Photo: Courtesy of Office of the Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams

I testified in the Committee on Land Use, chaired by Council Member David Greenfield, at the New York City Council's public hearing yesterday. Alongside with me were my peers: Design Trust Fellow Nevin Cohen, gardeners, farmers, urban agriculture advocates, and representatives from support organizations. I had reached out to some of them about this critical hearing and they spread the word to their networks. All 46 of us, who filled the room, are equally dedicated and believe whole-heartedly that a robust, inclusive urban agriculture plan for New York City can improve so many things in our communities—health, resiliency, and jobs.

You can read below what I shared in our Design Trust testimony. If you weren't able to attend the public hearing yesterday, we encourage you to submit written testimony. Email your statement to Committee Counsel, Jeff Campagna, at In your subject line, be sure to include: “Testimony for October 26, 2017 NYC Council Committee on Land Use, Public Hearing on Int. No. 1661”

Design Trust for Public Space Testimony for Intro #1661 in the Committee on Land Use

October 26, 2017

Thank you to the City Council Members of the Committee on Land Use for the opportunity to speak on the proposal for a comprehensive urban agriculture plan.

I am Luisa Santos, Equitable Public Space Fellow with the Design Trust for Public Space, a nonprofit dedicated to the future of public space in New York City. Design Trust projects bring together city agencies and community groups to make a lasting impact – through design – on how New Yorkers live, work, and play.

Our projects over the past 20 years have included saving the High Line with our feasibility study, and developing the sustainability guidelines that became the precursor to NYC’s Local Law 86 and now OneNYC.

Our project on urban agriculture, Five Borough Farm, was a multi-phased project conducted in partnership with Added Value, NYC Parks, and Farming Concrete. Five Borough Farm offered a roadmap to farmers and gardeners, City officials, and stakeholders to understand and weigh the benefits of urban agriculture, and made a compelling case for closing resource gaps to grow urban agriculture throughout the five boroughs of New York City. 

The first phase of the Five Borough Farm project resulted in policy recommendations, including for the creation of an urban agriculture plan, that would:

  • establish goals, objectives, and a citywide land use scheme for garden and farm development
  • integrate urban agriculture into existing plans, programs, and policy-making processes in city government
  • address disparities in access to funding, information, and other resources by creating more transparent and participatory processes to enable gardeners and farmers to influence policy and decision-making.

Our recommendations, released in 2012, align with the current proposal that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Council Member Rafael Espinal have introduced for an urban agriculture plan. However, systems of accountability are essential to maximizing the benefits of the Plan for all New Yorkers.

The Plan must apply not only to commercial urban agriculture, but also to community gardens, school gardens, permaculture gardens, vertical farms, and all other forms of gardening and farming practice. 

We urge the City Council to incorporate the following three means to ensure accountability in the generation and execution of the Plan:

  1. a citywide task force—composed of City agencies, support organizations, and gardeners and farmers representing a variety of types—for reviewing the development and implementation of the Plan. This task force would build off of the Urban Agriculture Task Force with NYC Parks established through Five Borough Farm, and the roundtable convened by Brooklyn Borough President Adams in Spring 2016. 
  2. open forums at many points in the Plan’s development process, including input-gathering in each borough at spring gardening and farming events, such as GrowTogether and Making Brooklyn Bloom
  3. communication within the City and with gardening and farming support organization and advocate networks, including GreenThumb, NYCHA’s Garden and Greening Program, 596 Acres, and the New York City Community Garden Coalition.

We recognize, given the July 2018 proposed deadline for completion of the Plan, that this is an aggressive time frame to carry out these systems of accountability; nonetheless, this process will be critical to ensuring the effectiveness of the Plan. We are happy to connect developers of the Plan to community garden and urban farm stakeholders.

I leave you with a quote from a community gardener who contributed to the Five Borough Farm project. Over five years ago, they said, 

“Right now urban agriculture is on everyone’s lips, and it sounds good. Yet, are people in power then making policy? Are they thinking of it as, ‘Oh, it’s a new wave and it will go away?’ Or do they really believe in what they’re saying: that as the city goes into the next decade or so and even further, that community gardens and urban farms must be part of the landscape when it comes to urban planning?”

We are still within the decade. Let’s make sure that the needs of all gardeners and farmers are included in a citywide, comprehensive urban agriculture plan.

The Plan must apply not only to commercial urban agriculture, but also to community gardens, school gardens, permaculture gardens, vertical farms, and all other forms of gardening and farming practice.

Luisa Santos, 2017-2018 Design Trust Equitable Public Space Fellow