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Save Your Garden (and house) By Growing A Mortgage Lifter

My brother, Dennis, who easily could design the next heirloom mortage lifterLast week while talking to my younger brother, Dennis, who is a gardener extraordinaire, and we got around to talking “tomatoes.” Actually, we started out talking about how dismal the job market was and strategizing ways that people can make money when there are no jobs to be found. He and his wife are both currently unemployed and like so many feeling quite put about the situation. The extraneous fact that my brothers tomatoes are prolific and taller than the house each growing season, may seem not relevant. However, that reminded me of something so basic that I’d want everyone to know it — including him.

Now in the past, on a different online site, I’ve written about teaching kids how to grow money, by growing tomatoes. However, I’ve never told anyone how I developed the lesson plan, from a true story that my grandmother once told me, to illustrate how to grow money.

Gram had gotten her inspiration from a man named Marshall Cletis Byles (also known as M.C. Byles or Radiator Charlie). He was somewhat famous for his ingenious plan to pay off his mortgage by selling his own “cultivar” tomato — now an heirloom variety that later become known as the “Mortgage Lifter.”

As the story went, Radiator Charlie (he preferred to be called simply MC) needed to save his house from foreclosure when his truck radiator repair business went into a business slump during the Great Depression.

Always an inventive and creative man, he was also a man with a plan when he used ten of his best tomato plants.  He simply placed them in a circle, around a single heirloom variety of tomato still sold today, the German Johnson.

Now, these weren’t just any tomato plants doing the “dosado” dance of cross pollination. He had deliberately sought out tomato plants with the largest seeds he could find. Then, once in bloom, he’d collect pollen from all of them, in a baby’s ear syringe, and spurt it into the center of the flowers of the hearty German Johnson. After harvest, he’d save the seed.
It’s important to remember that Radiator Charlie had good business sense, despite the fact that he’d never set one foot in school. He additionally had something else any successful person needs — patience. It took him six years to develop a tomato variety that he was truly satisfied with. While that was being accomplished, he managed to pay off his six thousand dollar mortgage in a mere four years. He did this selling tomatoes, one plant at a time, for an astounding $1.00 each in a time when people were lucky to have a spare quarter.

What’s more intriguing to me, is that Radiator Charlie’s true genius was knowing how to market his tomato plants in a tough sell market — by promoting “one tomato plant being all you’d need to meet the tomato needs of a family of six.” Charlie’s tomatoes were not only very scrumptious, but very enormous, weighing in at one pound or even two pounds per fruit. He later expanded this business by marketing his the seeds of his success in seed catalogs by calling them what they were to him, “Mortgage Lifters.”

I like to think about this man behind the seeds and the story, inseparable in my mind, as the foundation of what we’ve always had in this country — and perhaps forgot — men and woman who dared to create for themselves a way out of disaster when the world headlines were telling them there was no way out.

Radiator Charlie who lived to the age of ninety-seven is long gone, but I’d also like to think that somewhere in heaven, he and John Denver are singing, “Only two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.” ~~  ‘Home Grown Tomatoes’ ~~ (from a song written by Guy Clark).  There’s a lot of truth to be found in the sentiment in that old song.

If You’d Like To Know More About Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes!

The Jefferson Monticello Catalog - Mortgage Lifter

Living on Earth

Tasty Tomatoes

Penny’s Tomatoes




“The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as ‘progress’, doesn’t spread.” ~~ Andy Rooney