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In recent years, small homesteads have sprung up across the nation as more Americans turn to become self-sufficient and grow and preserve food for their family. While many think of themselves as farmers, this really isn’t true in the traditional sense.
Farmers produce food for sale for other community members, while gardeners produce food for their families. Other differences between farming and gardening include the use of equipment, the knowledge required, function vs. aesthetics, time investment, financial considerations, and USDA rules and regulations.
Most who affectionately refer to their garden plot and land surrounding their homes as homesteads are actually gardeners, even if they have some livestock like chicken and goats on their homestead. While they may call it their farm, the truth is a family homestead does not fit the definition of a farm by federal standards.
According to USDA, a farm is defined as a plot where $1000 worth of food or agricultural products is produced for sale each year. The size of the plot used to produce the food does not determine whether it is a farm or a garden, nor does the presence of livestock.
Farming requires farm machinery, like tractors, harvesters, or combines. This equipment is used to manage an entire field, usually containing one crop. The goal with farm machinery is to tend to the whole crop, not individual plants in the rows.
Fields are planted to accommodate farm machinery and are typically planted in long rows with ample space for tractors or harvesters to fit between the rows.
Farm machinery is expensive and requires regular maintenance and upkeep. A farmer makes a substantial investment in quality farm machinery as it is necessary for producing a successful harvest.
Gardening requires hand tools used to cultivate or work the soil and tend to individual rows or plants in the garden. Rakes, hoes, and hand cultivators are used to work and turn the soil. Small, motorized equipment like a rotary tiller may be used to plow or turn the earth in the spring and fall. Farm animals may be used to pull manual plows in extensive gardens, but this is less common today.
A gardener relies on quality hand tools to keep the garden in shape and tend to individual plants. While purchasing hand tools for the garden is a financial investment, they are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of farm machinery.
In addition, hand tools often serve more than one purpose or can be used interchangeably to tend to the garden. For example, a good garden hoe is indispensable in the garden, but the edge of a garden rake can be used if the gardener lacks a garden hoe.
Farming requires extensive knowledge of agriculture, pest control, and harvesting methods. Although it is not required, many farmers attend higher institutions to obtain degrees in agriculture and other farming-related fields. They also need a good understanding of business and marketing for their farms to succeed.
Gardeners typically gain knowledge from experience but do not need proficiency in the business and marketing fields. Gardeners often possess extensive expertise in preparing and preserving foods that are not required of the farmer. A gardener’s knowledge is often passed down through the generations as families who garden tend to raise children who garden, too.
Function vs. Aesthetics
Farmers Value Function
Farming is all about growing healthy crops to maturity and making a profit from selling the produce. There is little concern about aesthetics when it comes to planting and growing a field of fruit or vegetables. Farming is a practical pursuit to produce quality products suitable for the market.
Farmers typically grow one crop planted in long rows spaced widely to accommodate farm machinery. While a field of pumpkins may be an idyllic sight in the fall, farmers are more concerned with function than aesthetics.
Gardeners Value Aesthetics and Function
Gardening is often a mixture of function and aesthetics, and most gardeners delight in the beauty of healthy plants and flowers. Herbs and flowers are often mixed into the vegetable bed for their beauty and natural pest control.
Garden plots typically contain a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that may be planted in short rows, raised beds, on trellises, and in buckets. Growing techniques are often specialized for the specific vegetable, such as trellises for vining plants, with an eye for the visual effect in the garden.
Time investment is another big difference between farming and gardening. While both take time and commitment, farming requires a more structured investment of time, while gardening can be done whenever the gardener has free time.
Farming Requires Fulltime Care
Farming is a full-time investment of time and must be tended to every day. The crops cannot be overlooked because the farmer is busy with other pursuits or wants to take the day off. Farmers must tend to the crops every day from planting until harvest and then tend to the land after the harvest is done.
Farmers do not have the luxury of working when it is convenient or working their farming tasks around other schedules. The farming schedule takes priority over personal and family schedules.
Gardening Time Is Flexible
Gardeners have more leeway to leisurely work in the garden when they have time. Missing a day in the garden won’t typically compromise production and won’t significantly impact the garden. In addition, gardeners have the freedom to tend to individual plants as needed.
Gardeners often work full-time jobs and schedule gardening tasks around their personal and work schedules. Because growing a garden takes less time and commitment to schedules, gardeners can work in the garden at their leisure.
Tasks like pest control can be accomplished by hand and don’t require treating the entire plot of land. Harvesting occurs throughout the season as individual veggies mature and don’t require a mad rush to get everything harvested at once before it goes past its prime.
Both farming and gardening require some financial investments, but farmers face the pressure to earn a return on their investment in the form of earnings from selling the produce. Gardeners also look for a return on their investments, but the consequences of failure are not as intense.
Farming Financial Investments
Farmers grow to produce for their livelihood and make significant financial investments at planting time. It also costs money to hire others to operate machinery, irrigate, apply pesticides, and harvest the crops. If crops fail, farmers lose their investment and do not reap the benefit of selling their produce.
Farmers risk losing their land or their homes or not providing for their families when disaster strikes or their crops fail.
The financial investments made by farmers have calculated risks and must be considered carefully to keep their businesses thriving.
Gardening Financial Investments
Gardeners invest money too, but they are not expecting a financial return on their investment. They do not need to hire other workers and are not at risk of losing their land or homes if the veggies fail. Gardeners may suffer personal setbacks when their efforts fail to produce the fruits and veggies of their dreams, and they do not have enough surplus to can or preserve, but their livelihood is not at stake.
Because the cost of seeds and seedlings is modest, gardening typically produces more than enough fruits and veggies to make up for the initial investment in seeds and other garden supplies. Failure to do so may be a disappointment, but it does not generally cause a financial hardship for the gardener.
Rules and Regulations
Farming Is Governed by Rules and Regulations
Farming is governed by a host of state and federal regulations regarding pest control, waste disposal, machinery, air emissions, humane treatment of livestock, and the inspection and sale of produce. Farming also requires a variety of permits or licenses to own and operate the business. Failing to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the EPA (of other Federal and State laws) can result in loss of licenses and permits and may shut a farmer down permanently.
Gardening Is Not Governed by State and Federal Regulations
In most locations, gardeners are free to practice gardening however they choose and are not regulated by the Federal or State Government. Using pesticides, or not, is up to the gardener and not regulated by an outside source. Gardeners also have more leeway to choose what they use to control pests and diseases as they can treat individual plants instead of an entire field.
Because the food produced is for private use, there are no regulations to govern the handling and storing of produce or preserving techniques for making jellies, jams, and preserves.
Are homesteads farms or gardens?
The term homestead has gained popularity in recent years as the movement for sustainability has bloomed. While the owners of these home-based agricultural pursuits often refer to themselves as farmers and call their homesteads a farm, this often is not the case.
Unless the homestead specifically grows to produce for sale and meets the USDA requirement of growing at least $1000 worth of product to sell it, it is not a farm. A homestead typically grows the food intended to provide their family with fresh food.
Many homesteaders go to great means to grow and preserve food to eat fresh and lasting through the winter. They may make use of dehydrators, pressure canners, and other devices to preserve their fruits and veggies. Many pride themselves on shelves of canned goods, jams, and jellies to sustain the family all year.
Can you sell garden produce at roadside stands?
Small roadside stands often pop up during the summer along rural roads, selling anything from the overabundance of zucchini to jars of jellies and jams in the fall. This is an economical way for most gardeners to share their excess produce with the community.
If the gardener grew the vegetables with the intent to sell them, and the sale for a year is worth more than $1000, then he is technically a farmer. However, there is some disagreement over whether selling the surplus from his garden changes his status as a gardener.
In this case, the difference between farming and gardening is not well-defined and allows room for interpretation. It is unlikely erecting a simple roadside stand and selling a few fruits and vegetables will garner the attention of governing agencies who could hand down rules and regulations regarding the operation of simple roadside stands with minimal garden produce.
How does size factor into the difference between farms and gardens?
Many people are surprised to learn that size is of little concern when it comes to defining farms and gardens. While farms evoke images of gigantic fields of wheat or corn, and gardens are viewed as backyard plots filled with veggies, the size of the plot of land really doesn’t matter.
The differences between farming and gardening can be significant, but that isn’t always the case. A large garden can take up significant amounts of time to care for, while a small family farm requires less time and care than a commercial farm. Remember, the definition of farming is an agricultural pursuit that grows produce with the intent to sell it to a broader community, while the goal of gardening is to provide for the needs of the family.
- USDA https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-household-well-being/glossary.aspx#farm
- EPA https://www.epa.gov/agriculture/laws-and-regulations-apply-your-agricultural-operation-farm-activity