2nd Annual VegFest held in Downtown Gainesville

Gainesville residents got a little greener this weekend at the second annual VegFest at Depot Park in Downtown Gainesville.

VegFest is a yearly event where a variety of speakers, vendors and exhibitors come together to celebrate healthy and sustainable living. This year, VegFest took place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It seems like a good community event,” said Barbara Beymon, a VegFest visitor. “It smells good for one, and you can hear the music everywhere you go.”

This year, VegFest’s vendor list more than doubled in size in comparison to last year’s list. Organizers at the event said there were over 120 vendors spread across the fields at Depot Park. In 2017, there were only 50 registered vendors.

“We have all our vendors kicking off,” said Juan Zapata, media director for VegFest. “There’s been nothing but really great food and really creative stands.”

The event was free and open to the public and featured everything from farm stands with fresh plants and veggies to live music and a kissing booth where visitors could get smooches from a pug. There were also cooking demonstrations and food trucks for the more nutrient-driven attendees.

“We’ve definitely tried to make this welcoming to all of the Gainesville community,” Zapata said. “We’ve tried to make this entire event mostly instructional, and [we] encourage people to just question their own habits as opposed to criticize them for what they choose to do.”

Organizers said the message of VegFest is just to learn how you can approach life more sustainably while still having fun. One guest promoted healthy eating and environmental awareness.

“Studies show that eating whole food, plant-based [diet] lowers your risk for heart disease and cancer,” said Joti Chawla, a VegFest visitor. “And it’s not only good for ourselves, but it’s also good for animals.”

Chawla said he was inspired to become a nurse after his mother passed away years ago from heart disease. He said his profession has taught him that the key to a healthy life is healthy eating.

"What we eat is what we become," said Chawla. "Be the rainbow, feel the rainbow, eat the rainbow. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds and mushrooms. Add a variety of these in your diet, and you would see dramatic improvements in your health."

For the VegFest visitors that were looking for even more specific recommendations, Chawla said that purple cabbage will give them the biggest bang for their buck. According to a study completed by the ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, the purplish pigments in red cabbage may provide cancer protection, improve brain function and promote heart health.

But if purple cabbage doesn’t make the cut, there are other plenty of options out there. VegFest had other market stands with different fresh fruits and vegetables for sale.

The Family Garden stand, for example, sold strawberries, cauliflower and kale at VegFest. The garden employees stressed the importance of buying local.

“We have so much bounty in North Central Florida,” said James Longanecker, an employee at The Family Garden, “that you can be a local foodie every day if you wanted to be.”

The farm is located just south of Lincoln Middle School and north of the La Chua Trail on Southeast 15th Street. The farm has 20 acres of certified organic land and is open to visitors looking for fresh produce.

Organizers said not to worry if you missed VegFest this year. They said that the event will be back again next year, ready to grow some more green thumbs in Gainesville.