Knock on Wood

Trees grow slowly, but growing trees for a living requires -constant maintenance—controlled burns, pruning, thinning, harvesting, planting. Most tree farmers stop at that, but Chuck Leavell takes it further. On Charlane Plantation, his 2,200-acre tree farm about 20 miles southeast of Macon, Georgia, he plants crops like milo and sorghum to provide deer, wild turkey and quail with the right ecosystem. He oversees a rookery for cattle egrets in the wetlands at the edge of his property. He hosts field trips for schoolchildren to teach them the importance of sustainable forestry and stewardship. And in his spare time, he plays keyboard with the Rolling Stones.

 

“Oh no, don’t make me choose, man,” Leavell says of his dual passions as he sits in the living room of the main house on his tree farm. Leavell has just returned from a music tour through Germany, but you would never know it by the looks of him. He wears a plain black T-shirt tucked into blue jeans. A bushy gray beard covers his face, and his friendly southern drawl is peppered with -down-to-earth words like “man” and “y’all.”
 

 For the past 20 minutes, he’s been talking about the trees that surround the home in which we sit, and how the wood in this home came from southern yellow pine harvested on-site, and how increasingly places like this—where the land is protected, respected and used responsibly—are under threat.
 

“As a forest landowner, tree farmer and person who loves and appreciates the -outdoors, I see a lot of loss of these natural resources to growth and development,” Leavell says. He rattles off some statistics: America’s 310 million citizens are expected to balloon to 400 million before 2040. Four-and-a-half million miles of paved and unpaved roads, streets and highways crisscross the U.S., carrying 260 million vehicles. Meanwhile, 87,000 planes fly -between U.S. cities every day, 300 of which are home to more than 100,000 residents. “That’s an extraordinary amount of pressure on our natural lands and resources. You can’t pull the plug and make it stop. So we’re at a critical time in our history when we really need to make some changes.”
 

Leavell preaches sustainability well beyond the fences of his farm. As a board member of the -American Forest Foundation, he regularly testifies before U.S. Congress about American forestry and farm bills. -He also -travels around the country speaking about the importance of stewardship, using his celebrity status to attract attention to the topic. In 2008, he cofounded the Mother -Nature Network, a media channel devoted to 24-7 coverage of environmental news. He’s authored four books about the environment, the most recent of which, Growing a Better America, examines how to foster a sustainable future despite inexorable growth.
 

“I’m not antigrowth,” he tells me. “Growth is a reality, a truth, an inevitability. The question … is whether this country’s growth will be rampant, rapid and reckless or smart, strong and sustainable.”
 

When Leavell was a young boy in -Tuscaloosa, Alabama, his mother would often play the piano. She wasn’t a professional or a teacher, but she was good, and Leavell loved nothing more than to plop himself down beside the piano and listen to her hammer away. Sometimes, she would invite him up on the bench and teach him chords or simple melodies.
 

Later in his youth, as he began to hone a craft around his passion, he would play and replay albums by Leon Russell and Elton John, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. On the jazz front, he admired Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Ray Charles, for his synthesis of soul and rhythm and blues, was another personal favorite. At 13, Leavell was playing local gigs for money. By 20, he had moved to Macon, a regional recording hub in the ’60s and ’70s, and secured a full-time job as the -keyboardist for the Allman Brothers. In the years since, he’s worked with everyone from Eric -Clapton to George Harrison to John Mayer, in addition to being the primary keyboardist for the Rolling Stones. “To me, life is about examples,” he says. “I learned to play music mostly by listening to and emulating other piano players who I loved, and it influenced me.”
 

Leavell believes this same philosophy should inform our approach to sustainability. Examples abound of ways for individuals and communities big and small to grow in concert with their surroundings. Sometimes these examples come from forward-thinking human beings; other times they come from nature itself and the ingenious lessons that organisms can teach us. “When we see things like biomimicry [deriving design inspiration from natural systems], industrial symbiosis, good community design and better ways to insulate and build our homes, all those things -collectively can make a huge difference,” he says.
 

Growing a Better America is a tour de force of good ideas for sustainable growth. The book investigates everything from termite mounds to alternative fuels to wind power to hybrid vehicles and smart home design. A major portion of the book is devoted to what Leavell dubs “smart communities.” In America’s sprawling suburbs, residents -generally have to drive to get to work, to shop or to visit one another, which leads to more roads, which leads to more natural lands being covered by impervious surfaces, which leads to more pollution and less greenery to absorb CO2. Add to this the reality that many suburban developments now sit vacant, their promise from the real estate boom busted, and the resulting picture looks anything but sustainable.
 

In Growing a Better America, Leavell highlights communities built around a more holistic, farm-to-table mentality. A primary example is Serenbe, a community that lies an hour southwest of Atlanta. Every home at Serenbe is part of a high-density hamlet arranged around farmland and a small downtown area. Rather than sitting on a grid, homes are set naturally into the land and close enough to food and resources that transportation is kept to a minimum. In most respects, the community is self-sustaining and low impact.
 

“This is a fantastic example of smart growth,” Leavell says. “All the houses are low-energy usage; all the yards are low maintenance.” Within the community, there’s an equestrian center, miles of hiking and -biking trails and community-designed elements like a tree house for the kids, so everyone is encouraged to exercise. “I think this is a -brilliant model of how we can build, and build sustainably,” Leavell says. “Seventy percent natural lands and 30 percent -development, that’s the idea.”
 

Granted, an idyllic community like -Serenbe may not be reproducible in cities or affordable for the masses, but Leavell argues that cities can take steps to integrate some of Serenbe’s principles. Indeed, some already have. In the book, he points to the likes of Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas, as exemplars of integrating sustainability into urbanity. Each has used greenbelts to restrict urban sprawl while enforcing growth restriction ordinances and maintaining parks, bike paths and pedestrian-friendly streets. Austin has gone so far as to design a “Smart Growth Matrix” to assess whether new developments meet a set of location criteria and a “S.M.A.R.T Housing ordinance,” which ensures that new housing must be safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced and transit-oriented.
 

“Let’s build a building in a metropolis close to a subway or light-rail system so that residents rely on mass transit in a good way,” Leavell says. “Let’s integrate in smart building techniques and green spaces. These models are out there. We just need to do it and do it in the right way.”
 

After we chat, Leavell takes me on a tour of the tree farm in a black Ford Super Duty truck he calls the “B.A.T.,” short f
or “Big Ass Truck.” He confesses that he doesn’t like the truck’s high pollution output, but on a tree farm, a big rig like this is essential for hauling materials and working the woods. As he slides behind the wheel, he cautions me to watch my head around the shotguns fixed to the roof. “For the coyotes,” he explains. Spare cartridges rattle in the cup holders as we drive past the barn, also built from pine grown and harvested on-site, and continue into the woods.
 

In many respects, Charlane Plantation is the ultimate testament to Leavell’s spirited, self-made nature. When he and his wife, Rose Lane, inherited the farm from her grandmother in 1981, it was a dormant homestead that had been used for row cropping and tending cattle for a half-century. Leavell knew hardly anything about farming—crops, cattle or otherwise—but he took it upon -himself to embark on a “self-education” journey akin to his earliest years as a musician. He spoke to landowners in the area, went to meetings and seminars, checked out books from the library and eventually enrolled in a correspondence course on land use, which he completed while touring with the blues rock band the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the mid-1980s. More often than not, he did his homework in the back of the Thunderbirds’ tour bus.
 

Out of that experience came an -understanding that forestry would be the ideal use for Charlane Plantation. “It fit my bill perfectly because it’s long term and doesn’t require so much day-to-day -activity,” he tells me in the truck. “I also began to realize all the things trees and forests do for me. The resource of wood has given me the instrument that gave me my career, so there’s -definitely a link there.”
 

Today, all of the trees that Leavell and his wife planted in the ’80s and ’90s have grown into lush forest. On the day I visit, he’s scheduled a small corner of the forest for -thinning. Through the windshield, he and I watch as marked trees are cut down, dragged to a work area, hoisted into the air, delimbed and loaded onto a truck. The next stand of pines over was thinned a year before, and the signs of intrusion are impossible to -detect. Leaves flutter down from the full canopy, while birds wing about and squirrels play on a forest floor budding with natural grasses, fruits and legumes.
 

For Leavell, this is the model of how humans must interact with nature in the future. The simple truth is that to sustain mankind, trees—and lots of them—do need to get cut. Beyond books, newspapers and magazines, some 5,000 products that we use every day contain tree elements. And other -resources are equally needed. But with ingenuity and responsibility, mankind can extract its resources while ensuring that the end result is as healthy and vibrant as the starting ingredients, if not more.
 

“As a tree farmer, I have to ask myself, ‘What do I want to see in my lifetime? How do I want it to look? And what are my goals monetarily and for the good of the land? What do I want to see for my children and my grandchildren and beyond?’ That’s what gives you the plan.” And that philosophy, he contends, has wider applications.
 

“Stewardship doesn’t just apply to the land,” he says. “It can apply to activity in your environment, involvement in the -community. Everyone can do this in his or her own way.”  

 

Solution News Source

Knock on Wood

Trees grow slowly, but growing trees for a living requires -constant maintenance—controlled burns, pruning, thinning, harvesting, planting. Most tree farmers stop at that, but Chuck Leavell takes it further. On Charlane Plantation, his 2,200-acre tree farm about 20 miles southeast of Macon, Georgia, he plants crops like milo and sorghum to provide deer, wild turkey and quail with the right ecosystem. He oversees a rookery for cattle egrets in the wetlands at the edge of his property. He hosts field trips for schoolchildren to teach them the importance of sustainable forestry and stewardship. And in his spare time, he plays keyboard with the Rolling Stones.

 

“Oh no, don’t make me choose, man,” Leavell says of his dual passions as he sits in the living room of the main house on his tree farm. Leavell has just returned from a music tour through Germany, but you would never know it by the looks of him. He wears a plain black T-shirt tucked into blue jeans. A bushy gray beard covers his face, and his friendly southern drawl is peppered with -down-to-earth words like “man” and “y’all.”
 

 For the past 20 minutes, he’s been talking about the trees that surround the home in which we sit, and how the wood in this home came from southern yellow pine harvested on-site, and how increasingly places like this—where the land is protected, respected and used responsibly—are under threat.
 

“As a forest landowner, tree farmer and person who loves and appreciates the -outdoors, I see a lot of loss of these natural resources to growth and development,” Leavell says. He rattles off some statistics: America’s 310 million citizens are expected to balloon to 400 million before 2040. Four-and-a-half million miles of paved and unpaved roads, streets and highways crisscross the U.S., carrying 260 million vehicles. Meanwhile, 87,000 planes fly -between U.S. cities every day, 300 of which are home to more than 100,000 residents. “That’s an extraordinary amount of pressure on our natural lands and resources. You can’t pull the plug and make it stop. So we’re at a critical time in our history when we really need to make some changes.”
 

Leavell preaches sustainability well beyond the fences of his farm. As a board member of the -American Forest Foundation, he regularly testifies before U.S. Congress about American forestry and farm bills. -He also -travels around the country speaking about the importance of stewardship, using his celebrity status to attract attention to the topic. In 2008, he cofounded the Mother -Nature Network, a media channel devoted to 24-7 coverage of environmental news. He’s authored four books about the environment, the most recent of which, Growing a Better America, examines how to foster a sustainable future despite inexorable growth.
 

“I’m not antigrowth,” he tells me. “Growth is a reality, a truth, an inevitability. The question … is whether this country’s growth will be rampant, rapid and reckless or smart, strong and sustainable.”
 

When Leavell was a young boy in -Tuscaloosa, Alabama, his mother would often play the piano. She wasn’t a professional or a teacher, but she was good, and Leavell loved nothing more than to plop himself down beside the piano and listen to her hammer away. Sometimes, she would invite him up on the bench and teach him chords or simple melodies.
 

Later in his youth, as he began to hone a craft around his passion, he would play and replay albums by Leon Russell and Elton John, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. On the jazz front, he admired Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Ray Charles, for his synthesis of soul and rhythm and blues, was another personal favorite. At 13, Leavell was playing local gigs for money. By 20, he had moved to Macon, a regional recording hub in the ’60s and ’70s, and secured a full-time job as the -keyboardist for the Allman Brothers. In the years since, he’s worked with everyone from Eric -Clapton to George Harrison to John Mayer, in addition to being the primary keyboardist for the Rolling Stones. “To me, life is about examples,” he says. “I learned to play music mostly by listening to and emulating other piano players who I loved, and it influenced me.”
 

Leavell believes this same philosophy should inform our approach to sustainability. Examples abound of ways for individuals and communities big and small to grow in concert with their surroundings. Sometimes these examples come from forward-thinking human beings; other times they come from nature itself and the ingenious lessons that organisms can teach us. “When we see things like biomimicry [deriving design inspiration from natural systems], industrial symbiosis, good community design and better ways to insulate and build our homes, all those things -collectively can make a huge difference,” he says.
 

Growing a Better America is a tour de force of good ideas for sustainable growth. The book investigates everything from termite mounds to alternative fuels to wind power to hybrid vehicles and smart home design. A major portion of the book is devoted to what Leavell dubs “smart communities.” In America’s sprawling suburbs, residents -generally have to drive to get to work, to shop or to visit one another, which leads to more roads, which leads to more natural lands being covered by impervious surfaces, which leads to more pollution and less greenery to absorb CO2. Add to this the reality that many suburban developments now sit vacant, their promise from the real estate boom busted, and the resulting picture looks anything but sustainable.
 

In Growing a Better America, Leavell highlights communities built around a more holistic, farm-to-table mentality. A primary example is Serenbe, a community that lies an hour southwest of Atlanta. Every home at Serenbe is part of a high-density hamlet arranged around farmland and a small downtown area. Rather than sitting on a grid, homes are set naturally into the land and close enough to food and resources that transportation is kept to a minimum. In most respects, the community is self-sustaining and low impact.
 

“This is a fantastic example of smart growth,” Leavell says. “All the houses are low-energy usage; all the yards are low maintenance.” Within the community, there’s an equestrian center, miles of hiking and -biking trails and community-designed elements like a tree house for the kids, so everyone is encouraged to exercise. “I think this is a -brilliant model of how we can build, and build sustainably,” Leavell says. “Seventy percent natural lands and 30 percent -development, that’s the idea.”
 

Granted, an idyllic community like -Serenbe may not be reproducible in cities or affordable for the masses, but Leavell argues that cities can take steps to integrate some of Serenbe’s principles. Indeed, some already have. In the book, he points to the likes of Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas, as exemplars of integrating sustainability into urbanity. Each has used greenbelts to restrict urban sprawl while enforcing growth restriction ordinances and maintaining parks, bike paths and pedestrian-friendly streets. Austin has gone so far as to design a “Smart Growth Matrix” to assess whether new developments meet a set of location criteria and a “S.M.A.R.T Housing ordinance,” which ensures that new housing must be safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced and transit-oriented.
 

“Let’s build a building in a metropolis close to a subway or light-rail system so that residents rely on mass transit in a good way,” Leavell says. “Let’s integrate in smart building techniques and green spaces. These models are out there. We just need to do it and do it in the right way.”
 

After we chat, Leavell takes me on a tour of the tree farm in a black Ford Super Duty truck he calls the “B.A.T.,” short f
or “Big Ass Truck.” He confesses that he doesn’t like the truck’s high pollution output, but on a tree farm, a big rig like this is essential for hauling materials and working the woods. As he slides behind the wheel, he cautions me to watch my head around the shotguns fixed to the roof. “For the coyotes,” he explains. Spare cartridges rattle in the cup holders as we drive past the barn, also built from pine grown and harvested on-site, and continue into the woods.
 

In many respects, Charlane Plantation is the ultimate testament to Leavell’s spirited, self-made nature. When he and his wife, Rose Lane, inherited the farm from her grandmother in 1981, it was a dormant homestead that had been used for row cropping and tending cattle for a half-century. Leavell knew hardly anything about farming—crops, cattle or otherwise—but he took it upon -himself to embark on a “self-education” journey akin to his earliest years as a musician. He spoke to landowners in the area, went to meetings and seminars, checked out books from the library and eventually enrolled in a correspondence course on land use, which he completed while touring with the blues rock band the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the mid-1980s. More often than not, he did his homework in the back of the Thunderbirds’ tour bus.
 

Out of that experience came an -understanding that forestry would be the ideal use for Charlane Plantation. “It fit my bill perfectly because it’s long term and doesn’t require so much day-to-day -activity,” he tells me in the truck. “I also began to realize all the things trees and forests do for me. The resource of wood has given me the instrument that gave me my career, so there’s -definitely a link there.”
 

Today, all of the trees that Leavell and his wife planted in the ’80s and ’90s have grown into lush forest. On the day I visit, he’s scheduled a small corner of the forest for -thinning. Through the windshield, he and I watch as marked trees are cut down, dragged to a work area, hoisted into the air, delimbed and loaded onto a truck. The next stand of pines over was thinned a year before, and the signs of intrusion are impossible to -detect. Leaves flutter down from the full canopy, while birds wing about and squirrels play on a forest floor budding with natural grasses, fruits and legumes.
 

For Leavell, this is the model of how humans must interact with nature in the future. The simple truth is that to sustain mankind, trees—and lots of them—do need to get cut. Beyond books, newspapers and magazines, some 5,000 products that we use every day contain tree elements. And other -resources are equally needed. But with ingenuity and responsibility, mankind can extract its resources while ensuring that the end result is as healthy and vibrant as the starting ingredients, if not more.
 

“As a tree farmer, I have to ask myself, ‘What do I want to see in my lifetime? How do I want it to look? And what are my goals monetarily and for the good of the land? What do I want to see for my children and my grandchildren and beyond?’ That’s what gives you the plan.” And that philosophy, he contends, has wider applications.
 

“Stewardship doesn’t just apply to the land,” he says. “It can apply to activity in your environment, involvement in the -community. Everyone can do this in his or her own way.”  

 

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