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 Attendees sample plant-based ice cream provided by one of the vendors at VegMichigan’s third annual free vegan festival.

Attendees sample plant-based ice cream provided by one of the vendors at VegMichigan’s third annual free vegan festival.

Photo provided by VegMichigan

Free vegan festival finds new home in Farmington

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published September 10, 2019

 Attendees of VegMichigan’s third annual free vegan festival enjoy plant-based food and drinks provided by the festival’s vendors.

Attendees of VegMichigan’s third annual free vegan festival enjoy plant-based food and drinks provided by the festival’s vendors.

Photo provided by VegMichigan


FARMINGTON — After spending the last three years at Madonna University, VegMichigan’s free vegan festival has found a new, “hopefully permanent,” home at downtown Farmington’s Riley Park Sundquist Pavilion, said group President Tom Progar.

The festival, which will run 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 15, will feature approximately 30 plant-based and vegan vendors, entertainment from Sinjon Smith and Clark the Juggler, outdoor games, a craft table for kids, and a chance to stop by neighboring restaurants like Chive Kitchen and others to try the vegan specialty dishes they plan to offer.

When Progar and the VegMichigan team began talking about this event, their main goals were to provide an event that was free, fun, and most importantly, accessible to everyone. As the event attendance has grown by roughly 500 people per year — from 1,500 the first year to 2,500 last year — Progar said the programming and focus have stayed the same.

Progar hopes the festival’s newly central location in downtown Farmington might invite people strolling by to come check out the event as well.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce people to plant-based eating who may not want to pay for a ticket to go to an event,” he said. “We’re hoping to open their eyes to the idea that plant-based and vegan eating is no longer any kind of sacrifice. There’s so many food options available, and you’re eating healthier. That’s why we wanted to make it free, so the people who are on the fence have more incentive to stop by and check out what we have to offer.”

Across the nation, there has been a surge in the last several years of people who are decreasing their animal consumption, said Lisa Smith, the executive director of the Plant Based Nutrition Support Group. Smith is certified in plant-based nutrition through Cornell University. She said that as the rhetoric around veganism and plant-based eating have changed, there’s been a “demand for more information.”

Events like VegMichigan’s vegan festival provide opportunities for exposure, she explained.

“The reason people go back to eating the same things they’re used to — it’s not that they’re not convinced this is a healthier way to live — it’s that they’ve never had exposure,” she said. “When you can go to a VegFest where you can hear lectures  and the science, and moreover, taste the food, find out where to buy it, and how to prepare it — a lot of these events solve those problems.”

Matthew Chatlin, 36, of West Bloomfield, has been vegan for about five years now. When he began his transition, he said, he ran into a lot of the same issues, including having to figure out where to buy food, how to prepare it and more.

“That never ends,” he said. “That’s not a challenge that has a solution — it’s a challenge that has endless solution. You have to do it every day. I find that today to be the most challenging thing, and it was the most challenging thing back then.”

Chatlin attended the festival last year, and he plans to this year. He said festivals like this are a “stepping stone” for building community and creating relationships.

“They allow people the ability to meet people that are going through the same struggle, who can, hopefully, empathize with each other,” he said.

Events like these also showcase each participant’s internal motivations for wanting to follow a plant-based regimen. According to Smith, people make the transition for three primary reasons: to save the environment, to support animal rights or to increase their own health. She said that while motivations may vary, there’s still a chance for community building.

“I think we’re stronger as a community as long as we collectively have internal conversations about what our initial motivations are and make sure we stay the course as opposed to going back and forth,” she said. “The 95 percent we do agree on, let’s make sure we drive that home.”

Progar said that, overall, he hopes this festival will help to continually grow the movement.

“The goal of VegMichigan is to promote the health, ethical and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. Our No. 1 goal is to find ways to keep expanding this event,” he said. “And as people keep supporting it, it will keep growing.”