Harold Brown spent half his life in the cattle farming business, and another three working in the dairy industry, so to some it might seem strange he has been vegan for more than 20 years.
Brown — founder of the website FarmKind (which is designed to help farmers transition from animal focused to plant-based farming) and a public speaker with extensive experience as an animal advocate — was one of a dozen speakers at the fourth annual VegFest London.
Taking place Nov. 11 at the Metroland Media Agriplex, the festival was expected to draw some 9,000 people to sample vegan food, interact with some 130 vendors and participate in the numerous public workshops.
For Brown, who grew up in south central Michigan and now lives in western New York State, the scope of VegFest London was pleasantly surprising.
“I do a fair number of these festivals every year . . . this is huge. For London, better than a quarter-million people, I would say a VegFest I saw with as many people would be in Cleveland, Ohio, but you’re talking about a city of over one million people,” he said. “This turnout is phenomenal. It’s on par with any number of bigger cities and that speaks to the interest here. By and large, I think the community here is really curious and this is the place to come and learn.”
That was the case for Londoners Kara Walls, Kristin McGowan and Brianne Vidler.
McGowan and Vidler were making their third trip to VegFest and while not vegans themselves, they were interested in learning more about the vegan food options that were available to them.
McGowan said she believes the turnout at the festival is proof the vegan message is growing in London.
It certain was with Walls.
“I go just to see what’s new. I’m also not vegan. I’m more on the food side, the different options available,” she said. “I’m not a big meat eater, never have been, so I want to learn about the different options. I’m very surprised by all the options and by how many people are here today.”
The enjoyment shared by the three women was reflected many times over in conversations Krista Kankula had over the course of the day.
Kankula, VegFest London founder, said she was “blown away” with the turnout for year four.
A good indication for the enthusiasm was the number of people lined up at the doors to the Agriplex waiting for the 10 a.m. opening.
Swag bags were prepared for the first 500 people and Kankula said they were grabbed up even faster than last year.
“There is definitely huge growth. We’re seeing the public recognize that when they hear how many vendors we have and how many people are expected. They say, ‘Wow, that’s a significant event,’” she said. “People see this veganism thing that some might still see as a fringe movement, is growing and there is a lot to choose from out there. That’s what people see when they walk into the space.”
The move into the Agriplex was a big success for this year’s festival.
The larger space (compared to previous years at the Western Fair District’s Progress Building) meant the VegFest organizing team were able to set up the festival with larger isles, a centralized dining area, and two stages for the various stage presentations.
The hope would be that people came away from their interactions with the vendors, speakers, and even their fellow festival-goers, was they would come away with the resources they need to consider a move towards a plant-based lifestyle.
“If they’re not already eating plant based, maybe they’re leaning into that a bit more if that’s what’s resonating with them,” she said. “I hope people are leaving knowing they have the resources to make positive changes and got to sample some really great food.”