Volunteer Shout-Out: 2019 Festival Planning Committee – Part 4

Dedication, creative vision, and passion. The Twin Cities Veg Fest planning committee is short on none, and it shows—our festival has grown to be the largest Veg Fest in the Midwest, attracting over 9,000 attendees in 2018.

Some members are serving on the committee for the first time, while others have returned to help make this year’s festival the biggest and best yet and they can’t wait for you to experience it. This week, meet part of the team behind this year’s festival.

Michelle Shaw

What’s your role on the festival planning committee?

I’m the Welcome and Accessibility Coordinator, and before I state anything else, it’s important to identify that we are occupying the original homeland of the Dakhota and Anishinaabe people. Recognizing my role in that as a white woman and being inclusive of all of the incredible communities we have is important to me. Plus, it’s part of the volunteering that I do when I’m not helping to organize Twin Cities Veg Fest. Looking at diversity intentionally from every angle as a planning committee is something that we are working on. Whether that be reaching out to potential vendors and sponsors that are BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color), or musicians. Or perhaps we need to be making sure people have the resources to participate in Twin Cities Veg Fest in the first place by partnering with NEON and Appetite for Change. Or it’s possible we may need to look at it in a different way by bringing part of the festival TO a community rather than expect them to come to us. 

Like in the case of North Minneapolis, we can’t expect people to travel all the way to Harriet Island for food that might be completely out of their comfort zone. Working two jobs and putting food on the table might take precedence over getting there too. So what do you do? The first step is to create relationships with nonprofits and community members in that part of the community, and work with them to create an event that will be right there in North Minneapolis. We hope you’ll join us for that event on the evening of August 29 for Green is the New Black: A Plant-based Pop-up Market at Breaking Bread Cafe with some Twin Cities Veg Fest vendors and a few new ones. I’m really excited about it, and we want you all to be there!

It’s also my job to make sure we are making the festival as accessible as possible. That means different things for different people. For some, it’s about making sure people who have a hidden disability (like myself) have a place to sit at different parts of the festival because they need to take a break. For others it might be needing a sensory space to get away from the noise or it might mean needing to have all of the vendors facing the sidewalk so that they can easily access them all. Plus, if someone needs to bring their service or therapy animal, we have a space for them to rest and get water. Disability parking is another accommodation. The other piece is we need to make sure everyone knows we have all of these accommodations, so check out our website to find out what they are. 

How did you get involved with Twin Cities Veg Fest?  

I first started volunteering back in 2017 when I helped out with the cooking demos and sharing samples with people. Laura and I were talking about ideas I had for accessibility for 2018, and suddenly, a new role for Twin Cities Veg Fest was born. However, I first started going to the festival back when it was a really small event in the basement at the University of Minnesota. For a few years anyway, there’d be samples of Peanut Butter Company’s White Chocolate Wonderful and all their other yummy concoctions. Even better, they’d have coupons! I have no idea what year that was, but if Unny can determine what year we were able to move around freely without much of a crowd, I’m guessing it was one of the first. 

If you’ve been or helped organize before, what is your favorite part of the festival and what, if anything, is going to be different this year? 

I’m really excited about Green is the New Black: A Plant-based Pop-up Market on August 29. Cheese curds at Radical Eats and chicken wings at These Wingz? from Chicago are two of my festival favorites! Also, this will be the first year that we have American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for our cooking demos and speakers, and I’m really happy that we can partner with Fairview to offer ASL. 

What (or who) drew you to living a veg lifestyle?

I had a couple friends in college who were vegetarian, but it was really my senior year in college that did it. In 1992, I traveled to Moscow, Russia, with a group of people taking supplies for orphanages and hospitals. The Russians could hardly afford any food at all and were so skinny, yet we were being fed like royalty with horsemeat and borscht. I was absolutely repulsed and ate very little on that trip but a couple cheeseburgers at McDonald’s. When I got back to the United States, that experience made it easy for me to stop eating every kind of animal. At that time, I still didn’t understand how the dairy and egg industries were contributing to murder. I thought it was merely confinement and limiting freedom (which was still enough to make me stop eating them). But as time went on, I learned that the males were quickly killed after birth (since they couldn’t be used for producing eggs or milk). Or they were kept alive for a few months and inhumanely raised as broiler chickens or calves for veal before being slaughtered. For me, it was all about the animals and eliminating their suffering. I had to stop using animal products in every part of my life and that included feeding my dogs a veg diet too (which they love love love!). It’s startling how much of an impact eating animals has on the planet, though, and it’s only in the last year that I started learning what those facts really are. 

When you’re not working on planning the festival, what are you up to?  

Oh boy! My dogs would say I spend too much time on the computer. Buddie always stands on me and gives me kisses when it’s time to take a doggy break, so he and Speckles are definitely the highlights of my day. I’ve been on disability for a long time, so I’m starting to figure out what I can physically do again, if it’s not teaching in the classroom anymore. Volunteering to stop Line 3 in northern Minnesota is important to me, in addition to teaching people about the connection between the foods we choose to eat and how that impacts climate change. In other words, please eat plant rich foods and check out Drawdown for environmental reasons to add to reasons of compassion for animals! I also spend some time engaging with environmental justice issues like collaborating with local Indigenous people to create a land acknowledgment statement for cities and nonprofits to use at the beginning of their meetings. The most recent issue that has come up is the Rights of Nature for the Mississippi River. If we could give the Mississippi the same rights we have as people or the same rights a corporation has, that would be incredible. As a teacher, I was always teaching my students the skills for changing the world, and without that path in life, it’s taken me a long while to figure out what my purpose is. I’m pretty sure I’m getting there now. 

Laura Matanah

What’s your role on the festival planning committee?

My role is to support the chair and assistant chair with both the big picture of the festival—helping it expand and become more impactful each year,  making sure that the committee as a whole is tracking the nitty-gritty details, and ensuring that the festival supports CAA’s mission to help people embrace their empathy for animals and move towards a plant-based diet.  This year I’m especially focused on improving our sponsorship packages and relationships, as well as our support of volunteers.

How did you get involved with Twin Cities Veg Fest?  

I was hired just before the 2016 festival, so got to see that festival day-of behind the scenes. 2017, the year we moved outside, was my first year helping to organize the entire thing.

If you’ve been or helped organize before, what is your favorite part of the festival and what, if anything, is going to be different this year? 

My favorite part of the festival is the sheer joy of having an entire festival focused on a compassionate lifestyle, and how happy everyone there is. This year there’s going to be a lot that’s new:

  • Music will become central to the festival experience, and the after-party is going to have some truly awesome and more well known bands
  • Speakers will get more attention as they’ll be on the main stage, alternating with music
  • Cooking demos will have an exciting new set up with bleachers looking down on the action
  • Sponsors and volunteers will get access to an indoor rest and relaxation area, and there’s a great new set of sponsorship benefits, including lunch delivered to your booth
  • Greyhounds available for adoption will join us, and there will be many new food options like wood fired pizza and waffles

What (or who) drew you to living a veg lifestyle?

The fabulous community at Compassionate Action for Animals, CAA, opened my heart to animal suffering, and empowered me to start speaking out to end it.

When you’re not working on planning the festival, what are you up to?  

Biking, board games, books, and hanging out with family and friends.


Twin Cities Veg Fest is our biggest event of the year, and we need lots of enthusiastic volunteers to help make it a success. Sign up here to be a volunteer and help make this awesome vegan Minnesota get together happen!

Post navigation

Get Involved

Subscribe to our weekly update:



Veg Resources

Upcoming Events

Saturday, July 18, 2020 - Saturday, October 10, 2020

Veg Up the Market! – Saturdays July 18 – October 10, 2020

Saturday, August 1, 2020 - Monday, August 31, 2020

Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge 2020

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Vegan Recipe Club via Zoom

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Vegan Recipe Swap!