Integrated Closed Loop Production Systems

  • Food Cell Winter GreensA system of production that produces everything that it needs to operate has no cost.
  • A system that uses everything it produces has no waste.

Operating without cost and without waste is the essence of sustainability.  It is the way nature builds systems and why natural systems are sustainable.

Even more exciting is the fact that a system operating without cost and without waste can increase its contained resources with each cycle of production.

We call these systems "integrated closed loop production systems".

What we have been able to accomplish to date is just scratching the surface.

Integrated closed loop systems at much larger scales are an exciting possibility.

Subscribe to our newsletter and you can follow the ideas as they are developed.


Following this idea we have developed a design for a greenhouse that encloses integrated

processes and we are working to close our production loops.  It is integrated also with our

chicken operation and our outdoor gardens.

We call this a food cell, as in:

  • the cell of a plant that produces food through photosynthesis, as in:
  • a fuel cell, which is a shell that encloses the process of converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water, as in:
  • a membrane that encloses processes that produce protein and fresh vegetables year round, as in:
  • a cell that is missing from the organism that is your neighborhood, as in:
  • our complex system adapting to crises by changing the way human food is produced . . .



Food Cell AquaponicsIn a food cell, green house technology is combined with aquaponics, vermiculture and animal husbandry in a single structure and the byproducts of each process are used as feed stock in the other processes.  It is an integrated system sized to fit in a suburban yard.  Waste is reduced toward zero as a function of how well the processes are integrated.  Cost is reduced toward zero as a function of how much of the input is produced as a byproduct.




Food Cell Elevation

The system has a "climate battery" to store day time heat in the growing medium.  The water in the fish tanks also serves as thermal mass to keep the cell from freezing on cold nights.


The growing medium is wood chips and manure as in all of our deep mulch gardens.


The growing system grows vegetables year round.  We are still experimenting with enclosures and thermal mass to air space ratios to see if we can grow warm season crops year round.



3 intermediate bulk containers are cut down to provide a water tank and bell siphon plant growing tank/ water purification system.Food Cell Plan View


Chicken waste is processed in the worm beds providing worms to feed both fish and chickens.  Worm castings serve as planting medium in the growing beds.

We want to experiment with:

  • A sprouted barley system to produce chicken food
  • Raising crickets to feed fish and chickens
  • Drying the waste from chicken butchering to feed fish.
  • and other ideas for integrated production

The dimensions of this coop are sufficient for about 24 hens depending on how much outdoor space is available.  That would produce enough eggs for about 8 families.  The kitchen scraps produced by the participating families can be an important portion of the food for the chickens.  The greenhouse can produce fresh greens for 8 families as well.

We estimate that this type of structure can be built for less than $10K.  For $1,250 for each family they could all have protein and fresh vegetables year round.  That is not all the calories those families will need, it is what is missing for families eating on a budget or living in a food desert.

Now imagine sharing the tasks required to operate a food cell.  Taking care of chickens is easier than caring for a dog.  Feeding the chicken waste to the worms is more pleasant that picking up after a dog.  If you ever had a fish tank, this one even cleans itself.  Growing greens is no more difficult that careing for house plants.  When you divide the tasks among the members of 8 families you are getting a permanent supply of protein and fresh vegetables for almost no labor and a very small monetary cost . . . if any.




More projects to integrate processes and close production loops

Deep Mulch Gardening - A soil ecosystem is an integrated closed loop production system.

Greenhouses -

Chickens in a Suburban Habitat -

Building a six Chicken Coop


Swarm traps





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  • David Braden IV, Executive Director, Living Systems Institute
  • (303) 549-9787

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