Farming and gardening share some similarities, but in reality are very different. Both farming and gardening present their own unique challenges, so the same standards and expectations simply cannot be equally applied.
There are luxuries that gardeners enjoy that farmers do not. Firstly, farming is an agricultural activity in which the farmer intends on generating a profit. A farm enterprise must be extremely aware of the costs of inputs, such as fertilizers and irrigation, as well as the revenue they are generating. Depending upon the crop, the market value of that crop can swing wildly up or down. These variable market prices can greatly increase the risk for farms and make planning difficult. The value of a crop is affected not only by the domestic commodity market, but also the global commodity market. Foreign agricultural imports into the country also put pressure on domestic farms. Many farms operate on credit, which further compounds the risks associated with a farm enterprise. Conversely, gardening has essentially no requirement to generate more value of the crop than the costs of inputs. The burden of markets forces and need for profitability do not weigh down on the gardener.
For a farm to generate profit it is essential that an abundant and reliable crop must be produced. No farmer is eager to spend large amounts of money on pesticides, fertilizers, or fuel, but these are necessary expenses if they expect to produce a successful crop. A typical garden might cost a few hundred dollars to begin, while even a modest farm may require hundreds of thousands of dollars to begin. The high costs of land, equipment, logistics, etc. is one of the reasons why farm operations are passed from one generation to the next. An intangible cost for farming is the requirement of actionable and reliable production information for each specific crop. Typically, more general knowledge is required to grow a successful garden.
Gardening is not only lower risk from a financial perspective but is also physically far less riskier than what would be experienced on a typical farm. Farms that raise livestock have inherent risks from the animals they raise as well. A tractor weighing more than ten tons, and its corresponding implements, pose a lot more risk than harvesting broccoli or squash ever will. In fact, farming is among the top ten most dangerous occupations in America.
Farms operate on a large scale and cannot tend to each plant in their fields, as one would expect in a garden, so they often rely upon wide use of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other synthetic chemicals. While most farms work hard to be as sustainable as possible, implementing principles of organic production are far easier in a garden than on a large farm that needs to produce a reliable crop. Due to consumer demand, farms that produce fruit or vegetables are expected to ship out near-perfect looking produce and will discard vast quantities of produce that does not fit consumer expectations. In a garden it’s not a significant problem if a leaf has a small hole in it or fruit has a slight blemish.
While a farm and garden may grow the same crops, that’s essentially where their similarities end. Though their realities are very distinct, both farming and gardening create very real and intangible value.