This coming July 2nd, the Bernice Garden will host an all vegetarian festival to celebrate the Fourth of July, typically a meat-centric holiday. I was so excited to hear of this event, and it shows our growing community in Central Arkansas.
I recently spoke with Amelia Robert, the event's organizer, and her enthusiasm for great food and veggie culture in Little Rock was evident. This is going to be a wonderful, family friendly party, so come on down to SoMa and eat some great food! See my interview with Amelia below:
Please tell me about yourself and your connection to the vegetarian/vegan community.
I've been a vegetarian for what will be 4 years this coming August. I made the decision to go all veggie after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, a fantastic read that I would recommend to anyone and everyone! I love being vegetarian, and I've never questioned that choice. There's nothing like the camaraderie you experience when you meet a fellow vegan/vegetarian!
I'm a New Orleans native, and I moved to Arkansas to attend Hendrix College. I graduated in 2014 with a degree in Sociology and Health, and decided to stick around in Little Rock for a while. What I love about Little Rock is its spirit of constant growth, renewal, and improvement. It seems like everywhere you look, someone is bringing something new and fun to the city, and those new ideas are welcomed and embraced. There are so many people working to make Little Rock a better and better place to live!
How did the “Very Veggie Fourth of July” come about, and who were the people involved in making this event happen?
I follow VegNews and a few other vegetarian publications on social media, and they're constantly posting about "this city's all-vegetarian food truck festival, that city's all-vegan ice-cream competition," and that got me thinking, "why not a vegetarian festival in Little Rock?" Little Rock is really putting itself on the map as a foodie city, and I think part of being a major food hub is not only having great food, but a variety of food, so that people with diverse dietary styles can all find something to eat and enjoy. Solfood Catering has been hosting their super fun Urban Raw Festival for a few years, so I knew there was an audience in Central Arkansas for a vegetarian festival.
When I was hashing out the idea of a vegetarian festival, I spoke with Bo Bennett, who runs the Bernice Garden Farmer's Market, about the logistics of putting together an event like this. I contacted a few local vendors to gauge the interest level, and was blown away by the enthusiasm I was met with! Once I knew vendors would be interested in participating, I contacted Bernice Garden, and Veggie Fourth of July was born! I decided to focus the festival around the Fourth of July because it can be a pretty meat-centric holiday. I thought it'd be fun to offer vegetarians and vegans a meat-free gathering! I've also been pitching the event to meat eaters by saying that if you've got a vegetarian friend or family member attending your 4th of July cookout this year, and are at a loss for what to serve them, Veggie Fourth will show you some fun, unique dishes they're sure to enjoy!
What vendors will be on hand?
Solfood Catering, Box Pupoli, The Veg LLC, Kent WalkerArtisan Cheese, Stone's Throw Brewing, Le Pops, Geri's Jellies, Pup Eats Treats, and Bo Bennett with some info on the Farmer's Market SNAP program (and some local peaches, I'm told!)
Will there be vegan as well as vegetarian options for diners?
Absolutely! Both Solfood Catering and The Veg LLC serve exclusively vegan dishes. Le Pops should also have some fruit-juice bars that will be vegan-friendly.
This is the first time for this event. Is there hope that it will be an annual event? Are there aspirations of having more than one a year?
I would love to see this turn into an annual event, and I'd love to see it grow! If this festival goes well, more vegetarian festivals throughout the year would certainly be a consideration (A Very Veggie Thanksgiving would be fun!) I like the idea of there being a venue for vegetarians to meet up with each other and share ideas, and for people who are considering going meat-free to go to explore the vegetarian lifestyle.
Have you seen the support for vegetarian/vegan food grow in Central Arkansas in the past several years? Has that driven the desire to host this festival?
I've only been in Arkansas for 5 years, but even in that amount of time I've seen support for vegan/vegetarianism grow. 5 years ago, going to any sort of festival felt risky, like there may or may not be something for me to eat, but now there's almost always a meat-free option (which reminds me, I've been wanting to try and set up a vegan booth at Little Rock Bacon Festival this year. I think that'd be funny, and we'd definitely be reaching a new audience there!) And I think the support in Central Arkansas reflects a national trend. A lot more major food companies are introducing vegan and vegetarian options. Certain Wendy's locations are trying out a veggie burger, and Ben and Jerry's is introducing a vegan ice cream. Maybe people are turning towards vegan and vegetarianism as a way to cut down on cholesterol and saturated fat?
Obviously, it's a great time to be a vegetarian, but people still ask me all the time if it's hard. By rounding up and showcasing a group of vegetarian vendors, I'm showing people that vegetarianism is more accessible than they think, and it can be a lot of fun, too!
How many people are you hoping will attend?
My goal is to meet (or hopefully exceed!) 150 people.
Why was the Bernice Garden chosen as the spot for this event?
SOMA is such a fun place to hold a festival because it's a neighborhood specifically designed to be engaging and fun. When I first contacted Bernice Garden, they were enthusiastic about the idea, and I've been met with nothing but encouragement from other SOMA residents, so it feels like the venue is a good fit. I'm hoping that families will walk by Bernice and see "Wow, this festival has a treat for my dog, a popsicle for my kids, and a vegan chick'n biscuit for me!"
Please provide any further information that you would like readers to know about your event.
A Very Veggie Fourth of July will take place from 4-7 PM on Thursday, July 2. Admission will be free, and vendors will be selling prepared dishes on site. All ages and leashed pets are welcome to attend. Everyone is welcome here; vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. I'm also looking for a couple of volunteers to help with set up and take-down, so any interested parties can email me at email@example.com, or call at (504) 232-8098. And because there will be a lot of delicious food, attendees should come hungry!
Amelia also informed me that Ben Brenner, a local blue and Americana artist, will be on hand for live music!
I'm very excited by all the passionate people in Little Rock that are working hard to make this city a great place to live. If you are in town on July 2nd, come to this awesome event! It's the first year, and everyone wants to see it succeed, so please share this with anyone you might know that would like to attend.
Check out the facebook event page here.
Check out the facebook event page here.
LR peeps, are you planning on attending? What is your favorite vegan dish in the city? Non LR peeps, does your city have vegetarian festivals? Leave me a comment!