Farming Forestry: A Pianist’s Tale

By Maureen Halsema

Leavell loves both his trees and his piano, which he would not have without trees. Photo by Roger Gupta.

Leavell loves both his trees and his piano, which he would not have without trees. Photo by Roger Gupta

He is a champion of trees, fighting for them in the legislative arena, teaching about them on educational platforms, and managing them on Charlane Plantation, his 25,000-acre tree farm southeast of Macon, Ga.

Chuck Leavell is most recognized for his musical talent and his travels with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and the Allman Brothers. But over the last few decades, Leavell has been rising in distinction in his other passion as well— family forestry.

“I wouldn’t have that marvelous thing called a piano to play if it were not for the resource of wood,” Leavell said. “As a tree farmer, it provides me a great balance, personally. I get a lot of spiritual lift listening to the wind in the pines, rather than loud guitars in my ears.”

In 1999, Leavell’s farm won the National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year Award, selected out of approximately 80,000 family farms for its exceptional forest management.

Leavell sits on the board of the American Forestry Foundation, an organization dedicated to ensuring the sustainability of forests through education and strong conservation policy.

He serves on the board of the U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities, which works with forest management communities to develop sustainable, healthy forests.

“All countries are different, but one of the important things to note, here in the United States, is the amount of private landowners,” Leavell said. “Two thirds of our country’s forestland is owned by individuals.”

Leavell’s wife, Rose Lane, inherited their prized property from her grandmother in 1981.

“We kind of woke up with this awesome responsibility to take on this heritage of family stewardship,” Leavell said.

Leavell began to devour information on farming and land use, studying in dressing rooms, on tour buses and in hotels. He realized he needed a crop that could work with his busy lifestyle as a touring musician. So, he went to meetings, enrolled in seminars, and met with landowners, eager to find out more.

“And next thing you knew, I was a tree farmer,” Leavell said.

Leavell and Rose Lane have been farming trees for 30 years now. In addition to cultivating their land, Leavell has become an advocate for family forestry.

“You have to incentivize ways to keep land in families and families on the land,” Leavell said. He has testified to Congress on the last two farm bills in order to encourage policy makers to allocate more funding for family forestry.

“When it comes to help for family forest landowners through the farm bill, the funds directed to forestry are a minuscule part of the pie, less than 1 percent of the overall funding, while agriculture gets the bulk,” Leavell said. “This is way out of balance and needs to be addressed. We have to shake up our lawmakers.

We need to say, ‘look, if you want to have healthy forests, you need to engage our private forest landowners and have good programs that incentivize them to plant, to manage, and just keep their lands and trees.’ That has been my focus on the last two bills and that will be my focus this time around.

We’ve been able to have baby steps, but we need to have bigger steps.”

In addition to his legislative work, Leavell has written a children’s book, “The Tree Farmer,” and “Forever Green: The History and Hope of the American Forest,” which is an in-depth look at sustainable forestry and conservation.

Leavell is now in the process of finishing his third book, “Growing America: Smart, Strong, and Sustainable,” which addresses the need for smart-growth communities and a vision for America’s future. Leavell hopes to have it on the shelves by fall.

Leavell often invites children, particularly from metropolitan areas, to come take a nature walk on his tree farm and explore the natural habitats of 30 different species of trees and a wide variety of animals.

Leavell also dedicates much of his time to the Mother Nature Network, an environmental news website launched in 2009 that covers topics related to environmental issues.

“It has been a heck of a journey so far. Over 15 months, we’ve had a meteoric rise, and we are now the number one most visited, independent environmental website in the world,” Leavell said.

Whether on stage, online, or in his forest, Chuck Leavell will continue to grow and foster his passions in order to cultivate a better foundation for generations to come.


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