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From Seed to Jar - The Making of Mortgage Lifter

Posted by josh kilmer-purcell on


seed-to-jar

25% of all profits from Mortgage Lifter products aid small American farms. The sauce is made using an heirloom tomato variety called "Mortgage Lifter," first bred in the 1930s.

Our primary challenge in creating our Mortgage Lifter Pasta Sauces was to create an amazingly delicious product that helped support small American farms, yet could be produced in large enough quantities to find its way onto national grocery store shelves. And it also needed to be at a price point most folks could afford.

It wasn't an easy job (if it was, someone else would've done it before us.) But we got it done. And how. 25% of all profits are set aside to help small American Farms, and in the first year of sales we raised over 13k to give back to small farms.

But with success comes new challenges. We calculated that we would need over 3000 lbs of heirloom tomatoes in 2014 to supply the exploding demand for the sauce. We began desperately searching for a local small farm that could handle the challenge. There were significant logistical challenges. The farm needed to be near where we made the sauce (Schenectady) so that the cost of shipping wouldn't make the sauce too costly. Complicating things further, tomatoes are not a standard commercial crop in NY. With our short growing season, it would be a gamble for any small farm to take on.

That's when we met farmers Justine and Brian, of Denison Farm in Schaghticoke, NY. They became our farmers in shining armor. Follow along to watch how we all worked together over this season to bring Mortgage Lifter to a store shelf near you...from seed to Jar.

Here's Denison farm, in early spring. Beautiful, right?

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Meeting Brian...and the farm dog.

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Mortgage Lifter seedlings were started in greenhouses in March.

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Justine and Brian wisely decided to grow some other delicious heirloom varieties of tomatoes as well. If a disease, pest, or fickle weather negatively impacted the Mortgage Lifter harvest, at least we would have other heirloom varieties to supply the demand.

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Brian is very precise and scientific about his planting and potential yields. Farming isn't as simple as hobby gardening. There are livelihoods at stake...from his own farmhands, to the folks who make our sauce, to the farmers the sauces will help. A crop failure would be a failure for all of us.

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Justine and her daughter, Maggie, had already moved some seedlings out to a hoop house in a gamble that the earlier planting would result in an earlier crop. It was risky, though. There was still a month or more of frost possibilities.

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Here we chat with Justine and her daughter about which fields the rest of the seedlings will be transplanted to.

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A month or so later, the seedlings were off to strong starts.

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Denison's Farm's has a few secret weapons in their arsenal...several million of them in fact. They live here:

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By August, it was clear that the gambling (and strategic farm practices) had paid off. 

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Justine and Brian called to let us know that we on track to have our first Mortgage Lifter harvest by the end of month. They would be harvested in three rounds, about 10 days apart. Hopefully we could get the full 3000# by the first frost, which could come as early as mid September.

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Success! The first Mortgage lifter...

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Mortgage Lifters are gently loaded into crates to be taken to the weigh-in station.

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Good looking' bunch of 'maters...

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Some of the heirloom romas that were also grown to help insure enough harvest...

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Walter holds a handful of beauties...we were all so happy that the harvest was bountiful. 

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The weigh-in station was bustling. Each box was weighed precisely before being sent to be turned into sauce.

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Justine and Brian saved the day! Actually, they saved the whole year...Denison farms not only produced the 3000 lbs we asked for. They wound up harvesting 1000 lbs extra!!!!

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Mortgage Lifter Sauces are made at a 2nd generation, family-run, state-of-the-art "big kitchen" in Schenectady. Here is Adine Viscusi, the daughter of the founder, and Dave Garrison - Production Manager. (Don't we all make hairnets fabulous?) They're culinary geniuses, making sure the recipe is perfect every batch.

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Of course the main reason Mortgage Lifter is so popular is how it tastes. And it tastes great because of the fresh tomatoes. Most processing plants can't handle fresh tomatoes. They just buy barrels of tomato sauce from China or wherever. But Adine, Dave and their team prep Justine and Brian's 4000 lbs of Mortgage Lifters by hand. Anyone who cans their own tomatoes knows that it is messy, hard work.

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Adine wore a special shirt to the office for the occasion...

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Much of the Mortgage Lifter harvest was flash frozen so that we can use it throughout the year. We want to make sure that all batches of Mortgage Lifter are made fresh, right before shipping.

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Another reason Mortgage Lifter tastes different than other grocery-store brands is that we use only whole ingredients, prepped by hand. The onions and garlic are sautéed in olive oil.

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Here is fresh cut zucchini for our Garden Style variety...

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Fresh cut mushrooms and peppers...

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Anyone who's purchased the sauce knows that the likelihood of finding a whole basil leaf in your jar is pretty high. Why? Ummm... because we use whole basil leaves!

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Mmm. Starting to smell really good.

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Okay. Here's the real secret to why Mortgage Lifter tastes so much better than other sauces. Brace yourself. Don't say we didn't warn you. You see, most of the sauce that you find on your grocery store shelf is never cooked. At least, not by your and our definition of cooking. Even the super fancy sauces (we won't name names) are simply pre-cooked barrels of tomato sauce, stirred together with powdered spices and corn syrup  ...and then... you won't believe this.... shot through a super heated tube into a jar. That's right. They're not even simmered. Just superheated and shot into a jar.

But Mortgage Lifter is made just like the first batch we made on our stove. All of the ingredients are simmered for hours and hours and hours. (Granted, we use much larger pots now.)

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Dave is a stickler for safety and efficiency. All of the jars are carefully washed & sterilized. (We use real Mason jars...if you buy new lids you can re-use them for your own canning at home.)

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The equipment used to fill the jars is complicated. There are safety scanners, and codes, and computers, and logs...we won't even try to explain it. (Cuz we can't.)

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Here's a jar getting its label.

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The jars are actually put into the boxes still warm. Depending on where they're going, they'll sometimes hit the shelves within a day or two. When we're backordered with online orders, we ship them the same day they're made.

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Even before the jars are cool, Brent and Adine are discussing the next batch.

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Hungry yet? Here...go pick up a jar or two...

 


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16 comments


  • I just want to say … love watching you guys on EVINE,. i have ordered for the FIRST time a few of you all products. i haven’t gotten it yet.but i’m so excited to have found you all and getting these products. i’m orginally from Guantanamo Bay Cuba..born IN Cuba. My mother and i jumped the fence to :Guantanamo in 1963 to Guantanamo and i just wanted to say that when i was born my mom had a hard keeping the cow’s milk down and she took me to the doctors and said give her goats milk, and my mom said that did the trick. Sooooo you goats are so sweet and they remind me that i drank goats milk while growing up..it was the best. i have ordered thru EVINE… shampoo, conditioner, then the set of lip balm, lotion , the towels.. then also ordered the lip balms and soup sets… can’t wait to get it . Thank you so much you guys for what you do. And yes..NEIGHBOR…keep up the good work. Love seeing the goats on Cam. Love and hugs to you both. Pat :)

    Ms.Pat Duffus on

  • I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I am with your love, caring and variety of products. I finally purchased a four pack of your honey facial cloths from Evine the last time you were at their studio. These cloths are so cool and filled with wonderful ingredients, they do clean my face. I have watched the CAM a few times, and my heart was beating fast. Do I assume the goats with the beard are the males? The ones you bring for your appearances on Evine must be babies, and they are so adorable that I want to babysit for all of them!!! I watched everything online and am amazed at all you do – sheets to seeds, sauces to hand cream. God will be good to you because you do so much for others. You set a wonderful example by utilizing all those families involved in your business; creating jobs, terrific products, and most of all, NEIGHBORS. Thank you for being you.

    Mary Burr on

  • My husband and I grow a large organic garden in northern Cali.(real north Cali, above Redding). We can & freeze as much add we need and give the rest to friends & relative’s that stick love to can and too those canning for the first time. Mortgage lifters are one of our favorites…..if there is a way we can help small farmers we absolutely would. Sustainable farming is what we HAVE to do to get American back on track and just the story of the name mortgage lifters made us look into it. Great story about the farmers story in America. My husband family grew rice & had walnut orchards. I was shocked to hear about the set aside programs the government forces them into. I just wonder and wish that they would admit the failure it was and put our farmland back to work. We are seeing more brand new almond orchards drinking down the valley to Sacramento…could it be that farmers (mortgage lifters lol) will save our original farmland and help bring all of the people depressed from lack of work, poor eating habits etc back into a mortgage lifter economy??

    Diana COFFMAN on

  • Went to a Target on the list and bought my first two jars of ML sauces. Was hoping they would have the other items on display—hopefully soon. Can’t wait to make some pasta soon to try these. I grew up on a small farm in Florida (and even grew tomatoes). The owner sold it and it is now a golf course :( We must save the small farms—because starving sucks!! Thanks for showing truly how special these products are! Continued success!!

    Karen on

  • We finally got to have some Mortgage Lifter Sauce. I chose the original recipe to start with. I actually packed it in my suitcase (in lots of bubble wrap) because I wanted my first jar to be from the Mercantile in Sharon Springs. My sisters live in nearby Roseboom and Cooperstown and I was visiting so I had to make my way to the shop on my way back to Albany. What a treat!! I love the store so much. It was my second visit. Well, the sauce was fantastic and I cannot wait to buy more at our Target here in Snellville, Georgia. I think you have a tremendous product and can’t wait to try all the other things now available to us at Target. P.S. I am devouring the Almanac page by page!!!!!

    Noreen Morrison on


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