Remembering Chuck Marsh

by Patryk Battle and Meredith Leigh

(Patryk:) Chuck was the person I was most looking forward to getting together with at this year’s Permaculture Gathering. I wanted to share with him my delight at having rooted in accidentally broken off branch of Yuzu ( a hardy-ish Japanese citrus that I of course got from Chuck). But the vicissitudes of life and the fact that he left the gathering early meant that we missed each other. Upon learning why Chuck left early, I reached out to him offering Living Web Farms grown Reishi mushroom, produce and of course, any other support we at Living Web might be able to provide but our mutual friend Gred Gross who brought me up to date on Chuck’s situation reported that that a key message from Chuck was “no #$%&! sympathy!”.

Chuck and I had a lot in common. One very unimportant but always personally gratifying thing we shared is a penchant for peppering our speech (when our executive editors found it prudent!) with expletives. Would that I could be as effective or evocative with expletives as Chuck was! He could encapsulate much of what Meredith so eloquently describes below with one or two well-placed expletives.

There are no expletives in Chuck’s response to my offer of support but it is classic Chuck, and I believe more effectively illustrates the depth and breadth of Chuck’s spirit than anything I ever write could. So please allow me to share a lightly edited version of his recent letter to me:

Thanks my bro Patryk,

Sorry to have missed you as well.  Yep it’s true, my death is before me.  Kind of exciting actually, though I’m not pretending it won’t be a bit of a rough ride.  After all, what has my spiritual warrior training been for if not to greet my liberation straight on.  I don’t call the news bad, but rather sad and soulful.  Let us cultivate souls together, my bro!

Thanks so much for your offer of veggies and mushrooms.  I would really like to take you up on the Ganoderma lucidum (oak Reishi).  Any other good cancer fighting mushrooms would be welcome.  We’re cooking up some blends for me.  .  Deep appreciations my bro!  I think I’ll pass on veggies for now, as I’m not eating any serious volume of food, but as fall comes on some greens might be delightful.  I know your food is filled with chi and want some, but am still settling into the complexities newly put before me.

Pretty exciting about the yuzu.  life wants to live, as I intimately learn as I am slowly gobbled alive.

My love to you and Diane,

the chuckster

Though I only saw Chuck a few times a year, every encounter resulted same pleasure and celebration of each other as Mere describes below. Fortunately my always perceptive partner Diane recognized the importance of capturing such camaraderie one of the last times we met up with Chuck and insisted on getting a picture of us. It, as they say, says it all.


(Meredith): Anytime there was a gathering of minds around food, plants, farming, or gardening, Chuck Marsh was there. (Patryk says: Mere is being literal here! A quick survey at the last Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference awards dinner revealed that only Chuck had attended all 31 of CFSA’s Sustainable AG Conferences.) When I  graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2005 and started working for the Organic Growers School, his name was on an unwritten but understood “list of names”- people who never expired as resources, teachers, idea-makers, movers and shakers in the grower movement. As I went about my work farming and non-profiteering, I committed those names to memory and was honored to call people like Chuck not only mentors, but also friends. When Patryk Battle (once another name on that same list and now a close colleague) and I sat down to write a tribute to Chuck, it occurred to us that the greatest impact Rascal Chuck ever had on us was less an effect of information, and more one of attitude.

Let me explain. People who knew Chuck probably won’t be surprised by this. Those who did not have the privilege of knowing him might misunderstand. Chuck Marsh was a wealth of knowledge about plants, the interactions between plants and people, plants and other beings, community dynamics, and much more. As a comrade of his who happen to also be obsessed with plants, I felt lucky to be able to email Chuck about a specific way to propagate muscadine grapes if I couldn’t quite remember, or recruit him to teach people about making willow tunnels. I’ll miss him for this, probably more than I yet realize. But the part of me that misses Chuck already and the most, is the subversive, over-activist, empath part. The part that connected with his attitude and his ethic and his hope. Indeed, sitting down to create a schedule for 2018 workshops at Living Web Farms, we brainstormed an epic series of Permaculture classes, taught by a cooperative of names and faces we have come to trust and love. Chuck was at the top of the list, and the topic Patryk proposed for him wasn’t water or soil or plant, but “Values and Ethics.” (Patryk adds: He was fiercely egalitarian, can do, and insistent that everyone and everything mattered.)

We are activists. So many of us who knew Chuck. We are subversive, probing, change-oriented people. Anarchists, herbalists, mothers with their boobs out, punk rock homesteaders, tax evaders, hippies, and outlaws. We are those society-as-we-know-it-is-a-rigged-spectacle type of people, with the tendency toward imagination and unfortunately, toward cynicism. Some of us have become angry. For me, (Meredith), the first time Chuck and I truly connected was when we were standing around talking to Joel Salatin at some event or another, and I quoted Machiavelli, and Joel faded away and Chuck and I sat at a round table in a mostly empty conference room and talked about how to maintain a revolution for a couple of hours. This is our type of person- the person who skips small talk about the weather and jumps to the cause and ripple effects of the weather pattern on the state of the top 4 layers of soil. Or something. But that’s not the point, that Chuck was our kind of person in that way. We all know this. The point is that he made being that way fun, even when being that way is sometimes hard, and annoying, and discouraging, and frightening.

He was always laughing, wasn’t he? So many people have said that since he passed, and it is true. That loud, hyperbolic guffaw-laugh. Why don’t we have a voice recording of it right now? Just for the people who didn’t know it well. That’s the point. In our line of work, and especially if your name is on the list of names that everyone calls to talk about muscadines or talk about revolution, it can be really hard to keep laughing like that. To remain hopeful, to not give in to despair, or anger, or sorrow. Especially now. When the world is on fire, and we need Chuck-like people the most, and there Chuck goes. Chuck who was always there. But Chuck Marsh left us better equipped than that. He laughed his famous laugh at the cynical jokes, but then he just kept attacking problems of epic proportions from a multitude of angles, from several different countries, with a dizzying web of people of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And he just kept on believing in that, connecting to it, happily, passionately. We could count on that. I could count on seeing him in the hallway at the next event and he’d be like “HEEEEEYY SISTER!” and give me a big hug and ask about my latest projects and boom around his thoughts, and then I’d wonder why in hell I wasn’t as convinced as Chuck was that I was doing important work. That I am doing the right thing. And suddenly I’d walk away and something would be renewed in the fight or the quest or whatever it is that moves us all to keep working. To keep hoping for change.

Another time I connected with Chuck was when he was immersed in a deep loss. We both were, and we sat together and asked “why?” and even in whirls of wisdom and knowing, there was a small sliver of time to support Chuck. Which felt rare and special. I went home and opened a letter a friend had sent me, and in it there laid a quotation. It said, “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves.” I sent it to Chuck. It served me then, and it serves us now.

Thanks Chuck, for keeping it light. Thanks for believing. Thanks for being the kind of guy who could sit at a round table and sift through the ugly truth, but then just be happy and encouraged and overjoyed to make the world a better place. Missing that, wanting that back, well, that is a given. What we at Living Web would love to remember, is just to try to embody that. To do the work with joy. To laugh louder, even though you have considered all the facts. To believe that what we’re doing today is important. Because it is. To forget that would be to forget something that Chuck gave us. But to remember that. Well. That, dear friends, is how you maintain a revolution.