We are sad to announce that our friend Chuck Marsh passed away August 27, 2017, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was buried near his home at Earthaven Ecovillage in a green funeral, his body covered with an abundance of flowers as he was lowered into the earth. He will be sorely missed by his family, friends, and his numerous fans in Western North Carolina (WNC) and beyond—even across the globe.
Chuck was a pillar of the organic and permaculture community in WNC, and taught at the Organic Growers School (OGS) Spring Conferences starting at its inception and at the OGS Harvest Conferences. As OGS Board Chairperson, Tom Elmore, states, “Chuck left a lot behind after his remarkable life. He changed thousands of people over the years. OGS could always count on Chuck to speak from the very beginning. Chuck was always placed in one of the largest halls because of his great popularity. Word spread about his wealth of knowledge and his willingness to share. An hour or two with Chuck was always time well spent. Plants, permaculture, right livelihood, finding a sustainable way in a confusing world…wisdom from a thinker who put his thoughts into action. He set a great example and changed all of us who had the honor know him.”
Check out Chuck’s last Harvest Conference presentation (special thanks to Living Web Farms for recording this session).
Charles T. (Chuck) Marsh was born on August 20, 1951, and grew up in Aiken, SC. Chuck promoted organic agriculture and permaculture regionally, nationally, and globally. Lee Barnes, founder of the Southern Seed Exchange, describes Chuck as “a unique individual committed broadly to environmental education, bigger-picture thinking, and a deep love for people and the future of the world.” In addition to teaching at OGS, Chuck:
- was a popular presenter at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference,
- taught permaculture design courses throughout the U.S. (including at Earthaven) and the Caribbean,
- was active with the Bioregional Movement,
- contributed to Katuah Journal,
- co-founded the Southeastern Permaculture Gathering,
- co-founded the Eastern Permaculture Teachers Association,
- was a co-founder of Earthaven Ecovillage,
- founded Useful Plants Nursery,
- founded Living Systems Design,
- was Senior Technical Advisor for Groundswell International’s Polk County project, and
- was one of the first permaculture design graduates in the U.S. taught by Australian Bill Mollison (co-originator of permaculture).
Despite the fact that this list of accomplishments is incomplete, it is quite a testimony of his devotion to sustainable agriculture, permaculture, food justice, and humanity.
Chip Hope, former OGS Board Member and creator of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Western Piedmont Community College, has this to say about Chuck: “Just thinking about Chuck makes me smile and feel loved. Seeing him at OGS was always a highlight of the weekend. He inspired and encouraged me to do greater things, and he always made me laugh—big, out loud laughs. His creativity and enthusiasm was contagious. I am a better person because Chuck was in my life, and I still feel his presence and support. Thank you, Chuck!”
In 2001 Chuck started Useful Plants Nursery in his front yard at Earthaven, and OGS conference-goers look forward to seeing the Useful Plants Nursery booth at the Spring Conference each year. OGS Board Member David Lee says: “through Useful Plants Nursery, I was struck by [Chuck’s] knowledge and enthusiasm for propagating and growing edible and fruit-bearing plants. If you talked with Chuck for a while, you could not help but catch some of the passion and enthusiasm for what he was doing.”
Debbie Lienhart—Chuck’s friend, Useful Plants Nursery business partner, and former OGS Board member—will continue to operate Useful Plants Nursery and carry on their aspiration of making well-adapted, useful, and edible plants available for transforming landscapes.
Jim Smith, another longtime supporter of sustainable agriculture in WNC, has this to say about Chuck: “a longtime friend, teacher, explorer…offered perhaps the most important lesson to me: keep learning and exploring. Sometimes I would have to say to him, please stop trying to solve all the problems you encounter, he would stop for a few minutes, then start back up again. He questioned and examined and read and put what he found out, or what his questions were, back to us to examine. Pausing, but not stopping.”
Andrew Goodheart Brown, another devoted OGS Conference teacher and global permaculture teacher, offered these thoughts: “For those of us fortunate enough to have known and been friends with him, the speedy passing of Chuck Marsh (alias The Chuckster) leaves a gaping hole in our daily lives. He was a character for whom there is no replacement…I met Chuck in 1977, and we became good friends and brothers in the early 90s. By that time, Chuck had taken it upon himself to bring Permaculture to his beloved Southeast…Chuck had a deep love for Earth and her living systems (especially plants); friendly with every sort of person, intelligent, deep, wildly fun in an instant, ready to guffaw, and always ready to go deeper and deeper and be of service.”
Earthhaven founding member Chiwa Clark adds: “It’s the flags and the colors and his undying rascally spirit that I will always remember. He infused everyone who knew him with it—plants and people…I have a picture in my mind of the Chuckster at the Farm in Tennessee way back—my first Permaculture Class, Andrew was teaching too. Chuck was out front attaching strips of colored cloth to bamboo poles, making what he called windicators. He was a bright rainbow himself next to those flags, “Chuck”ling and infectiously spreading the Permaculture world with beauty. Encouraging, caring, fun-loving, the RASCAL, always to remember how he changed lives, mentored, cajoled, brought forth the best in folks.”
Personally, every year at the OGS Conferences, I delighted in the opportunity to visit with Chuck and scanned the OGS Conference schedules for Chuck’s name first to arrange my other classes around his class. Every class that I took with Chuck proved to be inspirational, but it wasn’t just the intellectual concepts. It was the way he conveyed those concepts. He was able to bring his permaculture knowledge and environmental activism to us with such open-heartedness and inclusiveness. I will miss his bright smile and warm personality as a constant at the OGS Conferences and in the larger community. He has mentored so many of us in a variety of ways. It leaves me asking myself how I can integrate some of Chuck’s endearing qualities into my own life and how we can entice our communities toward regenerative living with the same open-heartedness and inclusiveness as Chuck. With this pillar of support missing from our community, I hope lots of us will challenge ourselves to step up to the plate and carry on Chuck’s legacy with the same infectious spirit he brought into our lives.
In Andrew’s words: “Fair winds, my friend!” from all of your friends and fans in the OGS community and the community at large!
With special thanks to Lee Barnes of Waynesville, Tony Kleese of Chapel Hill, Jeffrey Goldwasser of Waynesville, and Arjuna da Silva of Black Mountain for some of the information contained here. Special thanks to Bobby Sullivan, Chuck Hegberg, and others for photos from Chuck’s Facebook Page.
Organic Growers School plans to recognize Chuck Marsh formally at the OGS 25th Annual Spring Conference to be held on March 9-11, 2018.
Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate who wants to see organic farms proliferate and organic gardens in every yard. She serves on the Organic Growers School Board of Directors, and in her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.