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Effective Solutions for Our Challenging Times

Our Project: The establishment of a regional-scale aquaponic greenhouse complex, based upon the proven success of our initial residential-sized prototype system. This facility will provide high-quality, year-round organically-grown produce and protein at an affordable cost to the residents of our under-served region of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, as well as serving in an educational capacity and housing our ongoing research and development efforts. Our environmentally-sound system design requires very little consumption of precious natural resources.

Collapsing wild fisheries, widespread pollution, rising food costs, expanding poverty and hunger, water shortages, and a global climate in turmoil. You've read the news headlines, and have likely felt unsure about how to create real change. Our planet, many of our communities, and large swaths of our environment are near the breaking point. You understand that it's now or never; if humanity doesn't figure out how to solve these looming problems, the future could be extremely bleak for us all.

Recent analysis by the United Nations indicates that the world must increase its food production by 70% to 100% by the year 2050 or face a potentially catastrophic global food crisis. There has never been a point in modern history when there was a more urgent need for substantial agricultural innovation.

Fortunately there's good news: Technology exists which could potentially solve these problems. It simply needs to be embraced and implemented on a broad enough scale.

“Faced with one of the world’s greatest challenges – how to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a context of climate change, economic and financial uncertainty, and growing competition for natural resources – the international community made unprecedented commitments in September 2015 when UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development... Aquaponics has the potential for higher yields of produce and protein with less labour, less land, fewer chemicals and a fraction of the water usage. Being a strictly controlled system, it combines a high level of biosecurity with a low risk of disease and external contamination, without the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Moreover, it is a potentially useful tool for overcoming some of the challenges of traditional agriculture in the face of freshwater shortages, climate change and soil degradation. Aquaponics works well in places where the soil is poor and water is scarce, for example, in urban areas, arid climates and low-lying islands. In the future, the agriculture sector will need to produce more with less. Following the principles of efficient resource use, synergistic benefits can be realized by integrating food production systems and reducing inputs, pollution and waste, while increasing efficiency, earnings and sustainability. Thus, aquaponics has the potential to support economic development and enhance food security and nutrition through efficient resource use, and become an additional means of addressing the global challenge of food supply.”

-United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016

The AquaSustain team has spent the last decade on a dedicated quest to design a truly sustainable, energy efficient food production system, an innovative system which could help provide a better outcome for our Earth, our environment, and our fellow human beings.

Using renewable energy and a closed-loop, environmentally sound design, the AquaSustain aquaponics system creates fresh, organically-grown produce and protein, year-round, in any climate, on any scale. Just as importantly, our system produces this top-quality food at almost no cost, using virtually zero fossil fuel inputs, no chemical additives, and recycles nearly all of its own fresh water supply.

Imagine harvesting fresh, homegrown tomatoes while there's a blizzard raging outside, or harvesting safe and chemical-free fish for the grill, on demand. An AquaSustain aquaponics system makes these things a reality, whether you dwell in the desert, the arctic, or somewhere in between.

Now AquaSustain needs your help to expand operations, so that greater progress can be made in the fight against hunger, ecological degradation, and the worldwide depletion of natural resources.

Inspired By Nature

Have you ever taken a walk in the woods and noted, with wonder, how effortlessly the forest ecosystem thrives? After all, a healthy, established forest doesn't require constant maintenance in the form of tilling, planting, or weeding. It doesn't need any chemical spraying, complex irrigation systems, or aggressive pest management, unlike many of our industrial food crops. A healthy forest just grows. It maintains a beautiful stability and constantly renews itself, as long as the ecosystem remains healthy and in balance.

Much like a healthy forest, the secret to the success of AquaSustain's aquaponics system is in its perfect balance, symbiosis, and nature-inspired design. Our careful study of the inner workings of the Earth's most functional, stable ecosystems enabled us to design each aspect of the prototype system so that it exists in symbiosis with every other part, creating a food growing powerhouse which requires very little input or maintenance to thrive.

An Introduction to Aquaponics

Simply stated, aquaponics is a balanced combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, hence the name aqua+ponics. The cultivation of vegetables in soil-less media is termed “hydroponics” while the raising of edible aquatic animals in tanks or ponds is referred to as “aquaculture”. While both are individually excellent systems, each has its drawbacks. Since hydroponics uses no soil, all necessary nutrients must be supplied to the plants, generally in the form of a synthetic chemical formula. In aquaculture, the excess accumulation of fish waste must be prevented in order to avoid toxic and potentially fatal conditions for the fish. This is usually achieved by employing expensive, high-maintenance filtration equipment. But when both systems are combined, a symbiotic relationship called “aquaponics” is created, wherein each component system's challenge becomes a benefit to the other. Fish tank water, with its waste, is pumped into media-filled planting beds. This waste is broken down by beneficial microorganisms and transformed into highly nutritious plant fertilizer. In the process of utilizing this fertilizer, the plants and media beds cleanse and oxygenate the water, which returns to the fish tanks via gravity, and the cycle endlessly repeats.

Benefits of Aquaponics

Aside from eliminating problems and challenges associated with both hydroponics and aquaculture, there are a host of other benefits – environmentally, economically, and sociologically.


Aquaponics is, by far, the most effective water-conserving food production system in existence. Thus the name we've chosen for our project : AquaSustain. Since the same volume of water is continually recycled within the system, with only a very small loss due to evaporation, aquaponics uses 1/10 as much water as conventional soil-based agriculture, making this technology a potentially important part of the solution to water shortages around the world. In a similar vein, since no water ever leaves the system, there is no possibility of contaminating waterways or groundwater, which is so often a serious problem with conventional farming.

Situated as we are, on the Colorado / New Mexico border, a region plagued by chronic drought conditions (as many other regions around the world also are), the vital water-conserving value of aquaponics has been a major motivating factor in our embrace of this technology. As long-time, passionate outdoor organic gardeners forced to cope with frequent local drought conditions and water restrictions, we've directly and personally experienced the need to explore and develop a different food production strategy.


A large proportion of the American food supply is transported over great distances, which represents massive energy consumption. According to some expert estimates, the average transportation distance is 1500 miles. The unsustainability of this is patently obvious. Likewise, conventional agriculture itself is an energy consumer on an epic scale. Taken together, these facts result in a food supply with an enormous “energy footprint”. There is a huge amount of energy embodied in the average dinner. As will be explained later, our approach to aquaponics design requires virtually no fossil fuel-derived energy.


In many areas around the world, and particularly in the United States, a soil crisis is well underway. Under ideal conditions, soil is, in a very real sense, a living entity, teeming with all of the diverse forms of life needed for the natural production of healthy food. Currently, however, over-application of toxic herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides, as well as pervasive and repetitive monoculture, is rapidly rendering the soil lifeless. As aquaponics uses no soil, it therefore never abuses this precious resource. With this technology, the potential exists to allow the Earth, to some extent at least, to heal itself.

Local Food

As previously mentioned, most food consumed in the U.S. has traveled extensively to arrive on one's plate. With local aquaponics facilities, the availability of fresh, year-round, affordable, organically grown produce can become a reality. Areas, urban and otherwise, that are currently deemed “food deserts” could be transformed into bountiful sources of produce and protein of the highest quality. Further, because of the fact that so little overhead costs are involved in its production, this food could be offered to consumers at a very affordable cost.


Aquaponics systems housed in passively solar-heated greenhouse environments can be deployed practically anywhere in the world, in almost any climate. Issues such as climate variability, temperature fluctuation, water scarcity, and infrastructure availability matter far less in aquaponics as compared to other food production systems. In fact, sharply reduced overall resource requirements mean that an aquaponics installation can flourish where other farming methods would be nearly impossible to implement. This really explains our motivation and passion. As global and national instability in its various forms (economic, political, environmental, nutritional, etc.) continues to manifest itself, we have embraced the challenge of developing practical solutions.

Based upon our initial experimentation and experiences, we believe aquaponics to be a powerful tool in resolving many of the most pressing problems facing us all. Whether it be concerns over climate change, resource depletion and scarcity, or widespread hunger and poverty, aquaponics technology promises to offer an effective solution.


In our initial trials, we have found aquaponic vegetable production to exceed our expectations. The production of various crops, in comparison with outdoor gardening, has consistently been far superior in terms of quality, overall production, and production per square foot of growing space. Labor requirements have been nearly nonexistent, and consist of merely planting seeds, harvesting produce, and feeding the fish a few times per day. This low labor requirement is largely due to our having designed the system so that it is mainly automated. In future designs even fish feeding will be automated.

Protein Production

Depending on production methods, it can require from nine to fourteen pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. With blue tilapia (our chosen fish species), 1 ½ pounds of feed can produce 1 pound of edible meat. No commonly farmed land animal can come anywhere near this level of feed conversion efficiency. It must be kept in mind that, in terms of sustainability and environmental concerns, the raising of all animal feed represents usage of land and other resources that in many areas are in short supply, and continually dwindling. Therefore, the issue of feed conversion ratios will be of increasing importance over time.

Additionally, the frequent cleansing of fish tank water in aquaponics allows for a high stocking density. These factors, combined with the small space requirements of the fish tanks themselves, make it readily apparent just how efficient aquaponics is in terms of protein production. Our selection of blue tilapia was based upon the hardiness, disease resistance, tolerance of fluctuating water conditions, and fast growth rate of this variety. They have excelled in all of these areas. In short, there is no other food production system capable of creating so much high quality protein while utilizing so few resources.

The Global Wild Fishery Collapse

The United Nations, among other organizations around the world, has issued reports on the alarming and appalling deterioration of the Earth's wild fish populations. In many areas, these populations are believed to be depleted to the extent that it is not anticipated that they will recover in the foreseeable future, if at all. Since some of the most impoverished human populations on Earth depend almost entirely on wild-caught fish to meet their protein requirements, the implications are clear and dire. Our species may be facing global famine of truly historic proportions.

Many theories have been advanced as to the specific causes of this decline in fish populations: overfishing, industrial and agricultural pollution, climate change, desalinization of sea water, etc. The trend is likely due to a combination of several factors, but what is certain is that, in fact, wild fish are disappearing from the world's oceans at a frightening pace.

In addition to this population collapse, much of what is left of the world's wild fish is dangerously contaminated with industrial and agricultural pollutants, mercury and other heavy metals, and a variety of other toxic substances. Aquaponics is an obvious technology for offsetting these phenomena.

“75% of the major marine fish stocks are either depleted, over-exploited or being fished
at their biological limit.”

-United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016

Our Three Phase Strategy

Phase One, which is now complete, was to design and build a proof-of-concept and experimental home scale aquaponics system. Utilizing our own personal time, energy, labor, and finances, we built a passive solar heated greenhouse addition onto our home, using it to house an aquaponics system which has exceeded expectations in every way. Abundant produce is being successfully raised year-round. Along with aquaponically raised fish and produce of various kinds, we also grow tropical fruits in soil in our greenhouse, and have harvested quite a number of bananas and lemons, during harsh Colorado winters!

Unlike most existing aquaponics systems, we deliberately designed ours to require no fossil fuel based energy. All of the various essential components (pumps, aeration equipment, grow lights, etc.) are DC electrical units powered directly by a bank of batteries charged by photovoltaic panels. This DC scheme eliminates the need for inverters and other costly components. Aside from the economic advantages, we adopted this plan in order to test and prove the theory that aquaponics systems could, in fact, be designed and built to run entirely on renewable energy in an affordable fashion, regardless of the availability of grid-tied power. We believe this to be an important factor in spreading this technology to the places where it is needed most: chronically impoverished areas with limited resources.

Phase Two, which we have now embarked upon, will be a large community scale aquaponics greenhouse. This is the project for which we are currently seeking funding. Based on the success and proven functionality of our first system, the next one will essentially be a radically scaled-up version of it. As the result of lengthy experience managing our prototype system, the new design will incorporate numerous improvements, mainly in the areas of increased efficiency, automation, and reduced or eliminated reliance on outside inputs. An in-house hatchery will provide all of the necessary replacement fish stock, and we will be raising all of the necessary fish feed in this facility, further closing the loop in an already very self-sufficient system.

In our area of southern Colorado, a significant portion of the population is elderly, on a fixed or low income, in poor health, or all of the above. High quality, fresh, year-round, organically-grown produce is not readily available, so we strongly believe that our project will be of immense value to the local population.

The low-overhead production method we have developed also means that our top-quality produce will be very affordable. We have already purchased a site for the facility and now seek funding for the actual construction of it, which we plan to begin very soon. In addition to the aquaponics system itself, plans include a commercial kitchen for the production of value-added food products, a retail space for produce sales, and a small farm-to-table restaurant, all contained in the same building. We will also devote a separate greenhouse to soil-based production of tropical fruits and organic starter seedlings for sale to outdoor gardeners. An additional structure will serve as housing for employees, volunteers, guests, and attendees of various workshops and educational programs. The portion of the property not occupied by these facilities will be used for raising outdoor crops and organic, free-range laying hens.

Phase Two Project Timeline

Construction of buildings and essential structures is planned to begin in the fall of 2019, with basic completion of outdoor construction projects anticipated in spring of 2020. Construction of all indoor projects (infrastructure, aquaponic system components, interior finish work, equipment installation, etc.) will occur throughout spring and summer of that year. Initial stocking of fish tanks and planting of vegetable beds will take place upon completion of indoor construction, in fall of 2020.

Phase Three will build upon the successful deployment of Phases One and Two, and will focus on disseminating this technology by every means possible. We believe so strongly in the unique power of aquaponics in addressing global challenges that we have elected to make its promotion our life's work. To that end, we envision educational workshops, onsite seminars and tours, consulting and design services, books, and the creation of a variety of online resources. Our long-term goal is nothing short of seeing these systems adopted around the world, to solve food and water shortages, protect natural resources, and empower struggling communities to eat well. With your help, AquaSustain can make this vision a reality.

Who We Are

Co-director Fred Dixon has owned and operated a technology business for many years. His long experience and familiarity with complex systems is a perfect fit with aquaponics. Additionally, he has had a successful design and construction business, which has fully prepared him for the challenges of those aspects of aquaponics. Before entering the tech sphere, he had a sixteen year career in agriculture, which ingrained in him a strong appreciation and understanding of the delicate and complex inter-relationship between various environmental processes.

Co-director Dr. Lorraine Barnett is a retired doctor of Chiropractic and is highly-trained and knowledgeable in the fields of biology, human nutrition, and holistic medicine. A life-long devotee and advocate of organically grown food and a healthy lifestyle, she is excited to be involved in this innovative technology. Having been the founder and owner of several successful Chiropractic practices, Dr. Barnett's organizational and management skills and passion for healthy, environmentally responsible living make her an ideal partner in this project.

Your Donation

Your donation to our project will directly benefit our fragile environment, the preservation of our precious natural resources, and perhaps most importantly, our fellow human inhabitants of the planet. With your support, AquaSustain will be able to embark on the next phase of this important project to feed communities, protect the Earth's dwindling resources, and secure a greener future for our children to inherit. We sincerely thank you for your support.


Fred Dixon
Aguilar, CO

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