Once upon a time, mine workers were paid in paper chits that could be redeemed at the company store. (Remember the song “Sixteen Tons,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “I owe my soul to the company sto’ “?)
A while back I saw a story in the NY Times about refugee gardens, and there was a picture of someone using wooden coins to buy produce. It turned out that people were not being paid in wooden coins as miners were paid in paper. Instead, the City of San Diego was encouraging poor residents to pursue good nutrition by giving them wooden coins for shopping at farmers markets.
The coins were really just a footnote to Patricia Leigh Brown’s story, which focuses on a national movement to help immigrant farmers get back into the occupation they know best.
“Among the regular customers at [San Diego's] New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads.
“New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia, resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell, Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego.”
Read how it works. (And click on the slide show to see the wooden coins. My eyes were drawn to them because my father’s favorite “good-bye” line to toddlers always was, “Don’t take any wooden nickels”!)
Photo: Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
Khadija Musame, right, with a customer from Somalia at the New Roots Farm stand in San Diego.