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?


Meeting Brian…and the farm dog.


Mortgage Lifter seedlings were started in greenhouses in March.


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.


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.


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.



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


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


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

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

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.
Success! The first Mortgage lifter..

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

Good looking’ bunch of ‘maters…

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

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

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

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!!!!


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.


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.

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.


Here is fresh cut zucchini for our Garden Style variety


Fresh cut mushrooms and peppers…


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!


Mmm. Starting to smell really good.


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.)


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.)


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.)


Here’s a jar getting its label.



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.


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

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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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

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.


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


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.

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

Kerry Solloway

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

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!

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!


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!


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!

mary ann pippher

this is amazing. companys say they are fresh.. I never believed it. yours however is.

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.

Julie Jones

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

Tammy Henninger

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

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.”