Courtney White

I was born on September 8, 1960, at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. My father was Joseph Courtney White, Jr., of Eldorado, Arkansas. My mother was Joyce Armitage, of Charleston, West Virginia. We lived on a small farm near Spring City, while my father completed his MD in neurology at Jefferson Medical College. We were not farmers. We had horses, goats, and a big barn that I played in.

On my sixth birthday, we moved to Phoenix, AZ, so my father could begin work as Director of Neurology for the recently founded Barrow Neurological Institute – a job he held for the rest of his life. In 1970, we moved to a house on five acres in Paradise Valley where I discovered the desert. My parents became involved with Morgan horses. I traveled with them to shows in the region and we rented a dilapidated stable in the desert called Powderhorn where I learned to ride and explore.

In the summer of 1974, my parents signed me up for a five-week tour of Mexico that changed my life. I became active in archaeology, eventually earning a paycheck on survey and excavation projects for Arizona State University. I picked up photography as a hobby. I discovered backpacking and began organizing trips in high school. A mind-blowing hiking tour of national parks in the summer of 1977 introduced me to public lands and sparked a lifelong engagement with conservation. A high school trip to England and Scotland kindled a deep interest in history. My mother cultivated a love of literature. To put all these pieces together, I read books – many books.

In 1978, I enrolled at Reed College where I met Gen in the dorm parking lot during Orientation, beginning our forty-four years together. I majored in Anthropology while continuing to pursue my interests in photography, archaeology, history, and conservation. Reed taught me the value of healthy skepticism and the importance of challenging orthodoxies, which I would put to good use in later years.

In 1983, I moved to Los Angeles to enroll in graduate school at UCLA in filmmaking. Gen joined me in 1985, enrolling in UCLA’s archaeology program. We moved into a tiny apartment in West Hollywood. I dropped out of school before completing my MFA and took a job in the main library on campus where I began reading books in earnest again, searching for a purpose. I bought a medium-format camera and in 1988 I joined Gen on the Bandelier Survey in New Mexico as a photographer. In 1990, I embarked on a photography project that took me around the American West.

In 1991, we moved to Santa Fe, NM, so Gen could accept a full-time job with the National Park Service. I took temporary work at Pecos National Historical Park. On May 23, 1992, Gen and I were married in a lovely ceremony at a friend’s house in front of many friends and family. We honeymooned in the Yucatan, visiting Mayan ruins.

In 1994, a political upheaval in Washington, D.C., pushed me into conservation work full-time. I volunteered with the Sierra Club, organizing meetings and workshops. I began writing a column for its newsletter. I made a professional commitment to conservation in 1997, when I co-founded the Quivira Coalition with a rancher and became its Executive Director. Our mission was to energize the ‘radical center’ and explore grassroots solutions to land, food, and climate challenges. We ran a ranch. Quivira was a pioneer advocate for what today is called regenerative agriculture.

On December 18, 1998, Sterling and Olivia, were born to our everlasting joy. The next eighteen years were an extraordinary adventure, filled with camping, creeks, cows, conferences, ranches, workshops, newsletters, trips to Yellowstone and Europe, budgets, board meetings, birthday parties, backyard chickens, book writing, public speaking, Shakespeare, sleepovers, dogs, chess tournaments, karate, band camp, many memorable meals at restaurants, and much more.

In May 2006, Gen was diagnosed with carcinoid tumors, a rare and slow-growing cancer. We decided to make it an adventure, commencing many trips to LA for treatments that included visits to beaches, Disneyland, and museums. In 2008, she began working for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, eventually becoming the Tribal Liaison for the Environmental Bureau.

Standing on the Rialto Bridge in Venice on my 50th birthday, I decided to focus on writing books for the rest of my life. Grass, Soil, Hope was published in 2014, followed by The Age of Consequences and 2% Solutions for the Planet. In 2016, I left Quivira to write full-time, eventually co-authoring four books on regenerative agriculture and climate solutions as well as writing two novels, including a murder mystery.

In the fall of 2017, Sterling and Olivia left home for college – Reed for him, Hampshire College for her. In 2019, Gen and I squeezed in a trip to Prague and Berlin to see Olivia during her semester abroad before the Covid pandemic confined us to Santa Fe. Gen endured open heart surgery in the summer of 2021. On October 4th, 2022, she died peacefully at home. I held her hand.

In 2023, I turned my focus to writing two sagas, one fiction and one nonfiction.

I have asked Courtney White to lend his essay ‘The Working Wilderness’ to this collection for three reasons: First, I think it is a good essay. Second, it tells of a serious and continuing effort on the part of some ranchers and conservationists to develop local knowledge sufficient to support a locally adapted land economy. This is an effort that is needed simply because it is necessary…. Third, it is an essay about cooperation between people and nature, between people and their places, and between ranchers and conservationists. This, again, is necessary…
Courtney White’s experience with the Quivira Coalition has made him master of two indispensable truths: People of different and apparently opposing interests can work together in good will for their mutual good; and, granted their good will and good work, a similar reciprocity can be made, in use, between humans and their land.
- Wendell Berry

Courtney White employs a masterful blend of storytelling and science to communicate a most hopeful message: that building healthy soils – in some surprising and creative ways—can help solve our food, water, and climate challenges all at the same time. The carbon-capturing farmers, ranchers, and conservationists whose work White so elegantly describes form the vanguard of a new movement of regenerative production that deserves society’s attention and support. Inspiring, thought-provoking, energizing, and—at bottom—full of hope.
- Sandra Postel

Freshwater Fellow, National Geographic Society

Hope in a book about the environmental challenges we face in the 21st century is an audacious thing to promise, so I’m pleased to report that Courtney White delivers on it.
- Michael Pollan

Courtney White chronicles a new and critically important sphere of knowledge: a world of soil, sun, sky, and animals where good people regenerate the earth in ancient and novel ways. Reading about the environment rarely brings one as many smiles and as much joy as Two Percent Solutions for the Planet.
- Paul Hawken

author of Blessed Unrest; coauthor of Natural Capitalism

In a time when environmental reporting has become justifiably gloomy, this book is a refreshing breath of pragmatic optimism. White’s vision of stewardship, openness to new ideas, giving as well as taking, and flexibility will inspire anyone who loves humanity or the great outdoors.
- Publishers Weekly

White strikes a refreshing tone that will resonate with readers turned off by the superior or condescending attitudes of some environmentalist writers… Throughout, he balances abstract questions and ideas with tangible life experiences… [R]eaders will be engaged by his frank and thoughtful discussion of our modern environment.
- Kirkus

…[A] series of deeply personal essays that cogently examine pertinent issues from both grassroots and global perspectives. With a tone that is predominantly upbeat yet tempered by the intensely personal concerns of a parent, White offers specific examples of beneficial strategies that can mitigate present conditions and secure future successes.
- Booklist

I couldn’t put Revolution on the Range down – so many good ideas from people who have discovered workable means to effect positive change in our local environments and ways of thinking about our place in the world. This is one of the most encouraging and inspirational books I’ve read in ages.
- Deborah Madison

author of Local Flavors

Courtney White has lived and worked at the radical center of collaborative conservation in the West for more than two decades, literally reshaping dialogue and land stewardship in the region through his innovations. But with this book Courtney demonstrates that his own essays on these concerns can rightfully take its place alongside Scott Russell Sanders and Wendell Berry for its eloquence, depth and lasting impact on the conservation movement.
- Gary Nabhan

author of Food, Genes and Culture: Eating Right for Your Origins