New methods of integrating ag production into urban life are needed

Although biourbanism is new to most people, it has important implications for agricultural producers, scientists and everyone seeking to live best in an increasingly metropolitan world. Given the current rate of urban expansion, population foreca...

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist

Although biourbanism is new to most people, it has important implications for agricultural producers, scientists and everyone seeking to live best in an increasingly metropolitan world. Given the current rate of urban expansion, population forecasters say that within three decades well over nine billion people will inhabit our planet and 70 percent will live in cities.

Last week I introduced biourbanism. My interest in this area grew out of being asked to develop an article for the Journal of Biourbanism (JBU).

It was published in the most recent issue of JBU (#1&2/16 Vol. V), which is available at: . It was a joint effort: Sara Bissen, the JBU managing editor, and I worked together extensively. Additionally, Sara and her husband, Dr. Stefano Serafini, who is the director of the International Society of Biourbanism, met with my wife Marilyn and me in Rome and Artena, Italy this past May.

We traveled to Italy to accompany students taking an International Healthcare course which Marilyn teaches with another faculty member at Clarkson College in Omaha, Neb. I offered my impressions of current Italian healthcare and agriculture in a column this past August.

Biourbanism is a complex concept. The "bio" part of the word refers to the living city or town itself, including its people, animals, gardens, parks, insects and all forms of life that are indigenous to its environment.


The "urbanism" part refers to the design and layout of an urban, suburban or other community, such as its roads, residences, commercial buildings, actually its entire ecosystem. A major aim of biourbanism is to facilitate optimal quality of life in metropolitan communities.

Biourbanism is a new field that combines many disciplines. Biourbanism integrates architecture, engineering, biology, and behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, and economics) with art, literature, and any other relevant disciplines to design modern communities so that all the residents can live together optimally, sustainably and indefinitely.

The International Society of Biourbanism encourages scientific investigations that explore these interconnections; it also conducts workshops for city planners and anyone interested in these matters.

How does agriculture interface with biourbanism? The agrarian imperative theory helps explain this.

Agricultural producers have an innate drive to acquire territories and the necessary resources to produce food, materials for clothing, shelter, and fuel so humans can survive and procreate. Biourbanism incorporates agricultural activities into its rural-urban continuum.

Agriculture is becoming integrated into urban, suburban and town environments. Consider how farmer's markets and community supported agriculture - which didn't exist in the U.S. and Canada 40 years ago - are now available in most North American communities.

In the near future, increasingly more agricultural production will be carried out in urban environments. To illustrate, a person I know is developing a method of hydroponic production of salad greens and herbs in a constantly cycling system housed in a warehouse in Omaha.

He aims to furnish local salad materials year-round for many of the restaurants and groceries in Omaha, and if successful will provide competition for seasonal producers of similar crops on land. A generation removed from a farming background, his agrarian imperative is being demonstrated in his innovations to produce food.


Integrating agriculture into metropolitan settings enhances freshness of products and reduces transportation costs, and increasingly so when available year-round from local producers.

Raising gardens, fruit trees and shrubs, a few chickens, animals or fish for food is popular in urban environments, especially in many European and Asian cities. Everyone has an agrarian urge that contributes to human survival even though its manifestations vary from person to person.

Biourbanism not only incorporates agricultural activities but also sees life as a rural-urban continuum. "Rural" is the life source of a self-sufficient urban community.

Thus, according to biourbanism, a city cannot be designed without integrating "rural" into its landscape, as well as rural social structures like neighborhood coffee shops where people gather to exchange news and views and to affirm relationships.

We also display our agrarian and rural roots when we construct fences, signs and devise legal descriptions of our urban abodes and work settings. Our rural customs, motivated by agrarian urges, are essential to biourbanism.

As modern life advances, agricultural producers, large and small, have to focus on the needs of increasingly urban and enlarging populations. Farmers who produce specific crops or animals will have to be maximally efficient.

An example is farmers who produce corn or other materials for ethanol fuel must select seeds that maximize conversion into alcohol, while farmers who raise corn for human food may emphasize different crop traits.

Producers of food, fibers and fuel must focus on what urban producers cannot readily produce within the constraints of their environments. For instance, few urban residents can readily raise grapes, sweet corn and most large animals that require much space.


Future agriculture will become even more specialized, driven by local needs, and biourban.

I thank Ms. Bissen and Dr. Serafini for their assistance with this article and my JBU contribution.

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