout vendors we enjoyed engaging with during our time at Veg Fest.
Jacksonville Health and Wellness Center
One of the first booths we stopped at for any length, was Jacksonville Health and Wellness Center, an event sponsor. Seeing the words chiropractor and vegan together initially drew me in, and upon chatting and exchanging information, I decided this center is definitely a place I need to visit soon. The center offers chiropractic services, mental health services, dietary services, educational tools, classes and more. Ultimately, they are taking a holistic and preventative approach to health and wellness, something that aligns with my own outlook. Details: drrepole.com
SunRAWise Cashew Cheese
Pass the “cheese” please! All it took was one glimpse of cashew cheese samples at the SunRAWise stand and our mouths were watering. We waited patiently in line and once it was our turn, tried as many cheeses as we could get our hands on.
(I spy a Vegan on the Run business card, do you?)
The company is based in nearby Palatka, and offers seven different flavors of artisan cashew cheeses, plus creamy spreads. The texture of the firm cheese option is spot on, and since there aren’t any oils included, there isn’t any level of greasiness or heaviness to the cheeses. These cheeses are available in select stores throughout the country, and available for online purchase. Andrew and I have been slowly savoring our “Smoke & Spicy” selection, and when it runs out, I’ll most likely be ordering more, or maybe even driving over to Palatka and begging for a tour of their facilities (and more samples), since their cheeses are that good. Details: sunrawise.com
The Reggae Shack
After doing a few loops to fully survey our lunch options, we decided to spring for something different than what we typically cook at home. Our lunch took a Jamaican turn after we spotted the Reggae Shack. This cafe based in nearby Gainesville, Florida offers an entire, separate vegan menu. For Veg Fest, they offered select entrées from their vegan menu for 10 bucks a pop. Andrew ordered seitan steak (left), and I ordered spicy tempeh (right). We savored our meals in the warmth of the sun.
Both plates included sides of cabbage, beans and rice, and sweet plantains. Yes, it was heavy, but it was so delicious. They weren’t joking when they labeled the tempeh spicy either. Not going to lie, I was a bit concerned about how this meal would sit on my stomach during the 5K that was to come later that afternoon, but it turned out to fuel me just right. Details: reggaeshackcafe.com
Sally Ann Handmade Fashion
Nothing catches my attention like a refurbished trailer. Upon closer look at the handmade work of Sally Ann Handmade Fashion, I fell in love with her vegan pouches that slide over a belt, eliminating the need to carry a purse (pictured left on the bright blue mannequin). As a fan of the fanny pack, I think these pouches are brilliant, and just so happen to be the ideal size to house a journal, phone, keys, headband, and my debit card or cash—all I could ever need on me.
Carrying a purse is something I don’t necessarily enjoy, especially while doing outdoor activities, so I can’t wait to make the switch to one of these pouches. I almost purchased one right then, but decided to go home and get rid of the purses I don’t need first, and then place a special order. Beyond the pouches, Sally Ann offers larger bags, other types of accessories and clothing. This mobile botique has several events coming up in and around the Jacksonville area. Details: sallyannk.com [Here you can also read more about the Kickstarter project that helped bring Shelby, the trailer, to life.]
The Tea People
Craving something to quench my thirst, I set my sights on person after person, clutching clear cups beaming with a bright pink beverage. I could only assume it was something magical. After some casual stalking, I traced it back to the The Tea People. The drink was a purple dragon limeade, featuring cactus fruit and dragon fruit, with fresh lime juice. So much sweetness in one cup, but it hit the spot.
The Tea People were also serving up burritos and had a full salsa bar. Focused on local, organic ingredients, The Tea People make the rounds between local and regional markets and festivals.
A Veg-Tastic Experience
THE SETTING: As for the setting itself, situated within the creative Riverside community of downtown Jacksonville, the Northeast Florida Veg Fest was in an optimal location to attract foot traffic. It was timed nicely with the Riverside Arts Market just down the street, and Garden Month at the Cummer Museum, both attracting even more individuals to the area on Saturday. [We made pitstops by both the market and the museum immediately following the Fest, and decided they warrant our return soon, for lengthier visits.]
THE COMPANY: Speaking of we, have I mentioned Andrew is a great sport? Well, he is. He puts up with me darting back and forth when I have too many things I’m trying to take in all at once (which was the case at Veg Fest). I couldn’t have asked for better company to share this veg-filled experience with.
THE CROWD: By the time we were on our way out, Veg Fest was slammed, which brought joy to my vegan heart. I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many sweet pups milling about with their owners. Perhaps next year we will bring Escher (the Dobie).
As for this first experience, I’m glad we arrived near the beginning of the festival while things were starting off more slowly, so we could take our time speaking with vendors and sampling treats without battling the crowd. I’m also glad we kept it just the two of us.
Until next time Veg Fest!
Upcoming Veg Fests
Mark your calendars! Although it’s great to glean inspiration from events that have already happened, it’s even better when you can mark your calendars to attend a similar event of your own. With that, here are a couple of spring Veg Fest opportunities for those living in the Southeastern U.S.
NORTH FLORIDA VEG FEST
APRIL 4 — Tallahassee, Florida
This will be Tallahassee’s first annual Veg Fest. I had the privilege of meeting one of the organizers, Julie, at Saturday’s Fest, and her enthusiasm for the event is contagious. If you are in the area and able to make it, I encourage you to go support. My favorite Tallahassee Co-Op, New Leaf Market (best vegan chicken salad ever), is on board as a vendor. And SunRAWise is also on the list. Details: northfloridavegfest.com [If you can’t attend, consider contributing a couple of dollars to help this Fest succeed in its first year. Check out their campaign, here].
NOLA VEGGIE FEST
MAY 9-10 — New Orleans, Louisiana
As I mentioned in my recent, “Run NOLA: Beyond the Race” New Orleans post, the vegan community in New Orleans has exploded in recent years. This city makes a prime weekend getaway, and if you time your getaway with the NOLA Veggie Feist, you’ll get to experience even more plant-based bliss than usual. As an added bonus, Kristin from Will Travel for Vegan Food is scheduled to speak at this event. This is one Veg Fest I really would love to attend. Details: nolaveggiefest.com
For a look at more vegan events and festivals taking place this year throughout the U.S. and beyond, check out vegan.com/festivals.