The development of urban food policies has shed light on the strategic role of public landownership for strengthening farmers capacities in the context of rising land values. Despite attention on a few pioneering farming initiatives promoted by local authorities on public farmland, however, there is often little understanding of the extent of public landownership and the modus operandi of public institutions within urban land markets. This makes it hard to assess how representative these ‘pioneering’ projects are, and whether or not they are embedded in coherent urban agendas. The city region of Ghent (Belgium) offers an exemplary case: internationally celebrated for its innovative urban food policy, its administration is at the centre of controversies with farmers and grassroots movements who denounced the large-scale sell-off of historical public farmland in the city region. Using Belgian Land Registry data, this paper constructs a unique, empirically grounded, cartography of public landownership and public land transaction for the Ghent city region. The results expose deep contradictions in public policy and demonstrate the continuation of an urbanism disconnected from agricultural concerns. They also provide tools for reshaping the management of public land aligned to urban food policy goals, in and beyond the Ghent city region.