Check Out Jacksonville’s 2nd Annual Gastrofest! Good Food – Great Time!

Hemming Park
117 W Duval St,
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Visit the website: GastroFest Facebook Page
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by Michael Wilkins

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The Jacksonville GastroFest is back for second year. This is a culinary inspired festival held annually in the downtown area of Jacksonville. The name GastroFest comes from GastroJax which is a 501(c)(3) organization. Their mission is to promote local cuisine and educate the public about food and beverage sources as well as local restaurants in the North Florida area. They do this through education about the cultural significance of what people eat, food history, healthy eating, and where food comes from. GastroJax was formed in April 2014 through outreach, during festivals like One Spark, EnviroFest, the Green Social and GastroFest.

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The event that seemed to be the precursor for GastroFest was EnviroFest. which started in August 2014. This was a free public event hosted by the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The festival was family centered and honeybees were the focus. GastroJax partnered with the Jacksonville Beekeepers Association who showed everyone their bee colonies and provided free samples of honey. They also provided information about local fruits and vegetables that were made possible through the work of the bees.

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Put your stretch pants on and wear comfortable clothing because you will walk away from here stuffed. The first year the event was held they underestimated the number of attendees. According to the director, Erin Thursby, they were prepared for a larger number of people this year. The idea behind this festival is to bring awareness to all of the culinary activity in the Northeast Florida area. So let’s take a walk through the festival and see what’s available.

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The first thing I encountered was a booth set up by Kailo Nutrition. This is a business that is dedicated to helping individuals change to a plant-based diet. The booth was energized by children learning how to cook a plant-based meal with their parents. Moving down the street I encountered the Duval County extension office. In this booth the kids were entertained by learning how to start and grow plants organically. This appeared to be great fun since we all know that children love to get their hands dirty. Next, we have entered the “Kids Zone” and ran into a play area where young minds were being stimulated.

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Entering the main area I encountered the cooking demo stage. There was another area similar to this that featured speakers on topics from Plant based nutrition to hand crafting your own beer. As I moved further into the main festival area I encountered many booths with different food items. The first thing that caught my eye was a booth selling honey which is harvested locally. The great thing about it was that the honey is not processed in any way, meaning there were no additives. As I moved along I saw several booths featuring different products like hot sauce, tea, pastries and popsicles, to name a few. The tea vendor (Cultivate Tea & Spice Co.) was located in St. Augustine and they crafted different varieties of tea. I had a chance to sample some tea and found it to be quite pleasing. The fruit popsicles sold by Bold City Pops were my favorite. I must admit that I have a weakness for fruit popsicles such as these. They are handcrafted with local ingredients from the peak harvest season. Their Pops are made in small batches with natural ingredients and they taste great.

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I also took the time to sample several of the restaurant vendors and I don’t have time here to write about all of them. One of the interesting vendors was the Pear Market. They create freshly prepared meals for delivery or pick up. The unique thing about them is that they also cater to dairy free and vegan diets. They will also work with you to set up weekly meal plans. This is a great option for people who do not have the time to cook and want to eat healthy. Here I sampled a beet burger without the cheese and it was fabulous. Native Sun had a booth where they were selling carrot dogs which turned out to be a healthy version of “hot dog”. There were many other restaurants featured such as Ibex Ethiopian Kitchen, Ovinte, Bisro Aix, Black Sheep and Abstrakt Filipino Essence. These were just of the few places where I sampled vegetarian/vegan offerings. The food was excellent and I had a chance to speak with some of the individuals at the different restaurant venues. In cases where the restaurants did not cater specifically to vegetarian/vegans, they offered to create something special if individuals spoke up when they came in and let the server know of their dietary concerns.

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Eat Your Yard Jax spoke to people about how to grow a sustainable garden where individuals could feed themselves from the plants they grew. There was also a vendor in this area called Local Fare that is dedicated to bringing the farm to your front door. They are set up similar to a CSA where individuals can get fresh harvested fruits, vegetables and herbs that are grown locally. Last but not least there were a couple of high school students who were raising awareness about composting by teaching individuals how to compost on their own property. I found myself inspired by what these people were trying to accomplish. It is invigorating to say the least to know that there are high school students committed to projects such as these.

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If you plan on visiting the Beer tent you may want to have a designated driver. I am sure you will want to spend time perusing all of the craft beers. Engine 15, Intuition Ale Works, Bold City Brewery and Veterans United Craft Brewery all had lines of people waiting to sample their brews. This is a great event to learn about what is going on in Jacksonville from a culinary perspective. So get out your stretch pants and go to GastroFest. Hope to see you there next year.

 

Michael Wilkins is a respiratory therapist, an avid scuba diver and an accomplished photographer. He has been living with hepatitis C for more than two decades and is a cancer surviver. Michael has kept liver cancer at bay by employing the healing properties of a plant-based diet.

A year later, after a strict plant-based regimen, his tumor markers are normal and his MRIs are clean! This has made Michael more passionate about staying on a vegan diet. He has met lots of wonderful passionate people with amazing stories while walking down this path. Michael’s area is Northeast Florida, particularly the Jacksonville area. Contact Michael to share your restaurant finds, make comments, or just to say hello!

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