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 Technology + Poverty Reduction making Collaborative Solutions | Lonny Grafman | To Catch the Rain | Humboldt State University, CA

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To Catch The Rain

Tell us a little about yourself.

So, I’m an instructor at Humble State University in far northern California. to make real projects all around the world

in summers we’re teaching in other countries

  • India
  • Dominican Republic
  • Mexico
  • El Salvador

always with the same kind of intent which is to work together to find out what people need

not coming in with solutions, locally or internationally.

we don’t come in thinking know we know the answer we just come in with the excitement of working together.

We work with a lots of grade schools k-12

  • agriculture
  • garden infrastructure

Zane middle school

  • rain water catchment
  • edible landscaping
  • solar power robot stations
  • human powered sundials
  • permeable pavement

all type of projects to raise the educational experience with the engagement as well as an environment that’s really nurturing

You know if students are catching their own rain and using that to grow their own food on campus they’re education is heightened.

I’m so excited this year to be somewhere were recycling is valued, recess is 4 times a day! There’s an outdoor classroom! My kids are big into legos so solar powered robots sounds great! 

educational experiences

oh yeah so we pretty much just adapted that project

stay outside and be inspired by the sun!

You’re organization sounds like my ideal of the Peace Corps. My question with the Peaces Corps is why do they not send 6 people to one place instead of 1 person to 6 places?

I do international work because I love learning. I have a bigger impact in my own local community because I know where to find stuff and who’s gonna donate

pushing my mind in that way

so it becomes really apparent when I;m doing that I’m gonna the more I just shut up and listen

better the projects are gonna go

My first international project almost 20 years ago didn’t go as well is because I built it in the U.S. before it shipped, I had no idea what people needed and so ultimately I think I just wasted their money

open community meetings

people talk about what they need

so same thing when we work with the school. Meet with teachers and staff and say we did this in the past, and then we talk about what are people’s needs right now

brainstorming needs

which ones people want to prioritize and which ones people are willing to work on. 

they might say we really need a new pathway but no one is willing to work on it so the pathway dies

right now are working with

6 rivers

Arcadia high school

large agriculture learning area last year we put in a 60 foot chain link

jail cell for rocks that you will sometimes see on the freeway. 

We put 60 feet of that, taking what was once a farro area that a high school he called it 

zone of no hands land

zone of total segregation

To describe the wasteland now it’s a great agriculture area  land that used to be there

turning it into this large ag area


next year

planting harvesting

for me its very exiting

have my university students working with students to improve their own education


I love that. A lot of kids don’t really understand what it’s like to go to college. I feel like, after going through a college campus to get home through middle school was a big influence.

so important right now, a lot of conversations about.  

Knowing that college isn’t scary.

And thinking that you could do more. Like if I had known that being an environmental lawyer was a thing I probably would have done that.

a local engineer getting advice

real person who is doing real engineering

high school students

see what an

look a lot like them they are only a few years older

before and after engagements what students think about university

real data

It seems like students are more likely to go to university after they have worked with students. 

They do have those upward bound programs for kids who have one or less parents that went to college.

Then they get to do that through:

  • agriculture
  • gardening
  • touching the soil

learning these things

Up in California a lot of our students get to touch nature

Students in NY. who have not had experience. I went to college in NY.

This project is called the swale. It’s an art engagement

still ones that done

5000 square feet of food forest floating east of the hudson

community for a month

  • pick food for free
  • classes on food justice
  • dying with plants
  • food selection
  • cooking classes

free for all community

20k people from 2017-18 onboard

many were students 3 days a week there are groups of classroom coming to visit with their teachers.

How does that work?

It just stays put, we don’t have people on it when it’s moved. We took an old sand barge

100s of tons

  • soil
  • rocks
  • plants
  • solar plants
  • rain water treatment
  • river water treatment

docs for a month or half

stays put except it’s floating kind of back and forth

gives you the most surreal experience you walk on it and it tills there’s an orchard of 8 local indigenous trees. All the plants are 

  • edible
  • medicinal

surrounding by nature

in the city at least my brain does this thing where it makes it look like the city is moving

experience of this background city bobbing up and down which I really enjoy.

its so big the movement is actually kind of sutle unless a storm is coming in. 

When it’s being moved by tug boats in more open water

then you could get seas


this idea

you have to know the background

the visionary is Mary Matelingly

teaches at pratt

quite a few projects

this idea came was born out of the fact in NY it is illegal to grow public food

you can’t do it. You can have private food

can’t grow public food for public use on public land. 

Is that because they are worried people would get sick?

I found out was a law in Pheonix, AZ is they worry if someone is going to get hurt harvesting fruit on a ladder or something. 


what phoenix AZ did they planted ornamental orange trees which is about the most insulting, since we 

we are not going to grow

in NY I am not positive that’s what it is


are an issue with pests if you had food that people weren’t picking it would be rotting, I assert if you work with local communities you can make a situation where food is not going to get wasted.

maritime law is different is on the water

well over a 100 people who would be considered a major contributor

plus volunteers

20 youth between the ages of 16-24

youth ministries of peace and justice

concrete park


helped build

led tours

bronx is really interested

Hunts Point, the majority of food  goes through there, all of the packaging is done  but you can’t find organic food

you don’t get to keep that

More waste transfer stations then transfered to disposal, more waste transfer stations then grocery stores?

Why is that?


I’m getting out of my area of expertise. I’m really good at building the solutions

I’m not an expert on what all the social and engineered reasons are that these communities of poverty end up in urban food deserts

increasingly talked about term.

These urban areas where people can’t find food


ron finley the gangsta gardener

check out his work

  • political
  • historical


nefarious reasons

urban poor communities

you mentioned appropedia

I’m the president

new executive director

in el salvador

got to visit with him


website for communities and individuals

everyday and

visiting to the site

60,000 pages

10s of thousands of incredible solutions

ones I am focusing

rain water ones

solar ones

next book will be coming out

to catch the sun

small scale solar

rain water catchment

all around the world

right a book so more projects could happen by more people

judge the success of the book

terry gross

she interviewed me


feel like it was a failure

purely creative endeavors



downloads avail completely for free

stories I got from communities people building with it


many countries

open for schools


totally in love with right now

50 miles south of here

teacher ended up coming to one of my presentations

came to the conference for teachers

she came

I presented

I broke the teachers into teams with flip chart markers

I’m gonna design my school, she showed it off

then she did it

put in a giant rainwater system

this school is 97% assisted lunch program

in need of food

water that they are catching

watering about an acre of pumpkins

students sell

learn about business to support their school

use d for another acre for agriculture and gardens using in school lunches

catching their own rainwater

grow their own food

lunch programm

teacher this was not her passion

hell bent on this this is my incredible passion

her passion is teaching and providing the students

another project is in a similar vain in Haiti

future maker

first met him in Haiti

walk to a dirty river to get water to grow their garden

sell to raise money to continue getting an education

based upon the book

catching some rainwater

$600 more us dollars

all of their water from rainwater catchment

rainwater catchment

students have clean water

not have to travel

there’s a lot of reasons to have the hope

childhood mortality

we have completely changed the related around that

before the age of 5

very little all around the world

heading in that direction

women going to school

dropped precipitancy


lack of

ways to attack

focus on small projects and communities

it will only work

people doing it

nothing incredible special

only a few people can do this


I love visiting systems I had nothing to do with

systems I made like 8 years ago


most people have enough roof

storage is often a much bigger issue

how are ewe going to catch enough

issue I commonly see

forgetting to put in a first flush

first few minutes of rainfall

90% of dirtiness

collecting stuff on your roof especially if it’s been dry for a while

commercial versions avail

first 10 minutes diverted on landscaping

local farm

dirtyish water to clean tools and workbooks

people don’t notice

you won’t notice

tank is getting so much

hopefully longest lasting version

take a pipe

I put a floating ball in it

plug that pipe once it’s full

water will then go to the tank

water would go down into the pipe

once the

so that it slowly evacuates verifier the next rain

I don’t have to be responsible for opening it between rains

that down pipe will fill up with dirty water

before the next rain

little bit different

pipe valve that changes

first flush

how much you don’t worry about

if you are using it for drinking a lot more careful

I have tried to maintain gardens in the past

herbs that are part of my own garden

when I am in town for enough time



I’ll go to a farm

go pick my veggies

I show up

they wrote on the blackboard

how much I can pick that week

pick the rest

get to touch the soil


don’t have to do as

flow is really nice

the one that I have been part of in the past

most recently

one day a week you can show up

sign up

take this

this is what you can have

pound of these

15 Brussels sprouts

5 pieces of chard

whatever it is

gardener are incredible

I’ve heard you

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

such a powerful question

on swale I’ve gotten to witness a lot of students picking food they are going to eat





immeshed in NYC

connection to nature

NY is one of the cities doing nature connection pretty well

for me

making me become a designer


was a garden

Idk how old I was somewhere between 6-9 and in my opinion way too old

much younger

with my mom, visiting a friend in phoenix AZ

bowl of strawberries

so good



I had one

she saw me staring and said d have another

one of those kids

ate a lot of strawberries

later that day

we go in her back yard

and she’s like those are the strawberries you were eating

the flavor made my tongue explode

should have been part of my knowledge as a human

consumer products


created by nature an the woman who was serving me the strawberries

right there in her hard

2nd or 3rd time

we can really

check out appropedia

rain water


solar animals

solar dehydration

wonder if I can build this


ugly site

someday we’ll make it pretty

they’ve been really supportive and helpful

nitty gritty info

type of stuff you wont find anywhere else

first written about 10 years ago

5 years later

10 years later

I think

I’m guessing that your listeners

pretty photos of seemingly good ideas

in actuality the ideas just don’t work

on pinterest

when I’m looking for a new garden idea

sometimes the tweaks are small

gray water

in retrospect

saw this cloth filter

we had to use this metal screen

as a reader

bypass this problem 

also could be research for people who want to change local laws

that’s the idea

making all of us our own

individuals we don’t have the


research and development

be each others development

like you said

this is what is happening in this community

they made it work

in part for that

we were able to change the law in Eureka CA on where your water can be so you can use the natural flows of nature even if it violates the set back law

book is broke into 3 sections

stories of how communities come together


these are all the parts


community you are in

5 different ways

storage tanks



math and science

you can skip that

real go in and challenge yourself

math and science



raw water

fog capture

natural landscaping

learning how to use gravity



flow rates in a more mathematical

the book

we included so it could be included in the curriculum

most of our readers are never going to lock at

students who are using it

many educators have found

understand why

not just the what


why am I learning this

no student is hurt by understanding the why they are learning this

student learns about geometry

some students if they don’t have a why

they just can’t engage

understanding how to calculate area

and multiply that by

water you are storing

moment your needs

self sufficient by geometry

that’s how the math and science

math were doing

leads you through the math


put a ball in a basket

ok there’s a ball in there

there’s a trap door

they’ve seen magic

their mind is blown

doing math

didn’t work out

one ball

really type of math

we’re talking about

different units

comes more complex

maybe spreadsheet

of course is available for free

when I wrote this book

100 beta readers

people who told me still missing

weren’t getting

incredible diagrams


3d designer



he drew

might just have to look at the picture

the most

straight down

rainfall is coming straight down on average

then it doesn’t matte rid your roof is pitched

your only catching the projection of that rain

square footage of the bottom

solar noon

sun is directly


what you can find locally

standard pipe


really easy to put together

I can always find replacement parts

little bit of knowledge to work with it

water will find it’s way

if you tinker that you can contain

u will see this where people have joined pvc incorrectly

sealer outside the joint

when you work with pvc

sand the end

clean and sand the end

quick sand

pvc cement on there

when you combine the pieces vive them a twist

not a glue in a typical way

chemical reacting with that glue

fusing the tow together

doing the prep and doing it right

comeback later at put a seal around the points

another spot

water will try to squeeze out

any holes that you put in

tap for instance to your container

bulkhead fitting

threaded pipe that has washers on both sides

squeeze them together

forming a seal where you have installed your tape

couple of things for working with pvc



locally available

people know how to work with

person installing it feels comfortable

appropedia has even more of it

youtube videos

people working with all the different materials

what fits your


combining rain water and solar

last semester

drip irrigation for a food forest

where there roof is is at the same level or below where their drip irrigation

you can’t rely on gravity

when its not raining


catches rain water off the roof

pumps via solar power

pumps up to a larger tank

about 275 gallons

sure that your listeners have seen them

plastic square

meter by meter

food grade one of them

oversized solar panel

any sun

pumpkin up to that other tank

small timer

drip irrigation system


has the water

pressure to provide for the drip irrigation system

year round

more people gardening

I love that there are some people that love it more then me and will produce a whole bunch of it

more gardens I can help build rainwater and solar

their herbs and write with me

resources on appropedia

book avaialable for free

proceeds go directly to appropedia a as non profit

more into the infrastructure of hearing

purchasing the book helps to spread the word to more


some of our readers have made small catchment pollinator gardens

trickling through year round

stop and hydrate

not something I thought about

people would make these just for pollinators

excited about with the next bok

solar arrays

making them pollinator friendly

collect water off our solar panels

those don’t collect water through the roof

I like that you can some of that our way

it’s very cold and wet


in this time of global time of climate change


storage is a way we can build some resilience into this weather pattern

restore your water table

slowing down the amount of water that’s coming once


roofs and sidewalks

catching it

really fun to get to you


age wise I would be a gem her

action wise they just don’t know

given my sense of humor

every once

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

personal empowerment

better place for humans in the future

more people making change right now

don’t have enough power to make change

that isn’t true

just get started

join up with other local people in your community

all of us together

in different ways

political level


making stuff

not feeling like ow can do

How do we connect with you?

probably the majority in the US

individuals and communities


reach out

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