seed-to-jarOur 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. 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 to to grow out the huge amount of Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes we needed. 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. But 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?

IMG_7010

Meeting Brian…and the farm dog.

IMG_7015

Mortgage Lifter seedlings were started in greenhouses in March.

IMG_7017

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.

IMG_7020

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.

IMG_7023

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.

 

IMG_7004

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

IMG_7012

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

IMG_7013

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

IMG_7005
By August, it was clear that the gambling (and strategic farm practices) had paid off. 

IMG_0409
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.
IMG_0445
Success! The first Mortgage lifter..

IMG_0389
Mortgage Lifters are gently loaded into crates to be taken to the weigh-in station.

IMG_0431
Good looking’ bunch of ‘maters…

IMG_0428
Some of the heirloom romas that were also grown to help insure enough harvest…

IMG_0424
Walter holds a handful of beauties…we were all so happy that the harvest was bountiful

IMG_0406
The weigh-in station was bustling. Each box was weighed precisely before being sent to be turned into sauce.

IMG_0454
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!!!!

IMG_0469

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.

IMG_3750

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.

photo 1

photo 3

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

photo 1

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.
IMG_3797

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.

IMG_3715

Here is fresh cut zucchini for our Garden Style variety

IMG_3721

Fresh cut mushrooms and peppers…

IMG_3731

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!

IMG_7080

Mmm. Starting to smell really good.

IMG_3725

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.)

IMG_3736

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.)

IMG_3739

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.)

IMG_3783

Here’s a jar getting its label.

IMG_3767

 

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.

IMG_3757

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

IMG_3796

 

 MORTGAGE LIFTER SAUCES ARE NOW AVAILABLE IN TARGET STORES EVERYWHERE!

Comments32

Leave a Reply

  • By: Sarah Blackmon

    Is mortgage lifter project still going? I work at a small farm in Keller, Tx. I would like for them to apply for this program.

    • By: Dr. Brent

      yep. Have you been to your local Target store to pick up some of the products? The nomination process will start taking place in two weeks

  • By: Jay rogers

    I grow mortgage lifters on my farm and love them its great how they got there name. I also think its great that your helping small farms out with a donation.

  • By: Jane

    Finally my closest Target has “the sauce”! I bought some yesterday! I love it! I really rather buy it at the Mercantile! Sorry Target!

  • By: vallery

    so, all of your ingredients are grown & harvested from small farms in NY?
    I’ve heard that a lot of the tomatoes for jarred sauces come from CA (lots of pesticides, GMO’s, etc).
    the other reason why I ask is this: we have a semi-famous winery here in NC that produces NC wines. well, I recently found during a factory tour that a large % of their grapes come from CA, not NC!! they do put the fine print on the bottle.
    having to supply all Target stores is a big undertaking.
    I love your sauces, & other products I’ve purchased from you.
    thanks for “keeping it real” & giving small farms the props they deserve.
    I’ll be in NY in May & will try to stop by the store again.

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Hi, Vallery. We use as many tomatoes from small farms as we can and then supplement with tomatoes grown on larger farms. However, all of the tomatoes we use are GMO free

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Hi, Dan

      At the end of February we’ll post on the homepage how people can nominate

  • By: Kerry Solloway

    Loved reading the story of how your delicious tomato was created. Keep up the good work:)! The sauce was delicious!

  • By: Linda Turner

    Thanks for this timeline! I love to promote products that are a result of someone’s idea that things should be of high quality, made with the utmost regard to safety and health and without cutting corners to make an extra buck…greetings and admiration to everyone involved in the successful Mortgage Lifter project!

  • By: Sue Wimble

    So fascinating to read about the “village” of folks involved in every step of making Mortgage lifter. I am so impressed! Can’t wait to buy more. Love you guys and everything you do!

  • By: LuvZdollZ

    That was enjoyable seeing the process. For many years I grew my own tomatoes and made my own sauce so I know what hard work goes into it. Hope we will be able to get the sauce in CT soon. That tomato harvest was really wonderful! Sauce like this is well worth the price!

  • By: Beth

    Quality is so much better than quantity! Makes you savor every morsel 🙂

  • By: Carrie

    Before I read this, I thought $8.99 was awfully pricey for spaghetti sauce. Now that you have shared all that goes into a jar, I now say, “it’s only $8.99?!” Looks like a lot of good folks are involved in a truly handmade process. Thank you for sharing!

  • By: nlforst

    This is absolutely amazing! Great to show the process of how it’s done!

    • By: Dr. Brent

      You’ll be amazed at how different it tastes from other jarred sauces

  • By: Diane Svatek

    Wonderful to see the Denisons as such an integral part of the mortgage lifter process. Thanks to all for your delicious sauces and supporting small farmers.

  • By: Julie Jones

    Yum!! I missed out last year so I am going to grab some of this right away!!! Thanks for sharing the process!

  • By: pfyre

    Looks good. Will definitely give it a try when we see it at Target.

  • By: Tammy Henninger

    Thanks Guys..it nice to know where our food is coming from!~I canned for years, and tomato sauce is really time consuming and labor intensive….

    • By: Dr. Brent

      It may take us a while to solve everything, but as Albert Einstein says: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Leave a Reply