In 1990, a Seattle food-assistance charity gathered restaurant and winery operators to host a fundraising event in a downtown hotel ballroom. I attended this event with the chef of the landmark restaurant I was running at the time, and we served up our finest to a well-heeled crowd of philanthropic Seattleites. Loading out our wares at the close of the evening, I observed a man exploring the dumpsters in the hotel’s back alley. “Wait right there,” I said. The man smiled broadly when I returned with a platter piled high with gourmet leftovers from the ballroom’s buffet. For this man, it was a lucky night. For me, it was an epiphany.
The personal journey that became this book dates back to that evening,
when I resolved to discover a larger purpose for my life. I began shifting out of
restaurant management in 1991 and earned a master’s degree in social work
administration in 1996. The MSW coursework and internships showed me
that the roots of our social problems were much deeper than I had previously
The following summer, I attended a demonstration project in sustainable
living, founded by sustainability author and activist Jim Merkel. There I
learned that our social issues, however worrisome, were being overshadowed
by an ecological unraveling of potentially devastating magnitude. I became
convinced that our expanding social and ecological troubles would continue to
overwhelm our remedial efforts.
In business management, I had learned the importance of discovering and resolving the root causes of operational failings. My passion now became the discovery and resolution of the root causes of the social and ecological problems of our time. In 1999, I sold my Seattle home, acquired a parcel of forested land in northeastern Washington, and began building the straw bale home where this book was written.