Gardening vs. Farming: 8 Core Differences (Garden vs. Field)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

I spend numerous hours in the garden each week and I absolutely love growing vegetables … does that make me a farmer? I have heard it on good authority that, while my garden is thriving (and of course, the pride of my life), it doesn’t put me in the same category as a farmer. That got me thinking; what exactly is the difference between gardening and farming? 

Gardening and farming show major differences in terms of equipment, knowledge required, rules & regulations, financial implications, land availability, emotional and time investments, and overall function.

Gardening is small-scale and involves an intensive effort to grow fresh produce for private use. Farming is less intensive and laborious for the farmer (thanks to established systems and equipment) and is for large-scale production for the masses.

When looking for a specific definition of gardening, I came across the book “Teaching Agricultural Concepts” by Farshad Ghooshchi & Lia Omidvar. There I found a statement that makes the difference between gardening and farming quite evident: 

“It (gardening) involves an active participation in the growing of plants, and tends to be labor-intensive, which differentiates it from farming or forestry.” 

Teaching Agricultural Concepts by Farshad Ghooshchi & Lia Omidvar

When I read this, I understood that I cannot be classed as a farmer and my garden, although expansive and impressive, is not really a farm (regardless of any notions of grandeur I might have built up in my head!).

If you are an avid gardener like me and have thought about moving into farming or agriculture, you might want to do a bit of digging into the various differences between gardening and farming before you take the plunge. To learn more about these differences, read on below – I did the digging for you.

Gardening vs. Farming: What’s the Difference?

There are several areas in which gardening and farming are different, and I would like to touch on a few of these. After taking a closer look at these differences, I decided that gardening was more for me, but you never know – perhaps a career in farming is still something that is within your reach. Below are the areas where the differences between gardening and farming can be seen:

1. Equipment

When I head out into my garden to tend to my lettuce, tomato, and squash crops, I don’t need any serious equipment. I often use my wheelbarrow, hose pipe, lawnmower, spade, weeding fork, and gloves, but I don’t need much more than that to have a thriving garden. 

Farming, on the other hand, requires access to durable, hardwearing equipment that just happens to be quite expensive as well. In order to get your hands on these items of equipment, you will need to have some sort of capital investment available. The average vegetable farm requires tractors, tillers, cultivators, rakes, hoes, pitchforks, shovels, and weeding frames. 

2. Knowledge

When it comes to knowledge, I will admit that Google and YouTube have been my friends. I have read so many articles and watched so many DIY gardening videos that I have become a pro through self-study. I have gathered knowledge on growing techniques, weather patterns, and seasonal growth, but that’s about as far as it needs to go.

Farmers, however, have a much harder time becoming knowledgeable. While they, too, need to have knowledge of weather patterns and seasonal growth, many of them actually complete formal studies before starting or managing a farm. 

Farming involves knowledge of the following: types of crops, pest control, how to revive ailing crops, irrigation methods, equipment maintenance – the list goes on. As a farmer, you might not be involved in absolutely every function on the farm on a day-to-day basis, but you need to know absolutely everything about every function on the farm. 

3. Agricultural Department Rules & Regulations

The Department of Agriculture isn’t going to impose any rules and regulations on my garden beds, but farms operating for commercial purposes need to follow certain rules and regulations imposed by the government. The laws, rules, and regulations affect how farmers operate the farm, as well as how they treat employees and livestock. The Department of Agriculture will also be interested in how the land is being used, the emissions generated by the farm, how waste products are handled, and the type and application of pesticides. 

4. Financial Implications

When I first started gardening, I used to scoop the seeds out of my favorite fruits and vegetables. I would then dry the seeds out and plant them. The cost to run my garden was and still is extremely low. I use natural compost made from veggie peelings and offcuts, I use rainwater collected in a tank for irrigation, and if a plant does die (as sad as that is), I can quite easily replace it. 

For farmers, the financial implications are far more serious. If a crop is plagued with pests or disease, the losses can impact the community as well as personal earnings. The scale of seeds and plants bought in a month is far higher than mine would be in a year. It’s safe to say that a farmer invests far more money in her growing projects than the average gardener does.

5. Land

When I first got the idea of gardening as a hobby, there was no stress to buy land. I simply used the garden surrounding my home. I also did a lot of pot and tub gardening. If you stroll through my garden now, you will see flowers and lettuce heads growing out of every possible pot and space. If I have to move to another place, I can take most of these plants with me and simply start again. 

The average farmer has to put a lot of thought into acquiring suitable land. The land has to be big enough to support the type of farming he does, affordable enough to ensure that he doesn’t have to over-charge for his products, and well-positioned, so that staff can come and go, deliveries are easy, and the weather/climate conditions are ideal for his produce. Once the land is acquired, there is minimal possibility of moving as this would be a mammoth expense and result in significant losses. 

It’s safe to say that farmers invest far more in their land than the average gardener does.

6. Emotional Investment

This is the point that really made me realize that I am a gardener at heart, and not a farmer. Farmers serve an integral purpose in our community. They have to mass produce food for us to consume. There’s a lot of pressure on a farmer to be reliable and to perform. The average gardener is only producing food for personal use. This means that the gardener takes time to tend and care for each and every plant in the garden. A lot of intensive labor and emotional investment goes into the process. 

Farmers, on the other hand, simply don’t have the time or capacity to care and tend for every plant. Everything is done on a major scale, and while the plants are nurtured, it is a schedule that is followed that requires little to no emotional investment from the farmer. As a gardener, I know that there’s a struggling pepper plant in my back left garden bed. A farmer probably cannot tell you the same about one single plant in his crops.

7. Time Investment

The thing about gardening is that I can venture into the garden whenever I have a moment. I am not beholden to a “gardening schedule,” and nothing is going to go wrong if I don’t tend to my garden for a few days. The amount of time that I invest in the garden is really up to me. 

Farmers, on the other hand, need to be dedicated to farming. They typically wake up early and work quite late. They have to tend to their farm every single day and for many hours a day. A farmer cannot stop farming for a few days because they have something else they have to do. It’s obvious that a farmer invests far more of his time in his task of farming than a gardener does in gardening. 

8. Function vs. Aesthetics

Another major difference between gardening and farming is that of function and aesthetics. As a gardener, I do have a function in mind when I garden. The function in mind is to produce delicious home-grown food for my family. Aesthetics is also something that I give a lot of attention to. While I am growing produce for use, I am also doing whatever I can to create a beautiful outdoor space. I put a lot of heart, soul, and creativity into the process. 

Farming, in contrast, is entirely function-based. You won’t find farmers out in their crops trying to pretty things up. You can expect neat rows of thriving produce, and that’s about it. For a farmer, there’s no time or place for creating aesthetically appealing fields of produce. 

Farming and Gardening – The Differences are Undeniable

After doing this research and realizing that my love of growing vegetables doesn’t really place me in the perfect position to become an actual farmer, I had a newfound respect for farmers. I won’t be turning my love of gardening into the business of farming, but many people do (and have). If you’re a gardener hoping to transition into a farmer, heed the above differences – and of course, good luck!

JC Franco

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.