Thom Speidel

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 realized.

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.