Vegfest started with humble beginnings seven years ago. The event was held in Robertson Hall at the Folk Arts Centre in 2012 with 27 vendors expecting a few hundred people to show up. No one expected that 1,300 would show up.
The festival grew out of the venue as soon as they opened their doors, and Vegfest found a home at the Market Square in St. Catharines, and slowly added on more and more programming to the festival. In addition to the vendors, Vegfest now hosts guest speakers, films and live musicians.
“What we’ve been trying to do is to bring a fun, celebratory festival experience. There is at its core, a serious message that is happening. We talk about the environment, being considerate of the other beings that we share the planet with and our own health,” explained Laurie Morrison, Director and Co-Founder of the Festival.
“It is a plant-based festival, which is unique, but we do have complex discussions about where we are in history, with the influence we have over the planet and over what we eat. So, what we try to do is to make sure that those conversations are situated with fun.”
This year, the festival will host over 100 vendors and expect roughly 5,000 visitors to the Market Square. There will be a $5 admission charge to help cover expenses. This year, the festival has also collaborated with local restaurants on Veg-Ilicious (Rise Above, Fiddler’s Pour house, The Office Tap and Grill, oddBird., Mahtay Cafe and Louge and The Lemon Tree) to bring a prix-fixe vegan menu for the weekend of May 31-June 3. They have also partnered with a handful of wineries for Vegfest in the Vineyard, where patrons can go on a self-guided tour through several wineries and experience tastings with food pairings.
When Vegfest was created, veganism and plant-based diets were still ideas that were still on the fray. Over the past seven years, St. Catharines and Niagara have adopted the culture and Niagara has become a hotspot for vegans and anyone looking for an alternative diet to the norm.
“Vegnews had an article in the past few weeks about Niagara and the number of vegan options that are in Niagara. If you were to take the footprint of St. Catharines and drop it into Toronto, you would not find the amount of vegan options that you have in this city,” said Morrison.
While many of the strictly vegan options in Niagara have had major success, Morrison credits Niagara Action For Animals [NAFA] for helping foster a culture here within Niagara before veganism really hit it’s stride in the restaurants.
“I do think that NAFA, a really strong animal rights charity, had an impact on this community. They were raising the profile on how we feel about the animals we share our planet with. So, to put a vegan festival here, we already had people that knew of the message,” said Morrison.
“Seven years ago, when we were first planning the festival, I would sit down and have conversations where the question would be, “What is vegan?” Now seven years later that’s not where the conversation begins. Now it starts with, “I know there’s an impact on the planet, on our health, on the animals, and on people who work in those Industries.” It’s really changed the dialogue.”
Learn more about Vegfest at niagaravegfest.com