Brad Lancaster

Back in 7th grade I remember sitting in Simms Auditorium, listening to a speaker who talked about rainwater harvesting.  At the time I did not realize the significance of this presentation as in science we were learning about nothing more than outer space and geology.  I now realize that this man was one Brad Lancaster.  Our class has followed this man since the start of the year, as his relevance to our specific situation only grows the more we learn about.  Mainly, Lancaster likes to focus on water harvesting, and has made a career and has traveled the world learning about different ways that societies (or individuals) are able to modify the landscape and capture and utilize the rainwater they are given.


Brad Lancaster

I remember vividly in his speech him talking about a man from Zimbabwe, named Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko.  This man has been able to take an area that averages about 22 inches of rain per year, and make it lush through creating water channeling and catching devices.  Mr. Phiri worked to dig reservoirs and through observation and a little bit of labor working to tend to his 7.4 acre property, he is able to create a farm in which not only can he grow many varieties of plants and trees, but he is now using less water from the well (groundwater) than he is returning to the soil.  Because of this, his wells began to run higher with water, and his neighbors had the same effect, though it was slightly slower going.  In the end, “Erosion was in check, soil was accumulating, fertility was increasing, and the family’s farm could now support the family for the long term.  Scarcity had been turned into abundance.”  The final product was a farm that this man was able to harvest enough food to feed his family, give trees and food away to neighbors, and in the process inadvertently raised his own water levels in his well and did the same for his neighbors.  Clearly, there is a huge lesson to be learned from Mr Phiri. 

This lesson is one that Lancaster took to heart, and when he returned to his home in Tucson, Arizona he saw all of the issues they faced.  Their water was being used up, polluted and not utilized properly.  Lancaster then started to change this for himself and his clients, along with within his neighborhood.  The results were shocking.  His small 1/8 acre land was able to harvest enough water to provide for their family, and 95% of his garden was watered by rainwater and grey water.  The lessons he learned saved his family money on water bills, and served as a model for what other parts of his community.

Mr. Phiri

Mr. Phiri carrying firewood

For me, the biggest thing I remember from Lancaster’s presentation was about how someone can apply this to themselves.  This part of it is what reached out to me, because th
at night I remember going home and spending a good portion of my time sitting in my room thinking of how I could do this for our household.  The answer for me was to utilize one of the gutters in front of the house, and take the runoff from there and have it run directly from tree to tree.  This project was never started for me.  From his presentation though, observation came first, then was essentially afterwards about building on what you’ve learned from your property.  What is interesting is that step 6 is the soil sponges that Anika and I worked to create.  Lancaster didn’t go in to depth on this, but I find it interesting that the sponge was mentioned at all, as I had never even heard about it until Christian had begun to help us and talk about sponges.  

Lancaster’s work (down below) provides a more detailed analysis of the steps to applying what he has learned.  Overall, the secret to creating a more sustainable society, is to implement step 3 of Lancaster’s work: which is start small and simple.  



4 thoughts on “Brad Lancaster

  1. Your language and format are wonderful for a blog, this post feels very well thought out and professional. I like how the story flows into your personal experience, but how does it effect your work in the desert oasis garden? I know we have been very inspired by Brad, and I feel you imply the similarities (such as harvesting water and using soil sponges), but I’d like to see you talk a bit more specifically and directly so an outside reader who is unfamiliar with our garden will understand. Did you approach creating your soil sponges using his method of “observation came first”? Exciting post, it definitely makes me want to read more about your project!

    • Originally, I had hoped to write a post on how Brad has inspired our work within the DOTG. Through writing this post, I focused a bit more on specifics, and ignored much of the inspiration, and in the end came up with a more nonfictional post. I agree with your opinion on the similarities between what we did and Lancaster’s work. However, creating the sponges did not come with observation first. That specific part of the work was aimed more at the presentation that I remember and the document which didn’t seem to upload.

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