ODESSA — The memory of endless rows of vendors bringing fresh vegetables, fish and coconut milk to outdoor markets in Thailand is easy to recall for Nu Ann Lewis. She said it was a bit of a culture shock coming to Odessa after growing up surrounded by locally sourced food.
Lewis is the daughter of Thai restaurateurs and she grew a passion for farmers markets and organic food early on while helping with her family’s business located in Bangkok. She has since found herself planting roots on the other side of the Pacific Ocean to support a local farmer.
The bubbly garden enthusiast navigated Troy Crumrine’s farm on West 47th Street like a second home. The vibrancy of her pink cowboy boots she wore as well as the vegetation she walked past gave a brightness not typically seen in the West Texas landscape to an area spanning about eight city lots.
Lewis first arrived in Odessa in 2009 after being accepted into the University of Texas at Permian Basin where she studied English. She also met her husband, while living on campus, who would later introduce her to Farmer Troy.
Odessa’s urban farmer took over the land owned previously by his mother about eight years ago and has become a regular at farmers markets popping up around the city.
This year Lewis will be joining him at the market events and stepping into the role of farm manager of the property. She is tasked with picking and cleaning vegetables, learning the ropes for marketing crops to residents and keeping the wheels of the business turning.
“It’s going to be fun this year,” Lewis said. “We love organic food and hopefully we can get more people to love organic food like us.”
Troy said the farmers market gives the community an access point to more options than what are available at their local grocer. The farmer said his products are not sprayed with any insecticides and emphasized the importance for consumers to have a choice in what they are eating.
“You should have that choice to not have chemicals in your food,” he said. “It’s hard for people to find that out here anymore.”
The duo had pearl onions lined up across multiple tables waiting to be divided into 1-pound bundles as well as a freezer full of pecans for the scheduled farmers markets this summer season.
Lewis and Troy have been developing a strategy for the upcoming months that focuses on bringing household staples, flavor and novelty to residents. Troy said learning buyer’s habits over the years have led him to always stock his shelves with tomatoes, carrots, onions and bell peppers.
The tomatoes grown inside the West 47th Street farm’s greenhouse give more attention to quality than quantity. Troy said the hanging tomato plants produce fewer tomatoes, but that is intentional.
“We’re kind of experimenting on our tomatoes,” he said. “They’re going to grow up and not out because I want them compacted; I want less tomatoes and better tomatoes. The plants won’t grow as many tomatoes or leaves, but it will put all of its energy into the tomatoes I allow it to grow — that means it’s going to be richer in flavor and it’s going to be better.”
Farmer Troy said they are looking to see what grows the best, what tastes the best and how much production they can get.
“We like to grow funny stuff too,” he said. “It’s not fun to have a farmers market unless there’s something out there that people can experiment with.”
Last summer the farm sold Star of David okra and about 200 pounds of spiny gherkins.
Residents can expect to see produce like Japanese eggplants and watermelon cucumbers this season. These small fruits resemble a miniature watermelon and have a cucumber-like taste with a touch of lemon.
Along with participating in all of the farmers markets hosted by the Medical Center Health System and the Parks Legado Town Center, the team will bring their own farmers market to life on West 47th Street on Tuesdays, Thursdays and select Saturdays.
Those interested in visiting are advised by Troy to look for the large, chicken lawn ornament that will let residents know they are in the right place.
The market will also offer educational opportunities to see agriculture up close.
“When they come over here, they’re welcome to walk the farm, look it over and they can come into the greenhouse.”