Farmers, as you know, grow stuff to eat. Gardeners grow stuff to look at.
Or, wait – do they really?
That’s the distinction that has always lurked in my head, although I never really thought about it until recently. It turns out that this unspoken assumption, like so many unspoken assumptions, is kind of wrong.
“I think gardening is pretty broad. It can be edible, it can be non-edible, it can be money-making, it can be a hobby. I think you will find some of our commercial operations consider what they’re doing as gardening, to a certain extent,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, who as director of the state’s Division of Agricultural Development.
I asked McWilliam Jellie about the difference between the two terms because of a change being made in a New Hampshire agricultural institution: The annual Farm and Forest Expo, a statewide trade show running for 37 years, is now the Farm, Forest and Garden Expo.
At some level that’s just a marketing ploy, spurred by the closure of New England Grows, a horticulture show that was held in Massachusetts at about the same time as the Expo. “We’re hoping it draws some new folks to attend,” McWilliam Jellie said.
But at another level this reflects how agriculture has changed in New Hampshire, blurring any distinction between agriculture and horticulture, farming and gardening, that may have once existed.
The traditional business model of New Hampshire farming was to grow lots of one thing, like wool or apples or eggs or cow’s milk, depending on which decade you’re looking at, and sell it to a wholesaler. Since the 1990’s, however, that has morphed into a new industry model.
We now have many more farms that grow many more things – vegetables and hay and goat’s milk cheese and what have you – but they’re smaller on average, depending on a mix of products produced in smaller batches and often sold directly to consumers.
Which kind of sounds like gardening.
“At a lot of farmers’ markets you’ll find people with sort of extended home gardens … looking for a way to take advantage of that. That interest and whatever success they have often leads to something a little bigger,” McWilliam Jellie said.
The artificiality of my mental distinction in best seen in cut flowers. You don’t eat them, so my mind says they’re “just gardening, not farming,” yet by dollar value they are just about the biggest agricultural product in New Hampshire. They are produced in large greenhouses and shipped out via wholesalers, which is more like the old business model than anything you’ll find at any place with “Farm” in its name.
So the change in the Expo name makes more sense than I might have thought at first.
I have a little experience with the Farm and Forest Expo because they gave me a reporting award a decade ago, probably impressed by my column calculating the number of leaves that change color in New Hampshire each year. (It’s 670 trillion, plus or minus.)
Even without gardening, the Expo was a fun mix. It’s got big, dangerous activities – “Our chainsaw-skill workshop is one of the more popular ones we offer” – and science-ish details like calculating fertilizer balance and crunchy-granola folks who want us to love Mother Earth and a chance to enjoy animals at wildlife-encounter demonstrations or enjoy cutting them up and eating them at butchering demonstrations.
If you want to check it out, the FFG Expo is Friday, Feb. 14, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the DoubleTree hotel in downtown Manchester, 700 Elm Street.
The schedule is online: www.nhfarmandforestexpo.org/schedule