Strawberry tokens, pieces of history
April 01, 2011

Strawberries have a long and interesting history in southwest Missouri according to Patrick Byers, a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

"One tangible piece of this history is something called strawberry tokens," said Byers.

Starting in the later years of the 19th century and continuing through the 1930's, strawberries became an important agricultural crop for farmers in southwest Missouri. Towns like Carthage, Sarcoxie, Monett, and Pierce City became strawberry trade centers. In fact, carloads of fresh strawberries were shipped by train out of the region.

The strawberry farms employed many people to work in the fields, especially at harvest time. These farm laborers were often paid by the piece - a set amount for every quart, tray or crate harvested.

"The strawberry growers disliked handling money at the farm - too much risk of theft or irregularities," said Byers. "The solution was strawberry tokens and chits."

Strawberry tokens were issued by banks that provided the tokens to strawberry growers. Pickers were paid in tokens, which could be presented to the bank for redemption.

"The United States treasury eventually ruled the tokens illegal because they too closely resembled coins. After that ruling, growers starting using chits to pay pickers," said Byers.

Chits are cardboard tokens about the size of a business card. The chits are usually denominated in quantities of berries and show the issuing company. Workers received the chits as the berries were picked, and could redeem them later for pay.


A reference was made to the "strawberry industry of southwest Missouri' in a food distribution report by Sam Jordan of the Missouri State Board of Agriculture in 1917. Apparently, it was a thriving industry then. No written record could be found attesting to its dwindling production. In recent reports of proceedings of the Missouri Small Fruit Conference blueberries seemed to be the fruit of choice for Southwest Missouri growers.

Planting strawberries today

Apparently there are a long list of varieties of strawberries adaptable for growing in Missouri. According to Michele R. Warmund, division of plant sciences of the University of Missouri Extension, they are "well adapted to our climate, require a very small investment and will produce a good crop of fruit about 13 months after planting."

For more details go here.

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