If the word “Sicilian” conjures up images of crime families–godfathers with cigars and slouched homburgs brandishing Tommy guns in bank robberies–you would be wrong about the Lucidos of Flower Mound and Copper Canyon.
While Al Capone scrambled toward an appointment with the electric chair, Sicilian immigrant farmer Vito Lucido taught his 12 children how to grow just about everything on their land in Louisiana.
Although Vito’s son Giovanni, known locally as John, earned his bread as part owner of a successful auto repair business in Dallas, he could not resist the urge to play in the dirt–which he did up until a few months right before his recent death at age 86.
His daughter Lisa pointed to an old photo of their deep green suburban Dallas backyard that overflowed with neat rows of potted seedlings.
“He had a soft spot in his heart for herbs,” she said, “People called him The Herb Man.”
She rubbed the downy surface of a Cuban oregano leaf in her kitchen, “Here, smell this!”
The unusual herb looked like a variegated green and white succulent vine. The smell was intoxicating. “We use it in homemade pasta sauce,” she said.
John Lucido’s talent lay in germinating seeds, and coaxing root cuttings to life.
“He never bought seedlings or slips or starts,” Lisa said. Still amazed at his skills, she shook her head, “He never solved a problem with chemical fertilizers, and he weeded by hand. He grew everything himself from start to finish,” and he made sure his three children learned the arts.
“Dad made his living as a mechanic, but he gardened out of love,” Lisa said.
“At some point my mom wanted her yard back so my Dad bought a piece of farmland out in the middle of nowhere—Copper Canyon!” Lisa laughed.
That wasn’t so long ago, Lisa is not yet 50.
Before its time as a tony rural outpost in southern Denton County, Copper Canyon boasted a loose gravel road amid nothing noteworthy.
“Every summer I sat on the fence out at the road, and watched the long horn cattle drive, and its wagon train pass on the way from the Fort Worth stockyards up to Oklahoma,” Lisa said.
She pointed in the opposite direction toward Lantana, maybe a quarter mile distant as the crow flies, “I used to ride my horse through the woods over there. Believe it or not this whole area was acres and acres of fertile sandy loam like we have here.”
She kicked the cushion-like soil in the half acre garden. Home gardeners in Lantana will tell you the ground has changed.
Over the years the Lucidos gardened, raised a few heads of beef, and grazed a horse or two. They composted the manure then used it in their garden.
“The stuff smells a little barn-yard at first, but over time that goes away,” Lisa said as she took an exaggerated breath of the very fresh air.
When Lisa grew up and married she lived in the salmon colored frame house with cream trim on the family land in Copper Canyon. She decided to turn twin sheds into coops for 200 chickens, and she started a small venture selling eggs.
To keep the size of her chicken operation in perspective, the chicken/egg agribusinesses in east Texas, some of the largest in the nation, house 150,000 birds at a time. They sell off their manure by the ton.
“You have to clean a chicken coop every day,” Lisa said.
“Chickens are fun,” she said, “they hunt and peck during the day then in the evening they strut into the hen house of their own accord.”
There is nothing so scrumptious, she added, as eggs fresh from the hen.
She opened an empty coop, “My father’s estate has kept us out of farming this past winter, but we’re on the verge of getting back to the business of raising living things.”
Of course humans were not the only locals who enjoyed the taste of Lisa’s chickens and eggs.
“One day I was out here working when I heard one of my girls squawking and screeching. She scrambled out from between the coops and tore right past me in a blur of dust and feathers. I looked up to see a coyote in hot pursuit. He was going too fast to stop, and he slammed right into me!”
Lisa is maybe all of 5 feet tall.
She leveled a hand at her sternum, “He was about this tall. We looked at each other in horror then he made a u-turn, and bolted back into the woods,” she said with a giggle.
Lisa said Lantana has crowded out the natural woodlands and the wildlife that called Copper Canyon home. That’s not all bad she supposed. When the developer dug to install the water tower near the Lucido land, “They opened a HUGE underground nest of Copper Head snakes,” Lisa said. She hunched her shoulders, mimicked a shiver, and made a face, “There were thousands of snakes!”
Several years ago Lisa bought a greenhouse which the men in her life installed out behind the house in Copper Canyon. It looks like the skeleton of a World Ward II Quonset hut covered with heavy gauge plastic. Its roof’s arc is maybe 15 feet high. A long PVC pipe connecting sprinkler heads dangles from the high backbone over equally long wood tables with fence wire tops.
“It’s terrific in here in the late autumn, the winter, and the spring, but it’s a sauna in the summertime!” Lisa said.
She pointed to the plastic on the west side of the greenhouse, “It took a beating in that ferocious hail storm that shattered Lantana windows and attic vents two years ago. We were surprised the plastic held, but you can see the damage here was minimal.”
Half of the greenhouse looks like a translucent windshield pelted by loose gravel.
In time Lisa moved to Flower Mound, and her brother Chris took over the place in Copper Canyon where he is in the thick of sowing 2013’s tomato seeds in black plastic 3-inch pots.
“I plan to have about 200 plants,” Chris said.
Lisa showed off his sowed potato slips and onions out in the garden plot.
Over the years the Lucido clan and the Copper Canyon land has produced potatoes, onions, tomatoes, squashes, melons, cucumbers, corn, gigantic Italian squashes, strawberries, and of course lots of herbs, “But we’re best known for our tomatoes,” Lisa said.
In his early years in Copper Canyon, John Lucido grew more than his family and friends could eat so he set up a homemade sign at the road that read Pic-N-Sav. A big arrow pointed toward the garden.
“People came from all over the place to pick their own tomatoes,” Lisa said. “Dad was particular about the taste of his produce. He personally taste-tested the harvest from each plant then devised ways to solve what he considered problems.”
For those souls who didn’t want dirt under their fingernails, John set up sawhorse and sheet plywood tables in the garage then sold off pre-picked produce.
“My Dad dispensed growing and cooking advice, passed out tasting samples, and of course sold pots of herbs. When he died 1,000 people showed up at his funeral. People we didn’t know said he had taught them so much about herbs.”
The fertile family garden, like the backyard nursery, eventually got out of hand, and sent John and his children into the business of selling at farmers markets. Lisa rattled off a long list of markets they use every year. She included Coppell, White Rock, Dallas, McKinney, Keller and tiny little Bartonville Town Center.
The market at Bartonville may be small but it has a competitive array of produce in season: corn, new potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, yellow onions, zucchini squashes, BIG blackberries, slicing tomatoes, dark red peaches, oversized cantaloupes, 30-pound watermelons, cucumbers, and Lucido Pastas like angel hair and linguini “bird nests” and
The Lucidos also sell professionally canned olives, pasta sauces, salsas, too many pickles to list, relishes, dips, preserves, syrups, fruit butters, salad dressings, and yes, artisanal honey from a beeyard that calls the Lucido property home. Google Lucido Pasta to see what’s on the menu.
If Chris is at the Bartonville market when you go, ask him how to prepare his family’s signature roasted garlic linguini. The Lucido apple has not fallen far from the tree!
Lisa recently decided to expand on the Lucido legacy. She bought 39 acres of woods and farmland near Jacksonville, Texas south of Tyler. She intends to move there, and produce timber, coastal hay, and of course those mouth-watering Lucido tomatoes you can find only at farmers markets in north central Texas.