Columbia will host its first-ever vegan food festival, VegFest, on June 26 at Segra Park.
“We can do it in different cities and we wanted to do it here and work to save the world here – caring about the environment, helping people with plant-based diets and saving animals,” said Helene Greenberg, executive director of North Carolina-based Triangle Vegfest, which helped organize the Columbia event.
She said Columbia’s version had been in the works since before 2019 but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Columbia VegFest will feature more than a dozen vendors, including Columbia’s famous vegan food spot, A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen. Despite nearly 20 vendors, only a handful come from Colombia.
Greenberg said she expects Columbia’s lack of suppliers to change as the event draws closer.
“We are still in the process of getting Columbia suppliers signed up,” Greenberg said. “Part of the problem with signing up is that sometimes it’s hard to find staff to see if they can do it and we thought last month is when things will start to look up (with registration of people).”
The owners of A Peace of Soul Kitchen who will be in attendance operate a food truck and spend the summer going to different plant festivals in cities like Charleston and Asheville, so attending VegFest and other similar events makes part of the standard for owner Folami Geter.
“It’s great to see Columbia finally put on a festival like this. The closest ones are usually in North Carolina,” said Geter, who has been a lifelong vegan. “I know a lot of Charleston customers had one, but COVID happened, so it’s nice to have one so close to home.”
Vendors come from all over the east coast, with people from North Carolina all the way to New York. Three upstate vendors will also be in attendance.
One supplier in particular, Leesville-based Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary, played a significant role in planning the event after hosting a similar, smaller one in Leesville in July 2021.
“I’m super excited because we’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” said Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary COO Josh Costner, “We couldn’t believe Columbia hadn’t had one before.”
VegFests are not a new phenomenon.
The very first VegFest was organized by the Toronto Vegetarian Association almost four decades ago, according to the American Vegan Society. Big cities like Boston have been hosting events like this since the late 90s.
And Columbia has steadily grown in its interest and demand for plant-based cuisine, with places like A Peace of Soul and Good Life Cafe gaining popularity in the heart of the city and places like Mimsy’s, a West African place offering vegan cuisine, opening in the North East in the last year.
With more than 10% of studentscompared to just 4% of adults, following a plant-based diet, it’s no surprise that Columbia’s vegan and vegetarian offerings have begun to expand — among the city’s handful of four-year colleges, there has over 30,000 undergraduate students in the region.
Veganism and plant-based diets have grown in popularity over the past decade. Using Google search data to determine the popularity of veganism, Ispos Retail Performance estimate that interest in the lifestyle has increased by 290,000 over the past 15 years.
But organizers said the event is open to everyone, even those who don’t live a meat-free lifestyle.
“You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to come. It’s a great time to try out different vegan foods and offerings, but also to see different arts, crafts and merchandise,” said Costner. Forty percent of attendees at a similar event in North Carolina were neither vegans nor vegetarians, according to Greenberg.
The Columbia VegFest event will take place at Segra Park (1640 Freed St.) on June 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission tickets are $10 and more information can be found at colombiavegfest.com.