A 1-Star Review

Nov2014_Thank-You-Card1-1We recently completed our November Aquaponics Master Class with attendees from 4 continents and 9 individual countries. It was an exceptional group with a wide variety of planned uses for growing food in aquaponics. During and after the class, nearly all participants expressed their appreciation to us for the class and the comprehensive coverage of aquaponic technology, for the passion and experience that we demonstrate and for the outstanding work of the Team of people that work at Nelson and Pade, Inc.  During the class, the participants were actively posting about their experiences on facebook and twitter, totaling nearly 200 posts and tweets that included photos, comments about the class and what they were learning and enthusiastic praise for the instructors and class overall.  The group even presented us with a hand-made thank you card signed by nearly all participants.

Nov2014_Thank-You-Card2Given that we have been teaching aquaponics classes since 1997 with consistently positive feedback and this group in particular was so appreciative, I was very surprised to find a negative review online of the November Master class from one attendee, Drew Dowling. Mr. Dowling’s 1 of 5 star review included a long diatribe full of criticisms, which were based on a combination of inaccuracies, quotes taken out of context and a lack of understanding of the information presented.

I am sharing this with you because we take all comments and feedback seriously; good and bad, and we want each attendee of our class, each customer and everyone who interacts with our company in any way, to have a good experience. We want people to learn about and understand aquaponics so they can use this amazing technology to grow food and we share a great deal of information and research that our company has spent 20 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars developing and refining.

In every Master Class, we always encourage attendees to talk with us, to provide input and comments so that we can best meet their needs and they can get the most out of the Master Class.  Mr. Dowling, during the three days of the class, never communicated his displeasure or concerns to John or I or any of our staff.  Online reviews provide a cowardly platform. Mr. Dowling was welcome to talk with us and express his concerns at any point during the three days. Instead, he chose not to and followed up with this negative review. In my opinion, if you don’t have to guts to share your concerns to us in person when you have the opportunity, you lose credibility and validity in your review.

I believe this review does a disservice to anyone reading it, giving them a false sense of who our company is and what our goals are and providing misinformation to people who could benefit from our course in their quest of food security, food quality and sustainability.

Ironically, in the last couple of sentences of his review, Mr. Dowling did share some positive comments about our staff and systems. But, given that it followed over ten paragraphs of negative statements, it is hard to understand what he was trying to achieve with this review, other than to possibly state pre-conceived ideas and to demonstrate that he made a decision not to learn, when he had a great opportunity to do so.

Drew Dowling’s review is below. I am posting it here in its entirety, with my comments in in green, so that we have the opportunity to publically address his statements.

“Short Story: The Aquaponic Master Class will not teach you to set up your own aquaponic system. The “Master Class” was only to supplement and convince you to buy one of their systems. If you knew that you had to travel out in the middle of no-where in Wisconsin, pay $1000, and learn nothing helpful in constructing your own aquaponic system, would you go? This was what happened.”

If Mr. Dowling had listened, he would have gained a great deal of knowledge about the design and build of an aquaponic system. In addition to the extensive discussions in the classroom, we have two hobby systems and one commercial system in our greenhouses.  During the class, we walk through all components and even have a session on building techniques.  However, we do not advertise or promote the Aquaponics Master Class as a “design and build” course. There is no way we could comprehensively teach everything that goes into the design and build of a system, plus everything else we cover in the class related to the technology, science, business and controlled environment agriculture, in three days.

“The Pentair course was much better and this class I had hoped was up to that level. Don’t get me wrong, the Pentair course was not perfect, but I did learned every detail of the systems and how to construct and do all calculations there at least. After day one at Nelson and Pade I learned nothing helpful. After Day 2, maybe one thing related to selling fish. Day three was nothing new either.”

The only way you can learn nothing is if you chose not to learn. I just don’t believe this is a valid criticism. After teaching aquaponics to thousands of people from over 70 countries, no one has ever made a statement like this about our classes. It seems as though Mr. Dowling has an ulterior motive in this comparison.  Again, he made no effort to share these concerns with us while he had the opportunity.

 It is too bad Mr. Dowling did not take detailed notes during all of the presentations. Maybe he would have learned something. Read through the posts from fellow attendees on facebook and twitter during the November class, they posted a lot of things that they learned.

“Dr. Rakocy is referred to as a “lonely professor” and “we came across his work” along with “the reason no one used his system is that it is not economically viable” For all intents and purposes, there system is practically the same system that Dr. Rakocy invented. Dr. Rakocy used to teach courses with them, why doesn’t he now? Ask yourself that!”

These statements are taken out of context.  In John Pade’s opening, he used the words lonely when referring to Dr. Rakocy in the early days of aquaponics. Lonely was used in the context that there was very little knowledge available about aquaponics and very few people interested or practicing aquaponics at any level. Now, there is an exploding amount of interest in aquaponics.

Dr. Rakocy has publically stated that the original UVI design was not economically viable and was not being adopted because of this. Our company’s focus for the last 15 years was to take this model and improve it so that we could demonstrate that it is commercially viable.  We have achieved this with many improvements and we are proud of that. I don’t believe that Mr. Dowling was paying attention when we discussed these improvements and how they have increased productivity from the UVI model by increasing plant production by 4-6 times.

“Here are some more examples of what happens there:

Started class by saying that “This class is not supposed to be an infomercial for Nelson and Pade.” Difficult to convince me otherwise!”  

We are proud of our achievements and will always answer our attendee’s questions about our systems and services.  However, if you look at all that was presented during the three days; the majority was not about Nelson and Pade, Inc®. or our Clear Flow Aquaponic Systems®. It is about the science, technology and business of aquaponics.

“Male presenter reminds you that you signed a “promise”(i.e. contract) to basically not compete with them for 2 years. “We want you to grow food” so they say, but is a “promise” necessary for that? Are they going to sue you if you start a consulting business?”

The “male presenter” is John Pade, who has contributed greatly to development and establishment of the aquaponics industry. Mr. Dowling apparently, wasn’t listening when John introduced himself and somehow missed that it was John Pade who was speaking.  Referring to John Pade as “male presenter” is quite disrespectful in my opinion and demonstrates Mr. Dowling’s lack of focus and attention during the class.  Yes, we ask that people use the information we present to grow food in aquaponics. It is a promise that we asks participants to make. It is clearly stated on our registration form.  It came about because early on, we had a number of people attend our class and within weeks set up a website and call themselves a consultant, system designer or manufacturer. These people were not qualified and were a hindrance to the evolution of our industry, providing information and equipment that they didn’t have the experience to back up. Therefore, we ask the attendees of our class to grow food and get experience in aquaponics for 2 years prior to selling systems or consulting.

“If you ever ask where you can buy something, they tell you “from us!”(just to note that everything I remember seeing can be bought from anyone else online or even at Lowes or Home Depot)”

Yes, we sell systems and supplies and if someone asks, we tell them.  But, with the exception of pvc pipe and connectors, you can’t buy this stuff at Lowes or Home Depot.

“Presentation was interrupted by male presenter randomly to say they you can only take no specific or detailed photos and no recording. (“no pictures of motor plates”)”

We always make this statement at the beginning of every class and it is stated on the registration form. We allow general photos, not detailed photos of components or plumbing and no video or audio recording.

“Male presenter also was very into informing that they “charge for project planning” but they keep saying that staff in available to answer questions for “project planning.”

Yes, we charge for project planning but there is a lot of information we provide prior to project planning.  John’s statement was that attendees should ask all the questions they want, during and after the class.  If, after the class, the questions lead to what we cover in project planning, we’ll let you know and quote you on the cost.

“They are obsessed with their “patented technology” which is as effective as a coffee filter, yet far more expensive. It is actually based on a design called a mineralization tank designed by Dr. Wilson Lennard.”

This is so inaccurate I laughed out loud when I read it. During the class, John covers, in detail how the ZDEP (zero discharge, extra production) system works.  It dramatically increases plant production over the UVI or any other raft system. Mr. Dowling could not have been listening and come to this conclusion.  The ZDEP is completely separate from mineralization tanks, which we use as well. Dr. Rakocy first used mineralization tanks (which he called “filter” tanks) long before Wilson Lennard got out of college. We coined the term “mineralization tanks” because mineralization is one of the primary functions of that tank. Since then, Wilson and many others used this term.

As far as the ZDEP, if it was “as effective as a coffee filter,” I don’t think the US Patent and Trademark Office would have granted us a patent.  Learn more about the ZDEP.

Why did we patent it? To allow our company and our customers to use it, free of royalty fees. Since we show and explain the ZDEP in our classes and tours, any engineer or savvy business person could have filed a patent on it if we didn’t.  This would have prevented us and our customers from using it. We patented it to protect it and allow it to be used to increase food production and enhance the aquaponics industry.

“They pretty much act like you should just not waste you time trying to design a system and just trust them. If you did that then you would pay them for this class, buy a system and ship it to you, then they want you to pay $1200 a week for up to four weeks for up to two people to stay and learn to run your system. Aquaponics is just not that difficult.”

The most successful growers out there are using our systems. We truly believe starting with a proven design and a science-based system, training and support will give you the best opportunity to get stated and become successful in aquaponics. But, we understand that not all aquaponic growers will buy our systems. We state this during the class and we talk about home building and the complexities of that. 

“We were told that if we had any questions we could email them “WITHIN THE NEXT 30 DAYS!” So much for support of people that paid for the class.”

We provide input and support to attendees of our Master Class as long as they request.  There is no “30 day limit” as Mr. Dowling is suggesting and I can’t imagine how he came up with this. During the class, we often reference ongoing projects and progress of previous master class attendees, and they are by no means limited to happening within 30 days.

“Their focus is for you to put their system in a greenhouse. Beyond all that happened in the class: I did not deal with this myself but I was informed by a friend of a customer that if you modify the system that they will drop all support.”

Yes, we believe a greenhouse is an excellent option because it takes advantage of natural sunlight and provides environmental control and biosecurity.  But, as we presented during the class, our systems are in warehouses and other alternative locations as well.  The information he refers to from “a friend” is not correct.

“As far as positive things, Rebecca Nelson is very nice and inviting. She is a good speaker. The rest of the staff is nice and hard working. The guy that shows you how to fillet the fish was an excellent and friendly presenter. The guy managing the schedule Troy was on top of his game and good at his job.

Will they set you up is a working system? Probably yes. Just be prepared to pay a lot and pay attention to realistic output numbers.””


As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, we normally receive very positive feedback from attendees.  I belevie the comments from Mr. Dowling’s fellow attendees can demonstrate this better than anything else that I have to say. Read on to learn what others had to say after attending the same class:

“Thank you for a wonderful 3 day course at Nelson and Pade in Wisconsin. We had a fabulous time and are sad it is over. Very professional presentation of course material in a casual relaxed atmosphere. Thorough coverage of aquaponics , from seed to harvest and back again. Super excited to get something started. Coming back home with a wealth of information. If you don’t know what aquaponics is, look at their website. It is an exciting concept.” Susanne Kelly

“I share Susanne’s sentiment. The entire workshop was informative and extremely well organized. The presenters were knowledgeable and able to “teach” their subject, not just “present” it. Their passion for what they do was evident and contagious. I feel more equipped to be able to teach aquaponics to my environmental science classes as well as get the student actively involved in it. We prepare students for the jobs of the future, those not yet in existence. I believe that aquaponics farming will be one of those jobs. Thank you again for sharing all of your knowledge about aquaponics with us.” Christy Franklin Dafur

“By far the best 3 day course ever! :)” Hope Cahill

On Facebook, one of over 100 comments during the class, “So Excited! Yesterday was amazing can’t wait to see what goes on today!”

So, come to your own conclusions. If you have questions, comments or concerns, please do share!