The Difference Between Gardening and Farming

My father once said…

I am a gardener, NOT a farmer. There is a difference.

As if to provoke the obvious question, “What is the difference?” I never asked. But had anyone asked if my father was a farmer, I would have said “no”. I just mindlessly agreed with him at the time. If I thought about it at all, my mind would have ran along the lines of “Farmers have thousands of acres to plant.” or “Farmers have tractors, we don’t.” These, the ideas of a 10 year old.

My father grew tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, corn, squash, radishes, lettuces, and often, but not always carrots and beets. That is it. First rule of gardening, “Only grow what you will eat.” hmmm, that is NOT the first rule of farming.

My mother, on the other hand, had beautiful flowers and trees, spending much time in her yard. And while she may correct me, I don’t remember her ever growing anything to eat.

I always considered both of them gardeners.

Today, I still totally agree with my dad. My husband is the critic in our family. He is the picky one, “I don’t like beets OR beet greens!” … “This lettuce tastes funny. Can we get some fresher?” (Whoever grew yummie lettuce in 95 degree heat of the summer? If you have and can, PLEASE comment below and let us ALL know how you did it!) “This cauliflower tastes like DIRT!” or the best, “This broccoli is way smaller than the ones from the grocery store!”

Mike Tippett of “Now Public” wrote a post about the difference between farming and gardening… “An interesting post from the Urban Farmer, one of the Vancouver Sun’s blogs. As a novice gardener I’m pretty easily impressed with my own mild victories in the backyard. But as Nick Read points out, growing is only half the battle when it comes to producing food for others.” Sometimes even your own family (emphasis mine)

“You have to make sure it has no suggestion of insect life on it. You have to shield it from the slightest bruise or blemish. You have to make sure it appears to all intents and purposes exactly as a customer’s mind’s eye expects it to appear: perfectly round or oval or pear-shaped and iridescently red, green, yellow or purple.”

“It is, in short, a helluva job, and one customers rarely consider when they cavalierly pick up an avocado to squeeze or a melon to knock. They simply expect it to be perfect. Anything less won’t do.”

Until, that is, you grow your own food. Then your expectations shift. You no longer demand perfection. The mere fact that something grew is perfection enough. It is on every level a fundamental change in taste.”

I like what Robin (from said…

“I think the division between gardening and farming is as simple as defining what you grow and why. The word gardener elicits images of flowers, perennial borders, specimen plantings, and places to sit amongst the foliage. It’s more passive than active, not in the difference in work (dahlia tuber digging makes you sweat as much as potato digging), but in the pace. Farming is an every-day-all-the-time type of gig. It’s the sort of thing that distracts you in staff meetings and during your commute to and from work. Maybe it’s as simple a difference as incorporating livestock or growing more edibles than ornamentals. On a personal level, it translates into the amount of dedication I feel toward our way of living. We don’t garden. That’s a hobby. We farm, and it has become the culture of our family.”

On the other hand, I totally agree with Christina Gilman ( says…

“For me, it’s a matter of scale. I’m a gardener because I have a small space and I am mostly only aiming to feed my family with what I grow. If there was more space and I was trying to feed more people, then I think I’d be more comfortable with the farmer label.”

What is the difference between a farmer and a gardener?

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And the winning answer is….

Okay, there’s not one. There is just not. Even if someone TELLS you what the difference is, even if that someone has some authoritative label attached to their name, even if it is in the DICTIONARY, you will still have your own idea of a gardener and a farmer. Here is a good example of what I mean…

During a college class, Composition, our instructor gave us a writing assignment to finish in class. His instructions were to write down in one paragraph, a day at the lake. The answers were as lively varied as there were people in the room, however, one woman stuck out. While everyone else wrote mostly positive things, she wrote about what a nightmare it would be to be forced to be stuck around the water all day. She had almost drowned as a child and the lake still gave her the willies. The point of the assignment was to know your reader, know who you are writing for… and no, I won’t get into that, it was long before blogs came out, LOL! The point I am making is that words are important, but if the same word means something to one person and something entirely different to another, how is it that we communicate?

I can’t begin to duplicate the sounds that he made while recording this piece, but George Carlin, in “The Class Clown” said…

“Thoughts are fluid, you know Woo, woo, we woo. But then we attach a word to that thought (pops his cheek) and we are stuck with THAT word for THAT thought. So be careful with words.”

On Puget Sound’s Urban Farming Resource someone quoted a friend as saying…

“It’s a federal distinction,” he said. “A farm qualifies for USDA funding. A farm is a business. A garden is a hobby.” As simple as that.

But is it as simple as that?

A wise farmer once said:

“The best addition to our gardens is our footprints applied daily as we spend time caring for our crops”

I consider myself a gardener. I grow food for my family. I don’t call the bounty, “crops” that seems like a farming term to me. And round and round and round we go….

The Ready Store
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson

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