Challenging economic times call for ever more creative survival strategies. Food costs have exploded across the land, forcing families to squeeze every last penny from their rapidly devaluing dollars. Housing costs are another matter altogether and a home mortgage can be a terrible burden to bear. Just ask anyone who has lost their home through random hardship or the disappearing job. At times it seems a most unsolvable puzzle.
A man named MC (“Radiator Charlie”) Byles of West Virginia had a solution to these type of problems in the early 1940’s. In this case his answer was large and red and proud, and particularly delicious on a slab of steaming homemade bread with salt and mayonnaise.
A homespun gardener and inveterate tinkerer, he wanted to build a better, and bigger tomato. And build it he did. After several years of propagation his tomato plants could produce, mild, meaty, and delicious fruit of immense proportions. People flocked to his door for a look at a 3 pound tomato, and he was happy to accommodate them. Never one to miss an opportunity, he sold his seedling plants for $1 each and paid off his $6,000 home mortgage in a few short years. He named his new creation “the mortgage lifter”, and a backyard gardening legend was born.
That legend lives on today, and for good reason. Imagine paying off your property with the fruits of your backyard labor. Think about what life would be like without a house payment, or a weekly grocery bill large enough to choke a horse. It’s an inspiring and encouraging idea. It gives me hope. It can be done. Marshall Cletis Byles would tell you so, if he could.
I tip my gardening hat to him, and to the unbounded energies of his creativity. I’d say it’s time for many of us to take another look at his game changing idea. Perhaps it’s possible to follow his example and do our very best to lift the grinding weight of the mortgage from our backs. It may be an overly ambitious or unrealistic plan, but like him, I must try.
There are many ways to get there, and perhaps you have already begun or are well on your way. Our version of the “grocery lifter” comes in the form of rabbits and squab. Others beat back their bills with a small flock of geese, which possess the marvelous ability to efficiently convert grass to many pounds of tasty meat. The addition of a few pigs can provide miraculous results for your larder, particularly if you are a fan of pork and pig fat. Pigs, like tomatoes, have often been referred to as mortgage lifters. My neighbor has added a couple of steers to his small pasture and plans to keep one for the freezer and sell the other to cover his costs.
You may have an entirely different idea, but the intention is the same. I think it can be any animal or plant that works for you and fits your particular set of circumstances or comfort level. The important thing is that we all do a little to help ourselves and contribute to a more self-sufficient life. Every bit of food we can produce at home takes power form the corporate controlled food model. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning and keeps us grounded in the small satisfaction of a job well done.
So let’s hear it for the backyard gardener, the keeper of hens, the canner, and the prepper. Give thanks to the independent farmers and agricultural workers everywhere. Let’s revel in the joys of animal husbandry, fish farming, or beekeeping. Put a little bit of the farm and the old-fashioned barnyard back in your everyday life. You won’t regret it.
We can do it. We are doing it. Let’s decentralize, and unplug from the controlling grid. We must put our heads together, and our families and communities will follow. Let’s keep our friends close, and our enemies at bay. It’s the mortgage lifter revolution, because the very definition of mortgage is death and we must throw off the chains of that grim and unforgiving reaper of sorrows.
The spirit of MC Byles, like his seeds and giant heirloom tomatoes, live on. It can be seen in the successes of backyard entrepreneurs across the continents. Sometimes the path to independence and the bounty of a joyful life starts with a simple seed, planted in the welcoming and living earth of a backyard garden.
Long live the mortgage lifters and the backyard heroes, and the unlimited promise of a new day!
———-Do you have a backyard hero? Tell us your story…
“There’s nothin’ in the world that I like better than
Bacon, lettuce and home grown tomatoes
Up in the morning and out in the garden
Pick you a ripe one, don’t get a hard ‘un
Plant ’em in the springtime eat ’em in the summer
All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ and the diggin’
Every time I go out and pick me a big’un
Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes
What’d life be without home grown tomatoes
There’s only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes
You can go out and eat ’em, that’s for sure
But there’s nothin’ a home grown tomato won’t cure
You can put ’em in a salad, put ’em in a stew
You can make your own, very own tomato juice
You can eat ’em with eggs, you can eat ’em with gravy
You can eat ’em with beans, pinto or navy
Put em on the side, put em on the middle
Home grown tomatoes on a hot cake griddle
If I could change this life I lead
You could call me Johnny Tomato Seed
I know what this country needs
It’s home grown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cold dark cemetery
Out in the garden would be much better
Where I could be pushin’ up home grown tomatoes”
From “Home Grown Tomato”, By Guy Clark, Sugar Hill Records, 1997.