During the 1920s most of the strawberry growers located in and around Sarcoxie, Missouri participated in a farming cooperative. Like today’s orange growers, the purpose of the cooperative was to pool and leverage the resources of all the growers who were located in close geographic proximity.
This particular cooperative was known as the Sarcoxie Horticultural Association, and in its heyday, it consisted of more than 200 member growers. As an operational strategy of the collective, the member growers established a financial arrangement with one of the town’s banks; The Bank of Sarcoxie.
Pursuant to that arrangement, the bank conceived and issued a special set of picker checks, consisting of three separate denominations that varied in size and amount.
The first picker check, about the size of a nickel, represented a quart of strawberries harvested. The second, about the size of a quarter, represented a tray of strawberries harvested. And the third, about the size of a Peace Dollar, represented a crate of strawberries harvested.
During the harvest season, pickers from all over the southern U.S. converged on the town and its outlying farms.
“Thousands of workers, including families, children, hobos, and transcients, arrived and toiled in the fields…
Like other agricultural workers of the day, the workers migrated starting from Florida and Texas, and worked their way northward to Michigan as the harvest season progressed. Thousands of workers, including families, child labor, hobos, and transients, arrived and toiled in the fields.
During the harvest, as workers turned in their strawberries, farmers would compensate the workers with the bank’s picker checks. With each quart, tray, and crate picked, each worker would receive a corresponding check.
In turn, by arrangement with local banks and businesses, the checks were redeemable for cash, goods, or services by any town bank or merchant.
The benefits of the checks were two-fold. First and foremost, the checks made it unnecessary for any of the growers to maintain cash on hand as payment to the pickers.
Secondly, but equally important, they established a means of credit for the growers during the harvest season, but prior to sale of their crops.
Just before the start of each years harvest, the growers of the cooperative would assemble and agree to the prices they would pay for each quart, tray, and crate picked.
Each farm estimated their quantity of berries needing harvesting, and sign a promissory note with the bank.
The bank would then issue a corresponding amount of picker checks equaling each of the farmers’ harvest, based on their estimates.
At the end of the harvest, the strawberries were amassed, graded, packed into waiting trains, and sold.
After each farm received their share of the cooperative’s earnings, they would settle with the bank for the value of the picker checks issued, plus a small amount of interest.
Below is an example of a Sarcoxie Agricultural Association token, struck in aluminum. One Crate in denomination, the picker token is approximately Very Fine in grade. Numerous examples of these specimens can be found in numismatic venues. However, this is the only one which appears to not have been cleaned.
Notes and Sources
The Modern Farm Cooperative Movement, Chesla Clella Sherlock, The Homestead Company, 1922, pgs. 135-137
The Library of Congress Digital Archives