iOS app Android app

Joseph Erbentraut
GET UPDATES FROM Joseph Erbentraut
Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, they explore the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves.

They have been writing ever since their middle-school launch of the Sixth Grade Times, which offered in-depth coverage of school-wide assemblies, birthday parties and breaking playground gossip. Overseeing a staff of five with an angsty teenage fist, they sold issues for a dime apiece and caused quite a stir with one particular series of bag-lunch exposes.

A decade later, Erbentraut earned a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and moved shortly thereafter to Chicago, where they have lived ever since.

Tips? Email

Entries by Joseph Erbentraut

Happy Thanksgiving! Your Turkey Leftovers Are Destroying The Planet.

(0) Comments | Posted November 24, 2015 | 5:35 PM

Thanksgiving is, of course, the annual day of overdoing it. But that excess can be felt in more ways than a slice of pumpkin pie too many. We’re all prone to prepare far too much food than is needed -- and a lot of that food isn’t eaten.

Read Post

The Time For The World’s First Transgender Studies Program Is Now

(0) Comments | Posted November 19, 2015 | 3:25 PM

It would be hard to deny that 2015 has been a historic year for transgender Americans.

The year has seen the first recognition of transgender individuals by a president during a State of the Union address, critical acclaim for the Amazon series...

Read Post

Why We Need To Stop Treating Overeating As A Personal Failure

(0) Comments | Posted November 18, 2015 | 2:55 PM

America has a problem.

As the latest data released last week by the Centers For Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics confirmed, far too many of us are overweight. The number of obese Americans is actually rising at a rate...

Read Post

Seaweed Is A Culinary Win-Win-Win, So Why Aren't We All Eating It?

(0) Comments | Posted November 12, 2015 | 1:56 PM

At the Portland, Maine, location of Flatbread Co., a chain of 12 restaurants located mostly in the Northeast, it’s been on the menu since the organically-focused pizza place opened its doors in 2000.


At the Portland restaurant and all the company’s East Coast locations,...

Read Post

Fixing A Food Desert Isn’t As Easy As Putting A Grocery Store On Wheels

(0) Comments | Posted November 10, 2015 | 4:35 PM

For many Native American communities, access to a full-service grocery store can be extremely limited, causing many residents to make less healthy food choices and contributing to diet-related health issues.

As part of an effort to fix that for a half-dozen low-income communities...

Read Post

There’s A Good Chance We'll All Be Eating Bugs Very Soon

(0) Comments | Posted November 5, 2015 | 6:27 PM

If you ask the average American about eating bugs, their response will likely range from disgust to polite curiosity at best.

But in the eyes of New York-based filmmakers Johanna B. Kelly and Cameron Marshad, that could be about to change.

The two...

Read Post

Why You Should Be Optimistic About The Future Of Environmental Activism

(0) Comments | Posted November 4, 2015 | 4:22 PM

We haven’t always done a great job taking care of our water here in the U.S., and the devastating effects of recent flooding and drought conditions show it’s a problem that’s only getting worse.

But Karen Schneller-McDonald, a New York-based environmental impact...

Read Post

Americans Waste Way Too Much Food At Home. Here's What Can Be Done.

(0) Comments | Posted October 29, 2015 | 2:34 PM

If there’s an issue in the food world that’s hotter right now than whether restaurants should eliminate tips, one just might be the matter of waste.

In recent months, a number of major grocery stores around the world have announced...

Read Post

I'm Tired of Pretending Figure Skating Isn't the Best Sport Ever (But It Needs Help)

(59) Comments | Posted October 27, 2015 | 12:36 PM

I remember my first time watching figure skating with eerie clarity.

February 1994. Like millions upon millions of other people around the world, my 9-year-old eyes were glued to the television to watch the skating competitions during the Olympic Games in Lilllehammer, Norway. I distinctly remember Tonya Harding's skate lace...

Read Post

What The Equality House Can Teach Us About Making Societal Change

(0) Comments | Posted October 26, 2015 | 5:43 PM

Ordinarily, flunking out of college three times is not seen as a stepping stone to success.

But it was for Aaron Jackson, the man behind Planting Peace, a nonprofit organization that attracted international attention two years ago when it established its rainbow-painted headquarters...

Read Post

Farmers Are Embracing Sustainability -- You Just Aren't Hearing About It

(0) Comments | Posted October 20, 2015 | 7:47 PM


,Embed,video,Some({"url":"","type":"video","version":"1.0","title":"How Farming Is Evolving To Focus On Sustainability","thumbnail_url":"","thumbnail_width":432,"thumbnail_height":243,"cache_age":86400}))

When farmers make the news in relation to climate issues like droughts, floods or extreme heat, they are often described in opposition to both environmentalists and, sometimes, scientists alike.

But such a depiction doesn’t tell the full story of the many ways that some farmers and ranchers are adapting to the changing climate, embracing new approaches that reduce greenhouse gases, increase water quality and sustainably contribute to and improve America’s food supply.

In his new book, Two Percent Solutions for the Planet, Courtney White, co-founder and executive director of the Santa Fe-based Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit that works to find common ground between the worlds of conservation and agriculture, features 50 different examples of farmers and ranchers who are having success doing just that.

The percentage in the title, White explains, refers not only to the number of Americans who are farmers, but also to the low cost associated with the promising approaches he is spotlighting. His goal is that the other 98 percent of us will sit up and take note that real progress on seemingly daunting challenges like California’s drought is not only possible, but already taking place.

The Huffington Post recently spoke with White.

HuffPost: What led you to covering this subject matter and why did you choose to focus on examples of solutions? 

White: What I was seeing was a tremendous amount of innovation and entrepreneurial stuff on the ground that solved food issues and water issues, sustainable practices that we now call regenerative agriculture, but I was not seeing those stories in the media. I decided to take a run at it myself. The goal of this project was to try and chronicle or profile 50 different regenerative, sustainable, exciting practices I saw on the ground, not theoretical things, and try and make them interesting to get the word out to folks who don’t normally follow these issues very closely. The folks I profiled in this book have been at this for decades now working on these things. 

ImageContent(5627e8cee4b02f6a900f65ef,5627cdbb1400002200c7a7be,Image,HectorAssetUrl(5627cdbb1400002200c7a7be.jpeg,Some(crop_0_63_1708_1280),Some(jpeg)),Credit: Elaine Patarani via Chelsea Green Publishing,Courtney White explores low-cost, low-tech innovations in the agricultural world in his new book.)

It seems, particularly with an issue like the California drought, that farmers are often painted as the villains when it comes to issues of food and water security and our climate. Do you think some of that criticism is warranted?

Change happens first on the edges: Folks who are frustrated with the system or who have an idea that doesn’t fit with the current paradigm, unorthodox approaches, that’s where change starts. There’s always resistance. People don’t want to change and then we have an economy that’s built at big scale, so things that are innovative that can solve problems sometimes have trouble working their way in.

Over 20 years of doing this, what we call progressive or sustainable ranching has made a lot of progress, particularly along the lines of collaboration with environmentalists. It’s encouraging. Is it happening at scale fast enough? That’s not clear yet. But I wanted folks to know there are these alternative models out there. Some of them are brand new, some of them have been around for quite a while.

The challenge now, of course, is how do we take this innovation and put it to work. I tell folks we don’t need more solutions. We have a lot of them already and some of them have worked well. What we need to figure out is how to implement them at a scale that matters. 

Do you come up against a lot of opposition from the sort of “old guard” with your approach to these issues? Do you think that is changing?

That’s a persistent challenge that we face. When I started the Quivira Coalition 20 years ago, everybody said to us that ranchers and environmentalists will never get along, which wasn’t true, and that this style of ranching will never work, which isn’t true. Today I hear people say the single best thing we can do for the planet is to stop eating red meat and that’s not true. There’s a lot of resistance to change on a lot of levels, but at the same time the challenges we face continue to rise. I see a race between the problems that are growing and our refusal to change to meet those challenges.

We can’t fight Big Ag. They have too much money. But we can make our case to consumers directly and I hope they will vote with their pocketbooks, with what they eat and who they support. But the other problem is changing peoples’ minds. There’s still lots of resistance too among the environmental community to progressive agriculture. As the challenges continue to mount, particularly on the climate front, I think people will see these as effective, profitable and appropriate practices. I think it’s just a matter of time. I’m hopeful about the urgency of it all. I’ve seen in 20 years the governmental agencies change their policies, ranchers change their practices, conservationists change their attitudes.

ImageContent(5627e8cee4b02f6a900f65f0,5627ce791400002200c7a7c8,Image,HectorAssetUrl(5627ce791400002200c7a7c8.png,Some(),Some(png)),Credit: Chelsea Green Publishing,Farm Hack cofounder and New Hampshire farmer Dorn Cox speaks at a meetup of the nonprofit.)

Do you have a particular story or two that you think best highlight the progress that is being made?

I think the interface between high-tech and low-tech in the chapter about agrivoltism, where solar panels are built above a farm field, is a great example of how we can bring scientific knowledge around tech to food production. The chapter on Farm Hack, where people are working together over the Internet to share data and using open source software to communicate. That kind of stuff is a really exciting way of bringing this all together. The way this generation is looking at these problems and trying to bring the knowledge and way of looking at the world through technology to the age-old problem of farming, the way technology meets the soil, I think really shows us the way into the future. 

Personally I like the story of Sam Montoya in ranching. The question you hear all the time is how are we going to feed all these people? There are a lot more people coming -- 9.6 billion by 2050 -- and what you hear from Big Ag is that you can’t do it with organic farming and you have to go to more GMOs and all that. But Sam shows us how to double our sustainably intensified food production on his ranch with just cows, grass and water. He ran 220 head of cattle on 93 acres of land in New Mexico. That’s a lot of food coming from a little bit of land. There are answers to these problems if we’re willing to think differently and consider some new and some old practices.

ImageContent(5627e8cee4b02f6a900f65f2,5628000d1400002a00c7a86b,Image,HectorAssetUrl(5628000d1400002a00c7a86b.jpeg,Some(crop_0_0_3312_2296),Some(jpeg)),Credit: Chelsea Green Publishing,Solar panels are built above a farm field in this example of agrivoltism, a practice innovated by French scientist Christian Dupraz. This is his research site in Montpellier, France.)

So how do you think we get from here to there -- to scaling up and making these sorts of practices that are working more widespread? 

Different folks think different things. I’m not a policy person, I’m an on-the-ground person, but I know there are lots of governmental policies that stand in the way of particularly small-scale agriculture. All of them are geared toward the very large scale and I know many people are frustrated by the red tape, but I don’t quite know what to suggest there. At some point, Congress is going to have to step in and encourage or incentivize these practices to some degree, but that’s a tall order.

A little more abstractly, I think the thing that links these all together for me is carbon. If we could have a carbon marketplace that would pay folks to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in soils and then these practices would become part of a carbon economy, I think these practices would take off. And at some point the regenerative part of this has to be valued by consumers, people who want to pay for it. People who eat food and use electricity. All these folks work at small scales, but to go up, the economy has to decide that this is valuable, so let’s figure out how to pay them to do this.

What is the single biggest takeaway you hope the average person will take away from reading this book?

To understand these alternatives even exist. I really want to provoke and stimulate a reader so that if they went through the book and found one story that resonated with them. That’s why it’s about farming and ranching and tech and ecology, to appeal to different people and what they’re interested in and how they can find out more about it. To ask questions where they are and where they live. What can I do if I’m concerned about these problems, what can I do to participate and, particularly for folks who live in cities, where do I get my food? Do I get it from a system that is contributing to the problem or from farmers and ranchers who hold the solutions to these problems in their hands?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.







Also on HuffPost:


Read Post

Here's What Really Happens When A Restaurant Bans Tipping

(26) Comments | Posted October 20, 2015 | 2:20 PM

When Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer announced last week that he will be eliminating tipping in favor of paying servers a living wage at 13 of his full-service New York City restaurants later this year, the news sent a ripple through the hospitality industry.

Read Post

Police Department Bias Trainings Are More In Demand Than Ever

(0) Comments | Posted October 14, 2015 | 6:43 PM

Lorie Fridell is an incredibly busy woman.

An associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, Fridell is the mastermind of an in-demand training program for police departments looking to address their officers’ implicit biases and unconscious sources of prejudiced behavior.

In recent...

Read Post

Recovery Schools Save Teen Addicts, So Why Aren't They Everywhere?

(0) Comments | Posted October 14, 2015 | 4:50 PM

Teacher Traci Bowermaster arrived at the White Bear Lake Area Learning Center, an alternative high school in...

Read Post

A Boat Of 243 Refugees Vanished Last Year -- And You Can Help Find Them

(0) Comments | Posted October 12, 2015 | 4:27 PM

Medium/AJ+: Ghost Boat

One year ago, 243 refugees, most of them fleeing Eritrea, were due to set sail across the Mediterranean Sea on a boat from Libya for Europe. That boat never arrived, and no one knows what happened to the men, women and children aboard.

The mystery of what happened to the refugee boat and its passengers is the subject of a new series launched at Medium, an online publishing platform, titled “Ghost Boat.”

Bobbie Johnson, a senior editor at Medium, explained in a post introducing the two-month-long series that the hope is to involve readers in the investigation by releasing the data they uncover as the series unfolds.

In order to insure that tips received along the way are legitimate, the project has partnering with First Draft, a group that sets best practices for verifying user-generated information. The project has also partnered with Al Jazeera’s AJ+ platform, which will publish videos promoting the series.

The series will be unspooled in weekly serialized "episodes." In the first episode, the project’s lead reporter, Eric Reidy, tells the story of 24-year-old Segen, one of the boat’s passengers, and her husband, Yafet. Yafet last heard from his wife in late June 2014, the day before she was set to leave for Europe with their youngest daughter, Abigail, at her side. A smuggler who has since been imprisoned told Yafet in early July that his wife and daughter had safely arrived.

Yafet believed the smuggler at the time. More than a year later, with no word from them and no evidence of what happened to them, he thinks he shouldn’t have.

As Reidy explained to NPR in an interview for “Weekend Edition,” the team has two main theories at this time -- that the boat sank and somehow left behind no forensic evidence, or that the passengers are alive but imprisoned in Tunisia, based on phone calls a family member of a passenger had with someone who claimed to be a Tunisian prison guard.

The series reminds readers of the great peril the migrants face as they uproot their lives and head west. In this case, that peril has manifested in a mystery that has otherwise been largely overlooked by international media.

“The idea that a boat could go missing or sink in 2014 and not be on the radar of any authorities, with no bodies recovered, is pretty strange,” Reidy told the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Laura Hazard Owen in an interview last week.


StreetsBlog: Salt Lake City Cuts Car Parking, Adds Bike Lanes, Sees Retail Boost

Scientific American: Solar Power Lights The Way To A Cleaner Economy In Chile

The What’s Working Honor Roll highlights some of the best reporting and analysis, from a range of media outlets, on all the ways people are working toward solutions to some of our greatest challenges. If you know a story you think should be on our Honor Roll, please send an email to editor Joseph Erbentraut at with the subject line "WHAT'S WORKING." 


For more solutions-focused coverage, follow What's Working on Facebook and Twitter

Read Post

Finnische Kinder müssen erst spät lesen lernen. Es funktioniert toll

(0) Comments | Posted October 11, 2015 | 2:31 PM

In den USA sollen Kindergartenkinder schon lesen lernen, verbringen mehr und mehr Zeit mit akademischen Tätigkeiten als mit spielen. Anders in Finnland, wo die Kinder am Anfang ihrer Bildungskarriere sich aufs Spielen konzentrieren und später trotzdem hervorragende Ergebnisse im Lesen erzielen.

Der Lehrer und Autor Tim Walker...

Read Post

What Europe Can Learn From Turkey's Treatment Of Syrian Refugees

(0) Comments | Posted October 9, 2015 | 6:12 PM

The Conversation: As Syrian Refugee Crisis Spreads To Europe, Lessons From Turkey

As refugees fleeing the ongoing...

Read Post

One-Third Of This Company's Workers Have Criminal Backgrounds

(0) Comments | Posted October 9, 2015 | 1:49 PM

When an offender is released from prison, many factors play into their risk of returning, perhaps none greater than their ability to find a job. And yet, research shows that the majority of employers largely remain reluctant to hire ex-convicts.

Joblessness dramatically ups former...

Read Post

프랑스에서 런칭한 휠체어 탄 장애인을 위한 '우버' 시스템

(1) Comments | Posted October 9, 2015 | 12:34 AM

휠체어를 탄 장애인들의 일상은 도전해야 하는 일로 가득하다. 특히 어려운 것 중 하나가 바로 휠체어와 함께 탈 수 있는 승용차나 택시, 또는 그 밖의 대중교통수단을 찾는 일이다.

이들을 위해 파리에서 설립된 스타트업 하나가 획기적인 아이디어를 제시했다. 지난해 런칭한 이들의 사업의 명칭은 ‘휠리즈’(Wheeliz)다. 장애인을 위한 ‘우버’같은 서비스로 휠체어가...

Read Post

How Some Schools Manage To Get Healthy, Local Food On The Menu

(0) Comments | Posted October 8, 2015 | 4:33 PM

Modern Farmer: The War On School Lunch

Modern Farmer: The War On School Lunch


Read Post