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Charles Church harvests potatoes from his farm in Valle Crucis. A lifetime farmer and mentor to others, Church died Sunday at age 67. Submitted Photo

Originally published: 2013-04-30 19:17:14
Last modified: 2013-05-01 10:03:30

Farmer Charles Church dies at 67

by Anna Oakes

Farmer, mentor and community leader Charles A. Church of Valle Crucis died April 28 at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He was 67.

Church was born Feb. 2, 1946, in Johnson County, Tenn., to the late Ralph M. Church and Laura F. Church. The owner of Watauga River Farms in Valle Crucis, Church grew tobacco for years before transitioning to vegetable production more than a decade ago, becoming one of the first local farmers to embrace modern organic practices.

He helped form New River Organic Growers, a cooperative of several area farms that pools resources to promote and sell local food to restaurants and other buyers. Church also helped organize Eastern Carolina Organics, which distributes wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants and buying clubs.

Church was a familiar face at the Watauga County Farmers' Market, where he sold broccoli, greens and natural pork, among other items.

Cooperative Extension agent Richard Boylan, who met Church a dozen years ago, said the vitality of Watauga County's local food movement is in no small part due to Church's influence.

"He bridged the gap between old-time long-term farmers ... and the modern local food movement, and especially the organic component of that," said Boylan, the area agent for alternative and organic agriculture.

"He was the one that really kind of knocked down the barrier."

Church was widely sought out for his wealth of experience and welcomed countless opportunities to share his expertise with fellow farmers, students and home gardeners. He frequently participated in workshops, and his farm served as a host site for experimental projects.

"He had a good heart and definitely wanted to help," said Boylan. "He was always willing to share his time and knowledge, always kind in his manner and a hard-working farmer to the end."

Eastern Carolina Organics shared a message about Church with supporters on Monday.

"He believed in what we were trying to do from day one," the message stated. "He was always a powerful mentor to new and young organic growers around Boone and was tremendously proud of the organic community in the High Country. A great farmer, a Valle Crucis legend and most importantly, an incredibly nice man. Charles was a ridiculously hard worker, and sweet and generous in every way."

Church was a member of Valle Crucis United Methodist Church, where he was a former superintendent of Sunday School. He was a board member of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, past secretary of Watauga County Parks and Recreation, a past member of the Watauga County Planning Board and a past member of the North Carolina Agriculture and Sustainability.

Church is survived by his wife, Betty Smith Church of the home; three sons, Ralph Church and wife Amy of Valle Crucis, Chuck Church and wife Kelly of Sugar Grove, and Joel Church of Valle Crucis; as well as several grandchildren, nieces and nephews and other relatives.

Funeral services for Church will be conducted May 1, at 3 p.m. at Hampton Funeral Home Chapel. The family will receive friends today from 12:30 until 3 p.m. prior to the service. Private graveside services and burial will follow in the Baird Family Cemetery. Flowers are appreciated,
or memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society, Watauga Relay For Life, 4-A Oak Branch Drive, Greensboro, North Carolina, 27407. Online condolences may be sent to the Church family at