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When it comes right down to it, growing plants, managing water drainage and controlling unwanted vegetation in the city isn't much different than on the farm.

Yet the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) suggests that despite similarities in issues, urban and rural leaders have not effectively connected to foster a sustainable future.

"A two-way conversation needs to happen, and can begin in local communities, to talk about everything from land use to food systems," says Dr. Lorna Michael Butler, sociology and anthropology professor and the Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. "Producers and others in agriculture can use dialogue with people in urban build support and appreciation, create new markets for agriculture and enhance its image."


Butler, Dr. Dale Maronek, department head, horticulture and landscape architecture, Oklahoma State University, and others representing diverse backgrounds addressed these and other challenges in the CAST task force report, Urban and Agricultural Communities: Opportunities for Common Ground. The authors stressed that agriculture is often seen as a "lesser player" in urban areas, yet knowledge of relationships among urban plant, animal, and human communities and structures is critical to modern life.

"There are a lot more applications of agricultural science in urban areas than people think," says Maronek. "We share the same set of problems but often have different perceptions. To sustain our society, we should be more conscious of our mutual environmental management."

The report contends policy-makers, urban planners and land grant university leaders can capitalize on knowledge and experience gained through various ag sciences to bridge the rural/urban gap. Some ag applications in urban areas are direct, such as monitoring water quality, composting waste, soil and storm water management, food production and marketing. Others are more indirect - open space conservation, farmland protection and management, property value enhancement, and stress moderation through landscapes.


"The perception is that agriculture is only about production, so it may not get much attention as a possible source for urban solutions," says Butler.

But the report's authors conclude that agriculture is indeed the one tool that, if viewed creatively, can be used to foster environments that improve the quality of life and economic vitality in urban and rural communities.

For example, the authors suggest agricultural science can have a positive influence on urban restoration and remediation, therapeutic and environmental horticulture, entrepreneurial food gardens and direct marketing. They conclude agriculture can build consumer-farmer relationships by improving understanding among consumers about food production and helping farmers understand the qualities desired in food.

"Agrimarketers can get involved in remolding perceptions by helping to build positive relationships in urban communities," says Butler. "This involvement begins by making sure those unfamiliar with agriculture learn where food comes from. Agrimarketers can also help people understand and recognize what agriculture involves, including ways of getting products directly from farmers, the equine and aquaculture industries and even how to care for companion animals."

Maronek and Butler hope their paper will lead to greater integration of agriculture's expertise in entomology, horticulture, sociology, veterinary science and biosystems engineering, which can help address policy issues such as land preservation, sprawl and food security.

"We can't wait for the future to see whether rural and urban areas work together," says Butler. "We have to shape the future now, broaden perception and understanding of agriculture, and take advantage of the knowledge agriculture offers both urban and rural areas."

"Agriculture is the fabric of our society," adds Maronek. "It provides a safe, secure food supply that allows us to pursue other luxuries...agriculture can help conserve and protect natural resources, and help communities solve problems associated with urbanization. Agriculture can also benefit from the non-ag community by learning how to become more useful to urban areas."

The CAST report is found at AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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