On the miracle of the Honeycrisp apple

As someone who grew up in a community known as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman), I can’t say I was that impressed the first time I bit into a Honeycrisp apple, the official fruit of Minnesota thanks to a group of fourth-graders who were more impressed than I was.

It’s hard for any fruit to live up to the Honeycrisp hype, or perhaps by the time I got around to having one, it had been cross-pollinated into just another apple.

But, Planet Money says in its last “Shorts” episode of the season, the Honeycrisp will always be the apple that did what no other apple has ever done: it freed apples from being just another apple.

It’s a nice tale, indeed, with the appropriate recognition of the state that lies just west of Wisconsin. But we remain troubled by the 2013 warning from Mother Jones that the very “miracle” that the Honeycrisp and SweeTango provided, threatens the biodiversity and future of apples varieties.

It was a profile of John Bunker of Maine, the “Apple Whisperer,” who tries to preserve what was once thousands of apple varieties in the United States before they become biologically extinct. Many already are commercially extinct.

..many of the new apples being released, like the SweeTango, are “club apples”—intellectual property of those who bred them. Growers must sign a contract that specifies how the trees will be grown and where they can be sold, and they must pay annual royalties on every apple. The days of farmers controlling their own apples may be numbered, and the idea of breaking that chain of knowledge bothers Bunk.

“When you and I interact, our ability to be together on Earth is predicated by all the stuff that people did for thousands of years,” he says. “You and I didn’t invent language. You and I didn’t invent clothes, roads, agriculture. It’s up to us to be not just the receivers of what was given to us, but the givers of whatever’s going to come next.

That is to say: our apple history — our apples! — should belong to the planet, not to the patent office.