Hopeful stories about land and people from the desk of Courtney White.

An Introduction

Welcome to Terra Firma by Courtney White. I've spent my life prospecting for innovative, practical, and collaborative solutions to pressing problems involving land and people, sharing them with others. I’d like to share them with you!

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We live in age of dreary headlines. Take your pick: politics, environment, climate, politics again. Some days I wonder: ‘Could it get any worse?’ But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are hopeful, practical answers to the problems we face. I know because I’ve been there.

Twenty-five years ago, ranchers and environmentalists were at each other’s throats over a variety of issues in the American West, including conflicts over endangered species, livestock grazing, and wilderness protection. Today, much of that rancor has dissipated as groups work together to protect what we love and share in common: the health and the beauty of the West’s wide open spaces. If you had told me in 1997 that this would be possible, I would never have believed you!

It is a similar story across the nation and around the world.

My background: I am a former environmental activist who dropped out of the ‘conflict industry’ to cofound the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in New Mexico dedicated to building a radical center among ranchers, conservationists, and scientists around practices that improve resilience in working landscapes. For more than two decades, I have worked on the front lines of collaborative conservation and regenerative agriculture, exploring and sharing innovative solutions to food, water, and climate challenges. I have advocated for these hopeful solutions both in my writing and nonprofit work.

Quivira was also a creative endeavor for me, involving writing, speaking, shaping an annual conference, and developing new projects. Over time, writing became an increasingly important activity. In 2004, I began to write profiles of progressive, hopeful people and projects - stories I wasn’t seeing in the mainstream media! Unending conflict and Us-vs-Them attitudes dominated the news cycle (as it still does). I was determined to find a way to share a new perspective.

In 2005, Wendell Berry included my essay The Working Wilderness in his collection of essays The Way of Ignorance, a big endorsement that encouraged me to expand into books. Since then, I have written: Revolution on the Range (Island Press); The Age of Consequences (Counterpoint Press); Two Percent Solutions for the Planet and Grass, Soil, Hope (Chelsea Green), the latter with a Foreword by Michael Pollan.

What I learned as a result of all this was a simple message: there are a lot of positive things going on that never make it into the news. There are many hard-working, innovative people and organizations endeavoring to solve pressing problems and make the world a better place. I’ve worked with many of them and I continue to write about them today in my nonfiction work. For example, here’s an image from a book I coauthored being published this month by Chelsea Green about Fibershed, a nonprofit in northern California that develops regional fiber systems that build healthy soil on progressive farms and ranches (which helps fight climate change):

Writing hopeful stories is also a reason why I jumped into fiction recently. I’ve begun a mystery series set on a working cattle ranch in northern New Mexico called the Sun Ranch Saga. I have also written a contemporary time-travel novel about love and resistance titled Consilience (it is with a literary agent).

Whether fiction or nonfiction, I try to infuse my writing with an abiding curiosity, a strong sense of place, and a positive outlook.

That’s why I’ve decided share the good stories I’ve found. These aren’t pollyanna-ish, Go Team!-type stories, but one grounded in facts and real world examples. I’m not trying to minimize the challenges we face or stick a ‘Happy Face’ on our troubles. I just want folks to know there are good stories out there. Here’s a quick example:

Tom and Mimi Sidwell are among the best ranchers I know. They own the JX Ranch, south of Tucumcari, New Mexico and manage it holistically for grassland health, range restoration (see photo above), and profitability. They produce grassfed beef, which is better for you and the planet than any other type of beef (if you’re a meat eater). When they purchased the ranch in 2003, it was in poor condition. In just a few years, the Sidwells turned things around dramatically, principally by grazing their livestock according the nature’s method of herbivory: bunch ‘em up and keep them moving. The rangelands quickly came back, demonstrating that nature can recover and thrive if we treat it with respect. The JX Ranch is a great example of the benefits of good stewardship for land, animals, and people alike.

There are many more stories like this one. Over the past year or so, I’ve been trying to find a way to share these stories with a wider audience, especially as I continue my venture into fiction. The format offered by Substack (which I came across by accident) seems to be ideal, so I decided to take the plunge!

The format of this weekly newsletter/mini-journal will be as follows:

  • Theme of Issue / brief intro

  • Story (nonfiction or fiction)

  • Links and resources

  • Update on my activities

I want Terra Firma to be concise, informative, and fun. I’ll try hard to keep each issue to 1000 words (all of us have enough to read every week is it is!) Many of the stories will be nonfiction, but I will also dedicate Issues to my ongoing fiction, including excerpts from the Sun Ranch Saga.

Terra Firma is for subscribers. Please consider singing up! It’s free - for a while. I love to write and I am very happy to share these stories, but I need to earn a living too. At some point I’ll charge a modest monthly fee. But not for a while!

Hopefully, you’ll find the content intriguing and inspiring. If so, please tell your friends!


- Courtney White

For more information see my web site: www.jcourtneywhite.com