Labels: Gardener vs. Farmer

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
– Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene II,
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).

During several conversations last week, the topic of labels seemed to make it’s way into the flow of the discussion. Those conversations that focused on the topic of this blog brought about some very interesting ideas about the terms Farmer and Gardener.

Many said the difference depended on the size of the land that was under cultivation – but how does that relate to CSA’s or other high intensity growing operations that occupy small parcels of land of less than an acre? Other people from densely populated areas said that it was the type and variety of things that were grown – that one crop made a farm, but several was a garden.

Then there was the one friend said that a farmer was a male occupation, and gardening was for women – and even still, from the same person, that farming is an occupation, gardening is a hobby. This is the same friend that told me with a laugh ‘a farmer is a man outstanding in his field’ when I graduated with my degree in horticulture.

FFC 16-0406 Farm

The Federal Government via the USDA defines a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.” For those farms that don’t have the usual $1,000 in sales, the system devolves into a complex organization of points and statistics that I won’t bore you with.

Ironically, the USDA doesn’t have a definition of a garden, though the term does appear in many, many articles and papers on its site.

Referring to online etymology dictionary, the word gardener is an old Northern French term that first appeared in the 12th century as a surname, but came into common use in the later 13th century to describe an area of plants grown to be used in the kitchen. Later it came to describe the person who guarded the kitchen plot – one that is a plant-guard.

The word farmer came later, in the late 14th century and didn’t refer to any particular crops or size of land. It was used in reference to a tax that was imposed by landlords onto those who cultivated the landlords’ fields. It arises from a Medieval Latin term meaning ‘firm’ or fixed payment. It wasn’t until the 1590’s that farmer was used in the conventional sense that we are familiar with.

FFC 16-0406 Garden

The reasoning for all of this is simply complex. Fort Collins is a uniquely located community. We are farmers, we are gardeners, and culturally, based on my observations and experience in our community, for the most part we all get along – but, there is a pride and loyalty in the title and term that is used and there is often a low-rumblings of discord when the two worlds settle into conflict with each other, especially as housing and other development migrates into former farmlands.

Adding to the confusion and complexity of terms is the rise in popularity of CSA’s and the changes to the City Code for Fort Collins at least, that now allows single family lots to house chickens and goats, animals traditionally associated with farms, at least in the area of the country I grew up in.

I myself am a gardener. I’ve been trained and have practiced my hand at farming, but I no longer do so. I DO continue to garden, and ultimately that will be the focus of my work, but it is important to have this conversation, to have an understanding of the deep cultural connections to agriculture and to be able to understand the ‘other side’s’ perspective.

FFC 16-0406 Community

Underneath it all though, it comes down to working the land, caring for your animals, knowing and understanding the particularities of the soil under your feet and the dirt under your nails and the winds that cast weather upon you. It’s all done in the hope of having a successful crop, whether it’s a container on your deck or several hundred acres.

So I wonder – how do you, Kind Reader, define the words gardening and farming, and which title do you find yourself using, or do you use them interchangeably? I ask so that I, and thusly we, can have a better idea of knowing who you and our community are.

Until next time, may there be dirt under your nails, soil under your feet, and a lightness in your spirit.




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