Return to About Us

HISTORY of Portable Farms®

Colle Davis 
Lead Inventor, Managing Partner/CEO, PFAS LLC
PFAS LLC is a Virginia based LLC   804.467.1536 (EDT)

Colle Davis Standing in the aisle between Grow Tables of a
Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems

(left) The day the construction of the three modules were completed.
(right) 40 days later and many of the plants in the system are ready to harvest.

PFAS LLC has been offering the Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems to the public since June 2008 and our technology is based on my 50 years of experience and research.

Our ongoing efforts to refine our systems and our global branding efforts continues to attract new inquiries.  These inquires include sophisticated investors wishing to profit from the benefits proven by commercial aquaponics as an investment to deep-pocketed humanitarian groups wanting to create jobs for the local semi-skilled labor force and growing locally grown food.



The History of Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems
by Colle Davis, Lead Inventor

While I was attending the University of California at Davis in the early 1970s to pursue my education in Renewable Natural Resources, one of the jobs I took to help support my growing family was to clean out the Tilapia Project’s fish tanks on campus. If you have ever cleaned a fish tank with coarse sand over the plastic spacers in the bottom of the tank, you know this is neither fun nor clean work.

Briefly, here is how it worked: The fish poop (effluent) settled to the bottom of the tank. The bacteria in the gravel at the bottom of the tank worked to break down the effluent into simpler components, and the somewhat cleaner water went up a pipe using an airlift pump to an external filter on the outside of the tank. From there, it flowed back into the tank for the fish, and by that time, the water was cleaner and more oxygenated.

This simple system created an opportunity for the heavy fish waste to feed a wide variety of bacteria, some of which created truly awful smelling byproducts. The cleaning involved removing the fish from the tank and then draining out the water, removing the sand and the plastic risers, and washing everything thoroughly so the water would run clear. I thought there had to be a better way to accomplish this arduous task. My young engineering and scientific mind launched me on my path to invent a new way to simplify the tank-cleaning process to (at least) spread out the time between tank cleanings.

The airlift pump moved the water up to a fiber-filled filter. I modified the water flow by replacing the filter with a regular plastic dishpan across the top at one end of the fish tank. I drilled a hole in the side of the dishpan to let the water drain out, then added two inches of coarse sand. By extending the airlift pump a couple of inches, it lifted the water up and into the sand in the dishpan. When reassembling the aquarium, I used only one plastic spacer to mount the airlift-up pipe and none of the sand.

I then planted some tomato seeds and orange seeds in the sand, filled the tank with water, placed the fish back in the water, and turned on the air stones (bubbles) and the airlift line. For three days, nothing happened except the fish were happy, and the water stayed clear, and then, as if by magic, the tomato seeds sprouted! Eight days later, the orange seeds sprouted. I was ecstatic.

Wow! I was a raging success on my first attempt. The tank was clean and clear, the fish were happy, and the plants were growing. I had found the solution to all my problems. Five days later, all the plants died, and I was crestfallen. What could have happened? I mean, besides having committed my first mass killing, everything else was a success. The plants were telling me they died because I had kept their roots wet all the time.

This was my first painful lesson in aquaponics and the beginning of Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems as we know them today. The airlift pump was doing its job as required but at the time, I did not realize that the pump only needed to run a couple of hours a day to keep the seedling’s roots damp, not submerged. My first catastrophic mistake is one of the reasons the Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems are nearly bulletproof today. I am teachable. That was the beginning of an idea.

On that day, I committed myself to finding a way to create an automated aquaponics system that would grow enough food to feed the world. I declared that I would make a system that could grow food for backyard farmers or commercial growers to feed many people worldwide. The hook was set.

The New Challenges I realized that even on the tragic day my plants died, aquaponics was a game-changer for the world and could offer an affordable way for people ANYWHERE to become immediately self-sufficient by growing table vegetables and fresh fish. Over the past 50-plus years, I have continued to tinker with aquaponics so I could learn everything about the topic. I went through periods when I would become disinterested or too busy to focus on my idea, and I did not touch it. But I was always thinking of ways to solve a piece of the aquaponics puzzle so the systems would become more stable, more productive, and less expensive to duplicate.

I knew that if I could find a way to keep the sprouting seeds dryer and not waterlogged while growing, they would mature and produce food. I also needed to find a simple way to automate the system to remove the effluent from the circulating in a closed-loop water system without having to clean it by hand. So, I accepted my challenges and then spent many years working to solve these obstacles.

This small Portable Farms Aquaponics System attracted WORLDWIDE attention in 24 hours.

This small Portable Farms Aquaponics System attracted WORLDWIDE attention in 24 hours.Then, the real opportunity arrived for me. My beautiful wife, Phyllis, and I moved into a Southern California house 15 years ago with a large koi pond in the backyard. The pond was home to three large white and orange Kohaku koi 18 inches long (named Hickory, Dickory, and Doc because they swam in clockwise circles all day and all night). The pond had a large pump that fed the water into a waterfall, a stream/fountain. The house, the location, the yard, everything was perfect.

The first order of business was to understand how the installed system worked. A heavy-duty skimmer and pump raised the water about 3 ft (1m) to a small pool and then cascaded down a waterway, another small pool, and a waterfall into the main pond.

Within two weeks, we saw the water become darker, algae started growing along the sides, and the koi hugged the surface to breathe. We cleaned the filter and changed some water, and it helped the fish and reduced some of the algae, but it did not take long for the pond to revert to the darker water and algae.

Phyllis turned to me one day as we were sitting on our covered patio and said in her kindest and most loving manner, “Okay, you’ve been screwing around with this long enough. You perfect it, and I’ll market it.” I decided I would take her up on her offer.

Now, I ask you, how could I refuse an offer like that? I began researching new products on the market, and then I started building an aquaponics system next to the koi pond. In my process of experimentation, we designed a pumping system that kept the water in the fish tanks clear and removed the fish poop from the bottom of the tank, plus, we could calibrate the flow at the correct rate for the water to flow through the gravel in the grow tables. The pump was easy to install and extremely efficient, and it did not become clogged or damaged from the constant use. The heavy fish poop did not impact it.

So, there in the large backyard behind our house, inside our beautiful, gated community overseen by our Homeowner’s Association restricted housing rules, we defied the rulings and we built not one, not two, but three aquaponics systems of varying sizes. Our neighbors loved us, because we gave them all the vegetables and fish that we could not consume. Almost overnight, people started calling and asking us for tours to see our farms, and the word spread faster than we could have ever imagined. Gradually, over a year, we perfected our system, gave it a name, Portable Farms® Aquaponics System. Phyllis built a terrific website and calls, and orders started coming in the minute we announced it was for sale.

Phyllis Davis, Co-Inventor, Portable Farms Aquaponics Systems was awarded Second Prize in San Diego Inventors Forum’s Annual Inventors Contest in 2013 after presenting Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems.  View her 8-minute presentation on YouTube.  As of April 17, 2021, it has been viewed more than 32,243 times.

On June 8, 2008, we sent out one 400-word Press Release on PR Newswire that we had written ourselves at the kitchen table, announcing our new aquaponics system. Within ten days, we received thousands of inquiries from people in 110 countries. That press release was the only press release we have ever blasted out to the world.

Within three months, we outgrew that big house. We moved nearby to a 2.5-acre ranch in Escondido, California, which had been an orchid farm with over an acre of flat land for us to expand our research center and get serious about presenting our ideas to the world. We bought a little red tractor that we named Burt, and Phyllis and I cleared and maintained the land ourselves (which was no small task because the property had been neglected for many years). We designed and built three hoop houses of various sizes to enclose our various sized aquaponics systems from pests and weather and another hoop house as a guest and training center. (I should mention that our hoop houses proved to be highly inadequate enclosures for our aquaponics systems because they would blow down in high windstorms and did not provide adequate insulation against the intense heat that comes and goes in Southern California.

We learned the hard way. As we experimented with our fish tanks and pumps, and flow rates, we continued to make mistakes on a regularly frustrating basis. We killed fish, we killed more plants, we wrecked pumps, and we cooked everything in a small greenhouse once when we accidentally tripped a circuit breaker and did not know it for 10 hours on a record (112°F) hot day.

Portable Farms Aquaponics Research Center - Escondido, California, 2008

Portable Farms Aquaponics Research Center – Escondido, California, 2008

These farms might NOT LOOK LIKE MUCH, but Phyllis and I cleared the land and built it with our own two hands. The effort required much blood, sweat, tears, and months of work to get it ready for tours.

After we moved to Escondido, California, and had completed a couple of farms, a local newspaper called and asked to interview us for a story. We jumped at the chance for some local publicity. The article was picked up by the Union-Tribune (the largest newspaper in San Diego, and was published on December 26, 2008. Between that day and New Year’s Day 2010, we received thousands of requests for private tours of our farms. In 2010, we provided tours for more than 5,000 at our farms without charging money for the tours.

Photo shows our VERY EARLY designs we used for our 700 gallon fish tanks and classifiers in the Portable Farms. Our current designs are far easier to install and maintain.

Photo shows our VERY EARLY designs we used for our 700 gallon fish tanks and classifiers in the Portable Farms. Our current designs are far easier to install and maintain.

Many people who took our tours stood in our hoop houses overlooking the lush gardens of fresh vegetables growing in the gravel trays and wept because they were so overwhelmed with the possibilities of fresh food for themselves and their families and the simplicity of our systems.

After the tours, we invited people to sit under a large blue party tent under an enormous red flaming bougainvillea bush, offered them cold water, and made them comfortable which gave us a chance to give our sale’s pitch. During that time, we listened to their honest concerns of food security (access and availability), food prices, issues related to California’s and global droughts affecting farmers, food quality, food transportation issues that were impacting rising gas prices, genetically modified foods and chemicals in the foods that are available today at local stores. They also expressed concerns about the lack of taste in many of today’s vegetables and fruits compared to the taste of food they up remembered as children. And of course, they repeatedly expressed their concerns about global hunger and the devastating effects of famine.

Photo shows our VERY EARLY designs we used for gravel-filled grow beds in the Portable Farms. Our design for grow beds are radically improved today and are FAR more efficient.

Photo shows our VERY EARLY designs we used for gravel-filled grow beds in the Portable Farms. Our design for grow beds are radically improved today and are FAR more efficient.


These people who sat with us under our blue tent became our very first focus group. We realized this was a terrific opportunity for us to hear from our potential customers and to learn what was on their minds regarding health, politics, nutrition, the war, climate change, civil liberties, farming, gas prices, and on and on.

It was a fascinating experience for us to spend time listening to this wide cross-section of people who shared similar concerns and closely held opinions about our world today. People were very forthcoming about their support of our product and their fears growing in this world’s quickly souring economy, which would later become known as the Crash of 2008. Our time with them strengthened our purpose and made us aware that people were concerned for the future of healthy food and their desire to become increasingly more self-sufficient in a variety of ways. We said to each other, “We may be ahead of the curve, but were in the right place at the right time with a product that has a chance to change the world.”

In 2010, up to 200 people came to our small farms for tours of our aquaponics systems a day. A steady stream of people flowed from early morning until the sun went over the ridge of the coastal mountain ranges in the late afternoon. It was an inspiring time for us, personally but professionally; there were not enough hours in the day to manage our small-but-growing business, so we decided to downsize.

  • That summer, two Southern California documentary filmmakers requested permission to interview me and tour our systems on camera. Again, we welcomed the attention ‘to get the word out” about our new invention. One of those documentaries by ‘Beck Bamberger, as Next 500 unveiled the future of business as we yet know it. The leading companies of tomorrow are doing business today in a new way.’
  • We had three notable guests that summer:
    • The Assistant Surgeon General of the US came to see how the technology could be used at bases overseas to improve US troops’ diet and provide a consistent supply of fresh food instead of relying on locally grown food in areas of conflict. He loved our systems, but he could not get funding for even a pilot project in the Mid-East because our technology was yet untested.
    • The head Veterinarian at Sea World San Diego came to visit several times to see our systems in action and commented that our farms were ‘the healthiest fish he had ever seen in a closed system.’ His main job at Sea World was transporting their fish on tours across the US and keeping them healthy.
    • The head of John Deere Water Division wanted to incorporate our system into their irrigation systems. Their focus was on land agriculture, but he was looking for ways to incorporate aquaponics into their company offering to farmers.

We decided we would not offer as many tours as we had in the past. Phyllis’ health was suffering from the long-hot days in the sun and the hard work. Besides, we had completed the initial stage of research on the farm and had finally created our finished product. We decided to simplify our lives, move away from the farm, leave all the responsibility of our tours and the need to keep 5,000 fish happy and fed, and plant and harvest 5,000 vegetables. It was too much for us.

So, we sold two of our aquaponics systems and donated the third (and largest) system to a local non-profit center to feed refugees in San Diego, California. We launched a one-day farm sale that we advertised on Craigslist and sold Burt, our small red tractor and all our farm equipment and extra furniture that we had accumulated. We moved into a lovely home in October 2009 in San Diego, near the beach and overlooking Mission Bay. We were so exhausted (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually) that we collapsed into a heap to rethink our strategies.

Small Portable Farms Aquaponics System

Small  16’x20′ Portable Farms Aquaponics System

The backyard of our new home had ample room to build our own aquaponics system, just for us, so with the help of our friend, Lane McClelland, we put up a small 10 x 16′ aquaponics system on our sundeck, which took about a week to complete.

After several weeks of rest, Phyllis’ health began to improve, and we planted the small farm in our backyard (photo above) and provided tours once again on a very limited basis. Marking our third year in selling Portable Farms®, we began receiving an increase in international inquiries, which forced us to rethink how to sell the farms globally. After months of work and entirely redesigning our systems to be much more effective and incorporating the use of local materials anywhere in the world, we relaunched our marketing under a technology licensing structure. This new design allowed us to sell our training and technology to companies or individuals for defined territories anywhere in the world.

Commerical 10,000 sq ft Portable Farms Aquaponics System in Botswana, Africa

Commercial 10,000 sq ft Portable Farms Aquaponics System in Botswana, Africa

(left) Commercial 10,000 sq ft Portable Farms Aquaponics System in Botswana, Africa.

Our first international technology license was sold in Botswana, Africa. The License Holder, a major construction company with thirty years of experience, had been searching for 2½ years for the perfect aquaponics system to bring to their country. After extensive research, they approached us with the request to become the premier License Holder for Botswana, Africa, to fulfill their plans to sell fish and vegetables to local markets near each installation. The License Holder anticipates direct government involvement in the widespread building of Portable Farms® in Botswana because of the country’s need for fresh food.

The License Holder said, “After studying various aquaponics systems throughout the world and attending several trainings, I chose Portable Farms® because of three key features: One, the systems don’t require constant monitoring and cleaning, and two, they can be operated by semi-skilled labor, and three, they focus on sustainability.” READ TESTIMONIAL FROM BOTSWANA LICENSE HOLDER:  CLICK HERE.

View a  2 minute video clip of the interior of 16 x 33′ Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems 

  •  We launched the company’s educational arm, Aquaponics University, on September 1, 2011, to offer an online training course for aquaponics with education to assemble and operate our technology with a Portable Farms Kit containing our technology to build their own Portable Farms Aquaponics System. Upon satisfactory completion of our online course, we shipped students a Portable Farms® Kit and diploma. The kit contained our proprietary technology. Aquaponics University Curriculum’s 26-Section Outline.
  • Then, we began focusing our efforts to expand the Technology Licensing aspect of our business to cover as much territory as possible and make Portable Farms® available anywhere in the world.
  • In 2010 and 2011, two highly successful ‘tropical’ installations were designed and built in Latin America to test the systems in areas of high heat and high humidity. During the year of 2010, PFAS LLC submitted an extensive proposal to Senior Government Officials in the Haitian Government to build Portable Farms in the city’s center after their devastating earthquake. Our proposal included opportunities for locals to gain paid employment opportunities for caring for the farms as well as jobs related to sales and transportation to nearby villages. We never received a response to our proposal.
  • In December 2011, PFAS LLC built Portable Farms® in a newly constructed 6,000 sq ft Greenhouse in Legos, Nigeria, and then installed sixteen 5×40′ Portable Farms Aquaponics Systems.
  • In April 2012, we built an Experimental and Research Center in Northern San Diego County to test a variety of fish and plants.
  • In July 2012, Phil Estes, P.E., joined Portable Farms® to provide Civil Engineering for our new ‘design and build’ component and services to our clients.
  • June 2013, United States Patent and Trademark Office granted PFAS LLC the Registered Trademark, Portable Farms®.
  • January 2013: PFAS LLC celebrated our 5th year in business and we established a tropical research center in Southern Florida. We continued to work with scientists and engineers to refine every facet of our system to assure it could be successfully operated by semi-skilled labor.
  • As of 2014, Colle and Phyllis Davis had provided 7,000 private tours for their Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems.

 And our company began to grow . . . globally.

(left) 6’x16′ ft Portable Farms Aquaponics System is OFF GRID and solar-powered; this farm was installed August 4, 2014, in Southern Florida. We installed a new design for our aquaponics systems as we continued refining our technology. The installation was in a screened lanai instead of a greenhouse. A 100-watt solar panel made the Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems officially  OFF-GRID.




(left)This is the same topical installation of a Portable Farm as pictured above, 50 days after installation.





  • Later that year, September 14, 2015:PFAS LLC submitted a 40-page Special Report to the United Nations and the European Union Leaders to feed the displaced Syrian Refugees.  A Sustainable Solution: A Locally Grown Food & Jobs Creation Program (LGF-JCP) – Created to Feed and Create Jobs for Displaced Persons and Asylum Seekers. Urban-Focused Food Hyper-Production with Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems – Investment range US$250,000 to US$50,000,000 – Local Semi-skilled Labor Jobs Created under each Funded Program. We did not receive a reply to our report.
  • December 1, 2015: PFAS LLC celebrated seven years in business. To be closer to Washington DC and New York City, PFAS relocated to the Commonwealth of Virginia as we continue to market Portable Farms to our global customer base.
  • June 2, 2016: PFAS LLC celebrated eight years in business. PFAS LLC applied for 100&Change, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s $100 million grant, “A new competition launched today will award a $100 million grant to a single proposal designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places, or the planet. The Foundation’s competition, called 100&Change, is open to organizations working in any field of endeavor anywhere.” We did not receive that grant.
  • June 2017: PFAS LLC celebrates nine years in business. PFAS LLC has now sold Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems in 25 countries, 50 states, and 10 Canadian Provinces.
  • April 17, 2021: Coming Soon. Please come back to see the updates regarding the history of PFAS LLC.

Thank you for reading our story, and if you have comments or questions, please email us at the address below.


Colle and Phyllis Davis

CEO and President of Portable Farms® Aquaponics Systems & Inventors

Colle Davis:   804-467-1536

Phyllis Davis:   804-467-3752


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.