Acton Institute Powerblog

The miracle apple: Co-creative lessons from the fall of the Red Delicious

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In the Age of Information, much of our work now takes place in the realm of the “intangible”—creating and trading products and services that can feel somewhat obscure or abstract. Even still, in our technological, data-driven world, we should remember that we are cooperating with nature and co-creating with our Creator.

From the social-media giants to the sawmills, from the blockchain banks to the barbershops, we are using our God-given intellect and creativity to transform a mix of matter and information into something usable. Despite the many distractions that surround us in the modern world, we mustn’t be neglectful or forgetful of our role as cultivators of creation.

In a new mini-documentaryfrom NPR’s Planet Money, we get a clear and refreshing reminder this role through the simple story of the modern apple. “This,” the narrator explains, “is the story of how one man and his ‘miracle apple’ changed the world of fruit forever.”

The film follows David Bedford, who, as a college student in the 1980s, was unsatisfied with the Red Delicious apples that dominated supermarkets.

“Apples were a commodity like screws or cheap socks—most stores only wanted the basic Red Delicious because it was big, it was red, and it had thick skin that made it easy to transport,” the narrator explains. “The public figured an apple is an apple, and there was no reason they should have to pay more for one versus another.”

After tasting a particular variety from Michigan, Bedford experienced an awakening of sorts, and was moved to become a professional apple breeder at the University of Minnesota. His goal: to cooperate with nature and change the status quo of “commodity apples” to better serve his neighbors.

After tasting 1,000s of apples, Bedford finally came to what is now known as the Honeycrisp. Yet even with its magic of deliciousness, the apple was hard to grow and grocery stores didn’t believe that consumers would care enough to pay the price. Eventually, after finding creative partners and innovating his way through new approaches to trademarks and patents, Bedford convinced the market that nature had more to offer.

“The world of different apple brands exploded around the Red Delicious,” The film explains. “…So when you’re in a store today, you’re not just looking at a bunch of apples. You’re looking at the legacy of the ‘miracle apple’—the freedom from the commodity world and the big business of a small fruit.”

Bedford’s story clearly illuminates the interplay between human ingenuity, innovative ideas, cooperation with nature, and service unto our neighbors (and thus to God). But although agriculture may help to simplify those lessons, this sort of transformation isn’t confined to actual seeds in the actual dirt.

When we look back to the Garden of Eden, we see God partnering with Adam and Eve as co-creators in nature—calling, empowering, and working alongside them to steward and transform it. That garden included plenty of actual fruit, but it also pointed us to the promise of much more.

As intangible and unwieldy as the modern economy may sometimes feel, it presents us with an abundance of new opportunities for planting and watering—for cooperating with our neighbors and transforming creation for God’s glory.

Image: walfred, CC0 

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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