Sunday, Aug. 8, marked the debut of VegFest, Asheville's first all-vegetarian festival. Vendors started setting up their booths as early as 10 a.m., and by 10:30 a.m., folks were already wandering toward Battery Park toward the festivities. The event began officially at noon and lasted until 7 p.m. that night. Festival organizers estimate that more than 1,500 people attended.
According to Rob Levy of Goat Mountain Sanctuary, the excitement at the festival was contagious. "It was just upbeat, positive and energetic. Even though it was brutally hot in the afternoon, people didn't seem to be phased by the heat because they were so interested in what they were doing," he says.
The festival, presented by the Asheville Vegetarians and Goat Mountain Sanctuary, was the first of its kind in Asheville. Food vendors sold only meat-free and vegan options. Speakers and musicians addressed crowds on a small stage. At the Kids' Zone, children tossed small keychains into recycled milk cartons to win prizes.One of the festival organizers, Carmon Donnellan of the Asheville Vegetarians, was impressed by the large turnout and positive reaction. "I think Asheville has such a huge vegetarian and vegan community, and up until now we just hadn't been able to celebrate it," says Donnellan. Many people, she says, told her it did not look like a first-year festival. Levy says he agrees. "It couldn't have turned out better yesterday," he says. "I had three people helping me at my booth and we were all busy. All four of us at the booth were just trying to help and talk to the 25 people huddled around us."
Food vendors experienced similar demands. According to Donnellan, Avery's hot dogs sold out of veggie dogs twice and Wingbean sold out of chocolate-chip cookies around 3 p.m. Though the turnout proved more successful than she had anticipated, Donnellan says another VegFest could definitely happen — perhaps with a bit more help. This year, she organized the event with only one other person, Joe Walsh. "It was a lot of work, but we did see some interest in people wanting to help organize for next year. So, we'll see what we can come up with and, if we can get enough people in the community involved, then it will definitely happen next year."