VegFest grows new roots
The SacTown VegFest nourishes the vegan community as well as local businesses
It’s hard not to notice the many fast-food restaurants flanking Watt Avenue on the route to the SacTown VegFest at its new location. The vegan festival, now in its fourth year, has relocated out of the city center to the McClellan Conference Center for the first time, next to the closed Air Force base.
The event, put on by the Sacramento Vegetarian Society, happens on Saturday, January 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 5411 Luce Avenue. It hosts food and lifestyle vendors who cater to the vegan crowd and also has speaker presentations and cooking demos.
SVS president and organizer Glenn Destatte said he scrambled to find a place when he found out in the fall that the festival’s former venue, Sacramento Charter High School on 34th Street, was not an option.
“SacTown VegFest is a great event, and we have been proud to host it in the past,” Kari Wehrly, chief of schools for St. HOPE Public Schools, said in an email. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us to host it this year, but we will look for future opportunities to partner on this important initiative.”
But Destatte made that lemon into agave-sweetened lemonade.
“Losing the old venue is a blessing in disguise,” he said. At the school, he said, would-be festivalgoers told him they would circle around trying to find parking, then give up and leave. The conference center has 2,000 parking spaces.
While parking may be plentiful, the new venue is costing a lot more, Destatte said. So for the first time, SVS is charging admission, which may be purchased in advance online or at the door. Tickets range from $2.50 to $5, with free entry for kids under 6 years old.
Weather permitting, the plan is to have a “rescue animal area” on the grassy area by the conference center’s entrance. Animal rescue organizations Blackberry Creek Animal Sanctuary and Harvest Home agreed to bring animals with whom people can get up close and personal. Asked if he was worried that having essentially a petting zoo would conflict with some attendees’ values of how humans use animals, Destatte replied, “The organizations that we talked to say they were willing. If they are saying it helps promote the cause, we’re good with it.”
Destatte, SVS president since 2011, said he “became vegan by marriage” in 2006, when he married Mary Rodgers, who co-organizes the VegFest. SVS stepped up in 2016 to put on the festival when the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, which previously hosted the VegFest, stopped presenting the event after 2015.
Many of the 40 or so vendors confirmed for this year’s event (as of January 22) are local, such as vegan gelato company Conscious Creamery and Bambi’s Vegan Tacos food truck, and others are from afar, such as Southern California vegan clothing and accessory company Cowhugger.
A new vendor is Chili Smith Family Foods from Carmichael, which will be selling rice and beans, chili dogs and chili sauce. Owner Steve Smith began selling locally grown heirloom beans and rice online, and around April 2017 settled into a brick-and-mortar storefront, where he hosts cooking classes. Two each month are plant-based and taught by Twyla Teitzel, who will also be at the festival. While Chili Smith is not an exclusively vegan venture, Smith said, “We were one of the original people at the Farm-to-Fork Festival,” and “we’re committed that we support the local shows and plant-based community.”
Yolanda’s Tamales is another nonexclusively vegan company that has participated at every VegFest and found success in the plant-based market. Andres Yanez, son of namesake Yolanda Yanez, said his mom began selling tamales out of her van in 1988. She brought the company to Sacramento in 1996, and has been selling at local markets, such as the Oak Park Farmers Market.
“A lot vegan and vegetarian people always asked for a vegan menu, then VegFest came up… and [Destatte] gave us the opportunity,” Yanez said. So the company had a “menu shakeup,” and has sold out every year at the festival, including 1,000 units last year. It even got hired to cater a vegan wedding.
While no one in the family-run company is vegan, they stand by their plant-based food—tamales, tacos, tostadas, berry lemonade, almond-milk horchata and mint-cucumber-lime aguas frescas—and enjoy eating it themselves.
“Every year the event has surprised us,” Yanez said. He said their herbivore customers “are our most passionate,” and they are grateful to the vegan community. This year, Yanez said he and his family plan to bring more supply to try their best not to sell out.
“Vegans have been good for business,” Yanez said.
And not just for local businesses. Recently, even some of those fast-food chains on that stretch of Watt Avenue introduced vegan and vegetarian menus at some of their U.S. locations, such as Carl’s Jr. using the Beyond Meat burger patty. Maybe more will join the trend in time for the fifth VegFest next year.