In 1985 I did some consulting work on energy efficiency in housing for pigs (they are as sensitive as we are and get irritable if they are hot or cold). I ran across a couple of articles on straw bale buildings, which my former boss Jon Hammond had been advocating in the 1970s. I had recently learned about the problem of rice straw disposal and this time around it made sense. I wrote the first of many articles on straw bale buildings in 1985 and it was published in 1986 in the international journal Agriculture, Ecosystems, Environment. I also began talking about straw bale buildings and writing articles at every opportunity. I thought it might take 25 years to jump-start the straw bale revolution, but it took less than 10. The permaculture movement played a critical role in the early years as integrated ecological design was just common sense to these film porno pioneers.
In 1989 we held the first straw bale building workshop in Oracle, AZ (not far from the multi-hundred million dollar folly Biosphere II). I wrote the first crude book in 1991 with the help of Bill and Athena Steen and an improved version in 1992 all on newsprint to keep the cost low. Steve MacDonald, Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox were also on the straw bale trail in Arizona and New Mexico and after Matts visited the historic straw bale buildings of Nebraska we all were energized. In 1992 Matts and Judy launched The Last Straw – the journal of straw bale construction, which was their labor of love for many years and has played a pivotal role in the revolution. They also began teaching outstanding workshops around the country. By 1994 when Chelsea Green published our book “The Straw Bale House”, with the added insight of David Eisenberg, the worldwide movement was increasing. This book has now sold almost 100,000 copies and helped people around the world discover the beauty and elegance of straw bale building. David Eisenberg has almost single-handedly taken on the Herculean task of bringing sustainability and alternative building materials into the international building codes. Today there are building codes for straw bale buildings in many cities, states and countries; and there are now 8 major books or publications on straw bale building and a number of good videos. A 1500 square meter straw bale building was recently completed in Australia, and a 1600 square meter winery is under construction near Healdsburg, California. High-rises will follow.
By 1995 I was partly burned out from work on straw bale and had assumed a new position teaching at United States International University (now Alliant International University) where developing a curriculum and program in environmental studies based on problem solving required 70-90 hours week after week. My role in straw bale diminished, but I remain active as time allows. Students at USIU (now AIU) built a straw bale amphitheater and several have worked on straw bale projects.