The Value of a Cherry

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Once upon a time in economics class, I learned that the value of a good had something to do with its price. If the price is too high, buyers won't buy. If it's too low, even the least shark-like seller will eventually smell the blood of profit in the waters and raise prices.

This is common sense, really, but summer in Northern California always gives me one juicy, red reason to quibble with the famous price theory of value. I can sum up the reason in one word: cherries.

Around here in Sacramento, cherries come in three forms at this time of year. The first form is sour pie cherries from my beloved English Morello tree. The price: free.

The second form is cherries from the biggest, baddest and most price-competitive farmers' market in Northern California. This is the monster market in the shade of the 50 Freeway south of downtown Sacramento. No English Morellos there, but you can get fabulous and locally raised Bings for as low at $1.50 a pound.

The third form is cherries from the grocery store. These come at various prices, but the price that sticks in my mind is $7.00 a pound. That was for organic cherries at a local natural foods store.


Economists love the long-term, and over time they're probably right that market forces can tell us whether the value of Bing cherries is $1.50 a pound or $7.00 a pound. It's the sour cherries from my backyard, not the Bings, that present the complications for economic theory.

The reason is, and I'll be brutally honest here, I've got the most valuable cherries in Northern California. Baked in a pie, they taste astonishingly, ferociously, of cherry. When I first tried them I thought, "These taste practically artificial!" But they're all natural, and they're free, at least to me and my family and friends.  Instead of free, you could also say un-priced, or even priceless.

How much people are willing, or aren't willing, to pay for bright red pie cherries doesn't affect the true, intrinsic value of my cherries. If you ever have a hot luscious cherry pie over at my place, or grow your own gorgeous tree, you'll know the truth yourself, and toss your old theory of value into the bowl of cherry pits.

With a Perspective, this is Matt Mitchell.