43462765672_6eff008fc2_zPhoto from last summer’s Moss Walk Field Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Steering Committee starts new blog about the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference

From the Steering Committee

Welcome to a new blog about the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. The Steering Committee decided at its October planning meeting that this would be an excellent form of communication to promote the conference and keep you updated about next summer’s agenda. We hope you will find the posts helpful in making your plans to attend the conference and that you will share them with your friends and colleagues. WCU’s marketing research shows that one of the primary ways new attendees hear about the conference is from their friends and people they work with. So, please encourage people you know who love native plants to follow the blog and share the url on your social media posts. Look for updates the first week of each month.

We’d also like to hear your suggestions for a blog name. We chose the name PlantCampNews, but that’s not set in stone. We welcome your ideas if you have a suggestion for another name! There will be a section for comments at the end of each post. Please also use this section to tell us what type of content will be most helpful to you. We welcome your feedback.

Regarding feedback, please know that the Steering Committee starts off its annual planning sessions (we meet each October to plan the next summer’s conference) with a deep dive into your comments on the post-conference survey. Again this year, we listened carefully to what you had to say and heard you loud and clear. We are your advocates and are working closely with the WCU staff to make significant improvements in the conference based on your suggestions. While many of those are still developing and it is too early to talk about them, the Steering Committee and WCU have already begun taking steps to improve your conference experience in the areas of recycling and vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meal options. Here’s an overview of those steps:


We had the opportunity to meet with WCU Director of Catering Jim Davis. He was very responsive to your concerns about reducing conference-generated waste. Jim said WCU will provide waste receptacles next summer that will allow conference goers to separate waste into food waste, compostable waste, etc. The food waste is taken to a local pig farm and used as feed. We also asked about the possibility of using silverware and dishes that could be washed and re-used, rather than using plastic utensils and plates. While Jim was receptive to this idea, we don’t know yet if this is a change that can be implemented.

Meal services

In response to many comments and questions about vegetarian and vegan options, we were told that catering staff will provide vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals to people who request them on their registration form. The university has committed to paying more attention to gluten-free sides, as well.

A tip to registrants who want vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options: Ask the catering staff for them as you go through the service lines. Do not be bashful! This is important because the catering staff does not always put out these options for general consumption. As an example, vegetarian burgers were available last year at the picnic, but some folks did not realize they had to request them from the catering staff. We plan to make this point in announcements from the main stage at the start of the 2019 conference.

Attendees also made it clear in the post-conference survey that they prefer a hearty breakfast. Consequently, we will bring back the breakfast menu featuring eggs and bacon and additional fruit. Breakfast will be served in the residence hall or on the Ramsey concourse rather than in the cafeteria due to a large conference that will meet at the same time as ours.

New coffee vendor

Jim also said that WCU would allow the conference to source its own coffee. Consequently, we plan to use a company called Counter Culture Coffee to provide coffee next summer. In addition to coffee at breakfast, we’ve also requested that coffee be available at breaks.

A challenge for the 2019 conference

As a reminder, next summer’s conference will be July 17-20, 2019. Invitations have been sent to speakers, workshop and field trip leaders and vendors. Once invitations are confirmed, we’ll share highlights of the conference lineup in a future post. In the meantime, Pete Schubert, immediate past conference director, has a challenge for all conference attendees: Invite at least one friend or colleague to attend next summer’s conference, either for the first time or the 10th time. Message from Pete: “Conference attendees are our native plant ambassadors, working on all levels to raise awareness and educate decision makers about the benefits of our native plants. We are the choir and we need to grow our voices.”

Steering Committee update

The committee welcomed new members Jeff Jackson, Preston Montague and Geoffrey Neal to the committee. Jeff will be responsible for food services, Preston for scholarships and Geoffrey for leadership in several areas. The committee also thanked outgoing members for their services: Robert Wyatt, a two-time conference director; Jesse Turner, who was instrumental in having the conference approved for Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for registered landscape architects and helping to coordinate field trips; and Olivia Brakenbury, who managed scholarships.

Steering Committee members, their areas of responsibility and email addresses are:
John Magee, conference director
Pete Schubert, immediate past conference director
Dawn A. Sherry, program chair
Adam Bigelow, field trips
Sharon Day, vendors
Jeff Jackson, food services
Peter Loos, Tom Dodd Jr. Award (committee chair)
Kathy Mathews, WCU Biology Department
Preston Montague, scholarships
George Morris, Tom Dodd Jr. Award (committee member) and entertainment
Geoffrey Neal, various leadership roles
Tom Oder, publicity
Jeff Zahner, field trips coordinator

WCU contact:
Bobby Hensley, Division of Educational Outreach

Stay tuned for December’s post!

For more information about the conference, visit



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