Planting Seeds of Change, Inside Appalachia


This week on Inside Appalachia, we talk with folks who are planting seeds of change — literally and figuratively. While many are finding joy through their gardens and food work, there are some people in Appalachia who are going through some of the most challenging times of their lives.

We dig into the story of a tomato — and not just any tomato. There’s a mystery behind an heirloom tomato, called the Mortgage Lifter. These tomatoes are big, pink and sweet. And they were so popular in southern West Virginia — sold at $1 a pop, no less — that they helped their creator pay off his mortgage. A farmer named Radiator Charlie bred two tomato varieties in Logan Country, West Virginia, and sold the plants at his local famer’s market to great success. Except, that’s not the end of the story. There is another “mortgage lifter” tomato. Folkways reporter Zack Harold looked into how we ended up with different tomatoes with the same name.

In This Episode:

This is an encore episode we originally aired last November. It was the first episode Mason Adams and Caitlin Tan ever hosted together, and they began by asking each other a little about their back stories, and what they look forward to about hosting Inside Appalachia.

No Ordinary Cookie

During the pandemic, many people have turned to baking as a new hobby. In fact, flour sales nearly doubled in 2020 compared to 2019.

Buckwheat cookie recipe graphic.png

Check out this recipe for cookies made with buckwheat flour.

Rachel Greene, one of our Folkways reporters, has been talking with bakers who make pies and cookies with flour that’s ground the old-fashioned way — at a stone mill. As Greene discovered, along with the cookie recipe, bakers in Western North Carolina are making all kinds of baked goods with stone-milled flour.

Healing For Families

Much of our national attention has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic in recent months, but the opioid crisis hasn’t gone away. And, during the pandemic, extra stressors have made it especially challenging for people who struggle with substance-use disorder. Emily Corio brings us the story of how several parents are trying to maintain sobriety to get their children back.

Within the past decade, the number of children in West Virginia’s foster care system has increased by more than 65 percent. Today, roughly 7,000 children are in state custody. The opioid epidemic hit families hard, and now, the pandemic is making things even harder. Despite this, people are finding ways to move forward. Last November, when we originally aired this episode, Emily Corio reported on some of the ways the pandemic has affected foster families.

As of March 29, 2021, a cumulative total of 306 children in foster care have tested positive for COVID-19 and 106 youth placed out of state have tested positive for COVID-19. There are seven active cases of COVID-19 in children in foster care; five are placed in foster homes and two are placed in an in-state residential facility.

If you or someone in your life is struggling with substance use disorder, and you want to find treatment, call 1-800-662-4357.


The Tale Of Two Mortgage Lifters

With spring upon us, many folks are beginning to plant their gardens. We listen back to a story about Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato. The tomato is known for its large size along with a pink coloring and sweet flavor.

Mortgage Lifters-5.jpg

Mary Lou Estler is making sure a family tradition, in the form of a home-grown tomato, doesn’t go out of style.

This heirloom breed got its start in Logan County, West Virginia, where a guy named Radiator Charlie bred two varieties of tomato together to create a giant, juicy fruit. Word spread of his creation and so many people bought his $1 tomato plants that he was able to pay off his house. That’s how the “Mortgage Lifter” got its name.

Except that’s not the end of the story. Turns out, there is a lesser-known West Virginia tomato, also called the “mortgage lifter” that’s older than Radiator Charlie’s. Our Folkways reporter Zack Harold investigated this great fruit mystery.

Repurposing Cicadas For Art

We also talk with a woman who found a unique symbol of renewal and change — cicadas. The noisy insects are known for emerging from the ground every few years in the summer. Jessie McClanahan, a ceramics artist based in Charleston, West Virginia, has discovered a way to incorporate their shells into her art.

McClanahan's finished cicada shells.

Photo courtesy of Jessie McClanahan
McClanahan’s finished cicada shells.

“I want people to love them as much as I love them. Like, they’re unabashedly themselves, you know, and they’re these little creatures that spend all this time underground,” McClanahan said. “And then they finally come out of their ground, and they’re like, “Hey, I’m here.””

Our co-host Caitlin Tan sat down with McClanahan to hear how the artist is repurposing the insects’ shells.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Guy Clark, and Anna and Elizabeth.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Our editor is Kelley Libby. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.