York's first ever Harvest VegFest highlights a growing vegan community

A Vegan Black Bean Flatbread Pizza is one of the menu highlights during Restaurant Week York at Isaac's On The Fly in York City, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Yorkers are getting their very first vegfest this weekend — a zero-waste, vegan festival with food, music, entertainment — and lots of furry advocates.

The festival will have animals galore, including, "puppies, cats, dogs, a few pigs, probably a few chickens — and possibly a bunny," said Adrienne Williams, lead organizer and president of Animal Advocates of South Central PA.

The organization became a nonprofit in 2017, with a vision of highlighting the compassion, sustainability and health benefits of vegan living — which involves no meat, dairy, ingredients from animals or products that were tested on animals.

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Harvest VegFest, planned for Saturday, Sept. 22, in Cousler Park, in Manchester Township, is an opportunity to share that vision with the community, with a local focus. 

Most vendors are from the York area — including Tulsi Fields Farm, from Glen Rock; Uglie Acres, from Windsor, which serves jams and jellies; natural food store Sonnewald Natural Foods, in North Codorus Township; and Sarah's Snacks, in York City.

But the festival will feature much more than that, including speakers, bands (each with at least one vegan member), henna and caricature artists, yoga, story times from York County Libraries, a kids' corner, cooking demos, a pie-eating contest and area nonprofits.

Williams hopes it will be launching pad for a growing vegan scene in York County.

Why York: Born and raised in York County — and a resident for almost 30 years — Williams hoped to bring the festival to her home.

The idea of a vegfest is not new — the name often signifies a vegan event, and they are done around the world. But hosting one locally became more of a reality after Lancaster had two successful vegfests in 2017 and 2018, she said.

Harvest VegFest committee members had the opportunity to help Lancaster organizer Courtney Kokus and learn the ins and outs of putting on their own festival in the process.

And according to Williams, York County is the perfect place for it.

Not only does it have many small farms, produce vendors and roadside markets, but it's becoming more and more vegan-friendly.

"I feel like I meet someone new who’s either vegan or vegetarian all the time," Williams said.

The festival also coincides with York's first vegan restaurant week, and more restaurants in York, Lancaster and Harrisburg with vegan options are being added constantly, she said.

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Local buzz: In fact, there's already buzz around town for the festival.

"A lot of people came up to us and told us about it," Williams joked, on being informed of her own event.

The mayor of York City is getting in on it, too.

Organizers reached out to Mayor Michael Helfrich on Facebook, and he replied, "Are you supplying all the vegan mac and 'cheese' I can eat?" before accepting the challenge to go vegan for a week, starting the day of the festival.

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To help him prepare, VegFest committee members and volunteers donated a gift basket and cooler with goodies such as a vegan guide with recipes, cooking tips and info on the transition to becoming vegan, which they sent to his office Wednesday.

"York is a pretty awesome place," Williams said. "Most people here are very kind and open-minded and receptive."

Things have changed: Though a lot of people know someone who is vegan or at least have heard the word before, they might not have really looked into it, Williams said.

Some still have misconceptions, such as thinking plants don't have protein, or negative associations of vegans with animal rights extremists.

"Things have changed," Williams said, and the focus is just to live more compassionately and consciously.

Animal Advocates has a goal of reaching people in the community with kindness and respect, she said, answering questions about vegan living such as, "what can I feed my kids?"

The group also offers resources such as a vegan challenge, involving cooking classes, a walk-through of a market with a dietitian and a visit to an animal rescue. The next challenge will be hosted in October — and the last day to sign up is this Saturday.

The important thing to remember, she said, is it's not about being perfect.

"It's a step in the right direction," she said.

If You Go:

When: noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. showing of family-friendly film "Babe"

Where: Cousler Park, 1060 Church Road, Manchester Township

More information: For a full schedule of events and activities, visit yorkvegfest.com