VegFest returns to New York State Fairgrounds after hiatus

VegFest returns to New York State Fairgrounds

The daylong festival promoted sustainable, community-centric eating.
Published: October 21, 2019
Danielle Clough

After a 10-year hiatus, Vegan CNY hosted VegFest at the New York State Fairgrounds on Saturday. With 60 vegan-inspired businesses that attended and sponsored cooking demonstrations, live speakers, a farmer’s market and kids’ activities, VegFest emphasized the importance of community, sustainability and veganism.

Businesses such as Farm to Fork 101, Knifehand Nutrition, Asempe Kitchen and Farmer Street Pantry shared their ideas and products at the festival. Strong Hearts Cafe was the headline sponsor, which co-founder Joel Capolongo said was a natural step given the eatery’s presence amongst Central New York vegans.

Through its emphasis on community and sustainability, the wave of vegan festivals has continued to impact communities across the country. There has been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegan in the past three years, according to the 2018 Global Data Report. The Economist claimed 2019 to be “the year of the vegan.”

The organization’s establishment in October, 2018 initiated a way to link different aspects of the vegan community. A month later, Vegan CNY Vice President Jim Thompson joined the team, and the planning of the event was already in the works. Vegan CNY President Theresa Stowell helped connect members of the vegan community and bring them in as sponsors and vendors.

Knifehand Nutrition is one of the sponsors and vendors that tabled at VegFest this year. Joseph Dunaway, a Syracuse University graduate and Knifehand’s founder, started his business with a model of providing healthy, vegan prepared meals for athletes and mindful eaters to take with them on the go. The business will be showcasing their new menu at the event, which will include their three meal types: train, recover, and perform.

“Not everyone is competitive, but they all still want to eat healthy, clean food. If you’re not focused on a specific event that you’re training for, you could choose from any of these meals and have adequate carbs, proteins, and fats,” Dunaway said.

Danielle Clough
Kuukua Yomekpe interacts with customers at Asempe Kitchen's table. Asempe Kitchen serves plant-based versions of traditional West African cuisine.

Mark Pawliw, local business advocate and founder of Farm to Fork 101, also sponsored the event. Pawliw works to connect farmers, chefs and community members to support locally owned restaurants, whether vegan or just locally sourced.

Although Pawliw isn’t a vegan himself, he said, “this whole festival isn’t about being a vegan or not. It’s more letting people know there’s a community out there of vegans.”

Pawliw hosted a cooking demonstration with chefs from businesses such as Uprooted Eats, The Vegan Zombie and Holisticsupernatural.

Asempe Kitchen, a catering and pop-up kitchen that makes traditional West African cuisine with a vegan twist, sold different entrees from their menu. Kuukua Yomekpe built her menu around the shared experience of her vegan sisters who couldn’t eat traditional meat-based West African cuisine. Yomekpe wants to connect people through her food as “food is such an integral part of who we are.”

Although large vendors and bigger local businesses showed interested, Thompson was most blown away by the smaller businesses that were enthusiastic about being a part of it.

“We worried we wouldn’t have enough — what if we only have six vendors show up?” said Thompson. “Then we got to a point where we had to put people on a waitlist because we can’t fit everybody who asked to be a part of it.”

Saturday’s festival, however, saw lines out the door. There’s been increasing interest in veganism in central New York over the years, Thompson said, so the timing was near perfect.

“Syracuse has an old, vegan story to it, so it made sense to jump in and say this is the time for it,” he said.