Although there are 700 urban farms and gardens spread throughout New York City’s five boroughs, urban farming there still feels ad-hoc, somewhat tacked-on in many places. The gains have been slow and future progress isn’t guaranteed.

To boost the long-term prospects of urban farming in the U.S.’s biggest city, the Design Trust for Public Space and its partner, the Red Hook-based nonprofit Added Value, just launched a new report some three years in the making called “Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture,” along with a companion website. The project seeks to create a comprehensive “road map” with the goal of helping stakeholders — policymakers, community groups, farmers, and designers — “understand and weigh the benefits” of urban agriculture, while making a compelling case for significantly ramping up local government support for this growing field. Basically, if you’ve been looking for a thorough examination of all the policy aspects of urban farming, this is it.

The Design Trust for Public Space has had a long history of strategically intervening in the public realm in New York City. It was a very early supporter of the vision of the High Line founders, and the group has recently been involved in redesigning New York’s taxis and creating sustainable guidelines for the city’s parks, buildings, and infrastructure.

The report’s authors argue for a comprehensive policy approach to urban agriculture because so many of New York’s urban farms are on city land. A “decentralized system of diverse, small-scale, community-based public spaces” exists in schoolyards, the grounds of public housing developments, community gardens, and public parks, the report reads. As we know, the benefits of these spaces go beyond fresh produce. The American Society of Landscape Architects’ recent Google Sketch-up animation — The Edible City — explains how gardens improve the health and well-being of communities and help people better engage with their urban environments. But, unfortunately, in New York and so many other cities, there’s still a disconnect between official policy and the bottom-up grassroots movement being led by gardeners, farmers, and landscape architects.

Photo by Design Trust for Public Land and Added Value.

To remedy this, the Design Trust brought together nearly 100 experts in food policy, sustainable design, and public health. It looks like just about every major urban farm, community gardening group, and nonprofit working on food issues participated, which gives their recommendations some real weight.

First, the group identified some of the obstacles to future growth. For example, farmers and gardeners face a whole host of “challenges obtaining critical resources” such as soil, compost, and growing space, as well as construction materials, financing, and skilled labor. More involvement by city farmers in policy making could help alleviate some of those problems. Additionally, the group identified some “race- and class-based disparities that hinder access to information, services, and funding” among urban farmers. In other words, depending on where they are, neighborhood farmers in New York may get very different treatment. Furthermore, the city is doing very little to actually track urban agriculture, so there’s no good data on the scope of the field or its growing contribution to the city’s economy. Without a better understanding of how urban agriculture creates social, ecological, and economic benefits, it’s hard to build more support for these farms. Lastly, the report says that the city government has little authority over coordinating urban agriculture, nor does it appear to be incorporating these programs into other complementary initiatives.