Can We Grow Virtue Like We Grow Apples?

My grandfather on my mother’s side was a farmer. His father was a farmer; and his father’s father was a farmer. His knowledge of the land was through experience and through an oral tradition. There are highlights to the seasons. It is critical on a farm to know when to plant and when to harvest. He was an exceptional steward of the land and his crops reflected that. Maybe it’s due to my farming heritage that the analogy of growing virtues like fruits is so appealing to me.

You have probably heard the saying that virtues are the “fruit of the spirit.” If virtues are like fruit, then we should be able to cultivate and grow them, shouldn’t we? This farming of virtue, by our daily practice of good habits, creates and sets the tone for our behavior(s) and conduct with our fellow man. The more we practice virtue the more we learn how to farm, ultimately making more and better fruit. Virtue (the fruit of the spirit) is what nourishes our soul and brings us peace, joy, and the good life. Virtue is the essential food that builds healthy marriages, teams, classrooms, families, churches, workplaces, and relationships in general.

Apples have long been used as symbols of health or good fortune. Let’s take a closer look at the analogy between “virtue and apples”.


In the apple world, there are many varieties of apple, Jonafree, Pristine, Liberty, Gold Rush, Grannie Smith, Jonagold, just to name a few. Following our “apple analogy,” I would propose that there only two varieties of virtues. Let’s call them “ethnic virtues” and “inspired virtues”. Just like apples, these two varieties of apples both “taste good” and are “good for you.” Just like apples of different varieties share many common characteristics, so do these two varieties of virtue. Both are socially and universally good. Both are admirable qualities. Both are ….whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is worthy of praise. Both are habitual and firm dispositions to do that which is good. There are however some rather succinct differences between these two varieties of virtue that can dramatically influence both the “quality and quantity” of the fruit (virtues) that you can grow.

Ethnic Virtue (The Natural/Wild Apple): Ethnic Virtues (fruits) are those that are common in all of humanity. We sometimes refer to “ethnic virtue” as ‘basic decency” or “common sense.” The first enumerations of “ethnic virtue” are often traced back to three Greek philosophers Plato (428 – 348 BC), Socrates (469-399 BC), and Aristotle (384-322 BC). The ethnic variety of virtue is universal and stems across religious and political boundaries. I know lots of people in my life who are “good” and “decent” people, who lead virtuous (though not religiously motivated) lives. They don’t necessarily subscribe to any specific religious belief, but nonetheless live their lives loving and serving others. This ethnic variety of virtue is like a natural growing or wild apple tree growing in a field. It grows virtue because of the natural/wild seeds of its nature (humanity). It grew naturally. No plan, no tending, no pruning, no fungicides, no care. Ethnic virtue is like the un-tended wild apple tree growing in the meadow. However, because this is a wild apple tree, the fruit on this tree are often more prone to disease and infestation, they are smaller, and produce both lesser quality and quantity than an apple tree grown under the care of a farmer or orchard master. Just like human ethnic virtue the wild apple tree is often surrounded by so many weeds (worldly encumbrances) that it is hard to tell where the weeds end and the apple tree begins. Do you know anybody like that? Another commonality is that frequently the fruit (virtue) of the wild apple tree go un-harvested, un-noticed, and remain on the tree only to rot and fall off, never to be used or shared by anyone. What a waste of good fruit!

And then there is the other variety of virtue……

Inspired Virtue (The Cultured Apple): The inspired variety of virtue (fruit) is just like the ethnic virtue variety except that over time this variety has been carefully “cultured” by the attendance and direction of a farmer or orchard master. This variety of virtues has been influenced and empowered by the careful attendance of a loving farmer or orchard master. There is a plan in place, one that includes, watering, pruning, fertilizing, pollination, etc. Orchards with farmers or orchard masters are usually provided more protection from the external elements through strength in numbers when the storm comes. We all know that a storm will come don’t we? Cultured apples (inspired virtues) survive storms better. Due to the careful attention of the orchard master, the inspired variety of virtue produces higher quality fruit (virtue), and more of it. Historical examples of inspired virtue “orchard masters” are Jesus Christ, Moses, Isaiah, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Loyola, Calvin , John Wesley ,George Fox, Martin Luther, Brigham Young, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi. Inspired virtue farmers can also be along the likes of a pastor, a mentor, a coach, a teacher, a friend, a spouse, a boss, or some other organizational leader. You too are an inspired virtue farmer when you mentor others and lovingly encourage them to pursue a life of virtue.


Very few people can survive and thrive on the small harvest of virtue that occurs naturally in our humanity. True nourishment and a bountiful harvest occur when the farmer or orchard master multiplies natural/wild ethnic virtue with his care, nurturing, and encouragement. This synergy of our natural “ethnic virtue” and the added potency facilitated by the farmer or orchard master, is a wondrous and incredible collaboration that produces the finest fruits of the spirit, it produces “inspired virtue”. This collaboration and its super powered fruits are what form the very fiber of our well-being, holding our relationships together, and forming the foundation of what motivates every waking moment of our day.

Simply put, orchards with farmers or orchard masters produce better fruit just like souls with mentors and spiritual leaders produce better virtue.


Most “Character Development Programs” feature only a handful of virtues. They condescend under the argument of sacrificing quantity for quality. I disagree. Would you rather pick your fruit from an apple tree with six apples or fifty two apples? The Virtue First Foundation curriculum features fifty two virtues (one per week). With fifty two to choose from, you stand a far better chance of seeing a virtue that is the “apple of your eye”, a favorite, one that hits home with true meaning for you, touches your soul!


Seed: The seed of virtue lives within all of us. It is a natural part of our humanity. How we grow the seed is up to us and our farmer/orchard master. Is it a question of how many seeds are in the apple, or how many apples are in the seed? Are you watering your humanities seeds of virtue?

Bloom: It is an amazing thing when a soul discovers a new virtue. It is like a fresh new blossom on an apple tree. It is beautiful, it smells sweet, it is joyous. We often revel in the joy of a newly blossomed virtue in our soul. Remember that feeling when you performed a virtuous deed? How good it felt?

Hard Little Nubbin: As virtue goes, as quickly as the new wonder of the blossom comes so it disappears and is replaced by a hard little green nubbin. It is small, hard, green, and bitter tasting. We ask ourselves why the new virtue couldn’t have remained as a sweet smelling blossom? It’s not easy to grow virtue. It’s hard sometimes, it’s bitter sometimes. Nobody said it was going to easy. It takes everything in our power to hold onto an immature virtue and not discard it. Who wants that hard bitter little nubbin? Keep in mind what the potential of that hard little nubbin is, a fully ripened sweet fruit. It has potential!

Small Green Apple: If you stick with it, that fruit will start to mature into a hard green apple. Bitter yes, but it’s easier to envision and imagine the taste of the ripened fruit. It actually looks like an apple. You have grown this virtue. It starts to become hard to think about throwing away what you have invested so much in and waited so patiently for.

Ripe Fruit: The virtue has fully matured. It is rich in color, sweet smelling and sweet tasting. When you practice the virtue you are left with a great taste in your mouth and a smile on your face. Fully ripened virtues can be harvested and shared with other people, often providing both physical and spiritual nourishment.

Dormant Season: We all experience times when our orchard of virtue goes dormant. But surely as the sun comes up tomorrow, we know that it is only temporary and that a new bountiful season of virtue is just around the corner. There is a time for every season.


What are the growing practices of inspired virtue farmer/orchard masters? Inspired virtue can be grown through education, deliberate virtuous acts, perseverance in struggles, and by following examples set by others. For thousands of year’s virtue farmers/orchard masters have helped grow inspired virtue using these techniques.

Education: Sun Light to the apple tree is like education is to virtue. Like the apple tree converts sun light to energy through photosynthesis, understanding helps convert information from knowledge to wisdom. We can grow inspired virtue by increasing our understanding through education on the virtues.

Deliberate Virtuous Acts: Like the farmer supplements nature through the use of pesticides, insect, fertilizer, and fungus control, we can proactively improve the growth of inspired virtue by undertaking deliberate virtuous acts. If we put ourselves in positions where we must be charitable to others, our virtue of charity will grow. Our performing deliberate virtuous act’s serves just like fertilizer on the virtuous soul.

Perseverance in Struggles: Apple trees need to be pruned and trained so that they grow into properly shaped trees. Likewise, inspired virtue is shaped and trained through the pruning process of persevering in struggles. No pain, no gain. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The dead wood must be cut off to make way for the new growth. Old hardened trees sometimes need the dramatic removal of many large limbs, before new growth is possible. So it is for inspired virtue as well. Sometimes the old spiritual pride is so hardened that it takes a mighty cut to return it to humility. We must keep the faith during these times of pruning and persevere in the hope of the new growth that is sure to come.

Examples of Virtue: Just like pollination transfers pollen (the genetic code) from one tree to another, examples of virtue set by others transfers the genetic code for how to be virtuous from one human to another. You always need two trees to grow apples. Apple trees like humans are self-incompatible. One human must set the example of inspired virtue for others to follow. We can become virtuous by imitating virtuous examples set by others.


The ordered, planned practice of inspired virtue (like in an orchard) can lead to self- mastery, the joy of leading a morally good life, and a bountiful harvest. The practice of inspired virtue helps to shape us as people just like trees are shaped in the orchard. Over time, (as the genetic code of our soul changes) through the pursuit of virtue, we act virtuously not because of external constraints, but because it has become natural for us to do so. The inspired virtues form us as moral agents and become habit, so that we do what is right and honorable for no other reason than that it is right and honorable, irrespective of reward and regardless of what we are socially obliged to do. We start doing good even when no-one is looking. We start to take on the responsibility for maintaining our own orchard of virtue.


Our natural humanity has programmed each of us to practice “Ethnic Virtue”, the vast majority of us are wired to be virtuous, a call to basic decency and common sense (although there are many who question this daily). Ethnic virtue should come naturally to us. But is that good enough? Does that leave you satisfied when you know that there is a better life waiting out there for you? The good life? A more fruitful life made possible by coming under the influence of the techniques and practices of an inspired virtue farmer or orchard master. Their orchard practices can empower us as we take on the new identity of “The best apple we can be”. What farmer/orchard master techniques can you initiate today in yourself and in people around you to grow virtue?

Berry farming was the livelihood of my grandfather. He dedicated his whole life to it. For him it was a seven-days-a-week focus. I would like to think that a little bit of the farmer in him rubbed off on me. He spent his life growing berries. I would like to spend the rest of my life at the hands my orchard master and growing virtue.

Who is your orchard master and what are you growing today?