Local environmental activist, bioregional educator, permaculture designer and landscaping pioneer Charles T. (Chuck) Marsh died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday, Aug. 27. Known to many as a mentor, spiritual warrior and friendly rascal, Chuck was an early developer of Earthaven Ecovillage outside of Black Mountain, one of the world’s oldest and most successful rural ecovillages. Fans from all over the globe have sent messages of appreciation for the many ways he impacted their lives. He was buried at Earthaven on Tuesday, Aug. 29, in the company of family and a large contingent of friends. He is survived by his sister, Camille McCall, and his 96-year-old mother, Ruth Marsh.
Born on Aug. 20, 1951, Chuck grew up in Aiken, S.C., and received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Wofford College. A resident of Western North Carolina since the 1980s, he ran a successful landscape design business here for many years. Chuck was one of the first permaculture design graduates taught by Bill Mollison, co-originator of permaculture, and went on to teach permaculture design courses throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean, many of them co-taught at Earthaven. He also was a co-founder of the Eastern Permaculture Teachers Association.
Chuck shared his wealth of knowledge and experience with several developing nations, or what he would have called the “Two-Thirds World.” He went on volunteer trips to Angola and the island of Dominica through the U.S. Agency for International Development Farmer-to-Farmer program, and was instrumental in developing the 3.5-year Jamaica Sustainable Farming Enterprise project, which brought permaculture and organic farming education and business development to Jamaica. He also taught the first permaculture design certificate course on the island.
In the Carolinas, Chuck was an early member of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (founded in 1979), a nonprofit that works to develop local and organic food systems, and was a highly sought-after workshop instructor at its annual conference. He was also, since 1994, a regular speaker at the WNC Organic Growers School. He also co-founded the annual Southeastern Permaculture Gathering, which celebrates its 25th year in 2018.
A superb nurseryman, Chuck founded and helped develop Useful Plants Nursery, the only regional nursery dedicated exclusively to edible, medicinal and dye plants. He conducted trials and evaluated hundreds of plants for winter hardiness and adaptability to the mountains. His plant collection remains available at the Useful Plants website.
A unique individual for his time and place, Chuck Marsh was committed broadly to environmental education, bigger-picture thinking and a deep love for people and the future of the world. He liked to be known as a spirit warrior on this planet. He was a member of the Light of the Mountains Sufi community in Leicester in the 1980s. Years later, on his inward journey, he became part of the ManKind Project of Asheville. He was a compassionate friend and teacher to many. Even as he was told of his impending death, Chuck wrote, “When I got the news, my lifetime spiritual warrior kicked right in, now having a field to play on as I approach my liberation.”
— Lee Barnes, Waynesville; Tony Kleese, Chapel Hill; Jeffrey Goldwasser, Waynesville; and Arjuna da Silva, Black Mountain