It is strange to think that something we tend to value so highly is really only worth anything during times of surplus. Gems are beautiful, but ask a starving person whether they'd rather have rubies or potatoes and I can guess their answer. Especially if everyone around them is also starving. The same comparison would work for diamonds and water. Both are clear and sparkling, but only one actually fulfills any real need.
I have found some "gems" that are both beautiful and useful no matter how dire the circumstances. They are an heirloom corn called "Glass Gem" and they really do sparkle like emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. One can almost imagine a string of these lovely kernels gracing the slender neck of a young Indian maiden as she gives thanks for the year's crops.
Yet despite their resemblance to traditional jewels, which after all are mere rocks, these "gems" are far more valuable. They can be ground into meal and flour for sweet nourishing food. They can be buried in the earth and will bring forth abundance. They store well and will feed the hungry during the lean times of early spring when the Earth has not yet woken from her winter sleep. Perhaps most important, they hold the all genetic variation lost to our modern field corn. This is not a corn that bends her will to uniformity and industrial cultivation.
As I look at the slender young stalks stretching eagerly toward the warm sun, I think about how these gems cannot to be hoarded, but must shared with all who wish to grow their own Jewels. In this sharing, true wealth is created.