A few days ago, I went to the 12th annual Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival with a good friend (who is also the founder and Executive Director of GreenRight, a new environmental/social-justice nonprofit). Coordinated by the group Voices for Animals and run entirely by volunteers, the event brings together people of all stripes and shades from throughout central Virginia for a smorgasbord of green goodies.
After just a few moments at the Festival, you will be able to understand why it usually draws in about 6,000 visitors, making it one of the largest vegetarian festivals in the United States. In modest Lee Park in downtown Charlottesville, and spilling over into surrounding parking lots, local natural foods stores, organizations of all sorts, restaurants, and other vendors provide an unbelievable variety of goods, information, and entertainment. Add to that live music and animal adoptions, plus free samples and fun activities like face painting, and you can easily spend the entire day with other folks who are interested in livingly compassionately towards animals and the planet.
Just to give you a snapshot: Walk up to the table of the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation and take part in a poll of transportation methods used by attendees. Depending on your mode of locomotion (biking, driving alone, carpooling, etc.), you will get a colored rock that you then put in a clear tube. As the piles grow and the tubes fill, everyone can see which transportation methods are most popular–though the most popular may not be the most sustainable as well.
Leaving the ACCT table, ramble over to the Integral Yoga Natural Foods stand and get a goodie bag (with natural toothpaste, soap, lotion, and other products), sign up for a raffle, and buy a drink to quench your thirst (though the weather this year was muggy enough to keep you well hydrated on its own!). Then browse the magazines, books, and CDs offering information on yoga practice and various spiritual traditions that offer a glimpse of the many products the store sells.
Moseying on through Lee Park, you come to the animal corner, where you play with cute dogs and cats–and maybe even take one home! After a bit of time with any of these potential pets, maybe the cuddly canines from Dogs Deserve Better, you will surely understand why so many people choose vegetarian and vegan lifestyles in order to reduce the suffering of our animal friends.
After all this information and enjoyment to fill your head and heart, your tummy may be grumbling like one of those homeless pups–your appetite having been only whetted by the free food samples. So head on over to the food area and choose from Indian, Ethiopian, smoothies, or general “rabbit food.” Or heck, try a little bit of each! There is much to see, much to learn, and much to share regarding sustainable living, so you will want to fuel up! Plus, you will be supporting local businesses and making a statement about the benefits of going green and cruelty free.
As spectacular as it is, the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival is only one of many types of “green” festivals occurring throughout America and across the globe…like Earth Day festivals in miniature. And heck, in many larger, culturally diverse cities (San Francisco, New York, etc.), this sort of community-coming-together is a daily event, an experience of any walk down any sidewalk, even if it occurs by happenstance.
The Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival strikes me as unique, though, because it has achieved such success and popularity in what might first appear a rather unpromising location. I mean, Charlottesville is pretty small, hovering around 50,000 human inhabitants, and is located in the heart of fairly conservative, fairly rural Virginia. Despite this seeming demographic hurdle, Charlottesville has a powerful social conscious and is quite progressive in everything from its politics to its culture. And part of this includes a keen focus on all things green…all of which makes me sad to be leaving it soon.
Reflecting on this one green festival in this one fairly small Virginia city, I find myself filled with the hope that a green consciousness and green community building can occur just about anywhere. All it takes is a few inspired folks in other similar cities, towns, and demographically challenged locales to put on similar green festivals of one sort or another. Whatever the theme/cause/organizations motivating a particular event, green festivals can benefit the community as a whole–individual citizens, businesses, organizations, and even the government. They can even remake entire areas, infusing a new spirit and energy.
By coming together to show support for sustainability in all its forms, people who attend green festivals help bring us closer to a culture of conscientiousness and compassion. So whenever you can, head out to a green festival to learn, have fun, and do your part for the greater (and local!) good. Or start your own green festival if there are none nearby. What better way to strengthen your community…and turn it green?