Chuck Leavell’s garden back home in Georgia has it all. Well, almost.
“Tomatoes – a variety: Big Boys, Best Boys, heirlooms – sweet corn, various squashes, cucumbers, peppers – we love peppers, we love spicy things – yellow and green bell peppers, okra,” Leavell says.
“Well, Vidalias come from down there, near us. It’s easier just to buy a 50-pound bag.”
The main crop on Leavell’s 2,900-acre property outside Macon is trees. Charlane Plantation – the name combines his first name, Charles, with his wife Rose Lane White’s middle name – has been recognized locally and nationally for its practices: Leavell has become a respected voice for sustainable forestry, common-sense growth, conservation and environmental protection.
The main trees at Charlane are Southern yellow pine – longleaf pine, slash pine, loblolly pine and shortleaf pine – as well as some upland and lowland native hardwoods. “We try to maintain a healthy variety,” he explains.
Following a comprehensive plan Leavell developed, trees are grown and harvested for lumber. He’s also part of efforts by the American Chestnut Foundation to restore that tree, largely wiped out by blight in the last century.
“We planted 30, and 20 or so are surviving and growing,” he says. “The foundation wants to plant a million trees in 10 years.”
In addition, Leavell is a co-founder of the popular environmental news and information website, the Mother Nature Network.
Oh, and he plays the piano.
Leavell, 63, was a member of the Allman Brothers Band during its heyday (remember “Jessica”? Yeah, that’s him) and for the last 30-plus years has been keyboardist for the Rolling Stones.
Spending an afternoon with him, one gets the idea that the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year award he and his wife won in 1999 means as much as the Lifetime Achievement Grammy he was presented in 2012 for his work with the Allmans.
On a day off during the current Stones tour, Leavell talked trees, music and family. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.