Margie Jackson Haley’s Commitment to Sustainable Living
Photos by Karen McCullough
The laying hen is the pet that truly gives back. Margie Jackson Haley keeps nine of them, and by giving back, she doesn’t mean just the eggs they produce – well over a hundred a month – but also the mowing and fertilizing service they provide as they eat grass and insects and drop manure. The hens live in a chicken tractor, a coop on wheels to which Margie, and her ophthalmologist husband, John added a couple of screened annexes. They wheel it from one spot to another on their one and one quarter acre lot overlooking White Rock Lake, where they’ve lived since 1982. “Being as we live in a park, we’re in a wildlife corridor, with raccoons, beavers, skunks, armadillos, coyotes, foxes, and even a bobcat. To deter predators from digging and to make sure the poop fertilizes and doesn’t burn, we move the chickens every night,” Margie explains, easily lifting the hinged roof and revealing the enclosed wheels. “It doesn’t take but a couple of minutes.”
The Haleys celebrated the chickens’ first birthday on March 6 of this year. A box of worms was the birthday cake, and the party included the Haleys’ five and three-year-old granddaughters, who live just around the block. “They brought a pink ribbon to put around the worm box, and fed the chickens the worms and had a great time,” Margie says. She has strikingly blue eyes and a gentle Texas accent and although soft-spoken, she enunciates her words very clearly, perhaps reflecting her career as an audiologist
from the early ‘70s to 1990.
The hens are Margie’s second food-producing venture, a complement to the vegetable and herb gardening she began in 2005 and keeps expanding. The two plots and a patio pot garden she has at home just about fill the mostly wooded lot. Another plot in a community garden at Highlands Christian Church gets full sun all day and is only a five-minute drive from her house. The patio garden surrounds the swimming pool, which is kept clean with salt, not chlorine, she notes. In late March, the gray flagstone contains more than two dozen terracotta pots filled with parsley, sorrel, sage, burnet, and cilantro, as well as starts for spring and summer – basil, lettuces, chard, bell peppers, anchos, and lots of jalapenos, another favorite. “I love jalapenos!” Margie says. The three garden plots brim with lettuces, chard, cilantro, spinach, radicchio, turnips, collards, garlic, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Margie fertilizes her soil with two big compost piles of leaves and vegetable waste, and she waters her vegetables and herbs and other plants with rainwater collected from their metal roof and stored in four three-thousand gallon cisterns. Eight years ago, the Haleys attended the annual Texas Renewable Energy Roundup in Fredericksburg
and were inspired to make use of their metal roof for water catchment and also for solar panels. The panels provide electricity for their “on-demand” hot water heater and serve as a back-up system in case of power failure.
To aid in pollinating vegetable and landscape plants, and to help protect honeybee populations, Margie permits Dallas members of the Texas Honeybee Guild, producers of Zip Code Honey, to keep hives near one of her home plots. “In return, I get ten percent of whatever the hive produces. It’s wonderful,” she says. “A month ago, I got three big jars of honey. Six pounds!”
Both Margie and John enjoy cooking, and eat out at most twice a week. “Home-cooked food tastes better than restaurant food,” Margie says, “especially when you grow a lot of your own vegetables and salad makings. The spinach we’re eating now is the best we’ve ever had, and the broccoli and cauliflower have been terrific, too. It’s all
fabulous!” They often cook with a solar oven, placing it on their patio and inching it along the stones every fifteen or so minutes as the sun moves. “Almost anything you can cook in a regular oven, you can cook in this, just a little slower, and just not big things like turkeys,” Margie says, doing a quick, dry run demo. “That wonderful, free sun, harsh as it sometimes is, can be utilized for so many things, and cooking is one of them. Just the day before yesterday, I made cookies in this oven with my granddaughters. Such fun!”
Margie’s idea of fun — doing simple, useful things in a mindful way– stems from twenty years of working to reduce her carbon footprint while helping to foster sustainable living in her neighborhood and throughout the Dallas community. The daughter of an avid outdoorsman who fished and hunted dove and quail, Margie enjoyed plenty of time in the Texas countryside as a child and was taught to leave a place better than she found it. Turning to environmental issues after concluding her audiology career seemed less a new interest than a revival of an early one. She attended a 1990 Dallas conference on the environment, listening to speakers for four days. “They were excellent, and the place was set up for four hundred people,” she recalls. “But only about ten housewives came, and I thought, wow, is this all the interest there is here in the environment?” One of the attendees told Margie about organizations she could join if she wanted to get involved. “And so I started joining up in every group I could”, including CEED, (the Coalition for the Earth’s Environment Dallas), the League of Women Voters and the Audubon Society.
Margie followed others’ lead for a while but soon began taking the initiative on projects for which she saw a need. One of the first was a paper exchange and recycling venture that she operated from her garage for two years. A paper wholesaler was relocating and planned to recycle or discard large quantities of unused paper it didn’t want to transport, and Margie didn’t see the sense in that. “I decided to rescue the paper and let environmental groups come by and take what paper they could use, and I recycled only what no one took.” Another early project was working with others to get general recycling going in Dallas. “We went to grocery stores and handed out petitions,” Margie says, “and talked with city council members and other officials.”
One thing led to another, and in 1998, Margie learned that Al Gore was planning a sustainability summit in Detroit for 1999 and wanted to get people to organize similar summits all over the country. Margie decided Dallas should have one and enlisted the help of the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and
several green business leaders with whom she’d been working, including Gary Olp, principal of GGO Architects, and Tom Kemper, founder and CEO of Dolphin Blue, Inc., a business-office supply company. They established the organization Sustainable Dallas and in 1999 held a three-day summit by that name. “It was mildly successful,”
Margie says. “About fifty people came, not many for the amount of work we put into it, but it got us started.” They organized a Sustainable Dallas conference for the seven following years, gradually increasing the attendance to over three hundred.
Air pollution is among the environmental issues of special concern to Margie. “The very first act of life is a breath of air,” she says. “Shouldn’t that be the first thing we want to protect? And shouldn’t we root out anyone who’s trying to do otherwise, doing things that make it impure?” She and John have driven Toyota Priuses since they came on the market, and they use Green Mountain Energy, whose sources include wind and solar power plants, for electricity. To keep their electricity consumption to a minimum, they modified their central air conditioning and heating system so that they can cool or heat only the rooms they’re using rather than the whole house. During 2006-07, when TXU proposed building eleven coal-fired power plants, Margie worked actively with others to oppose the plan, an effort that ultimately helped reduce the number of plants to three. In the fight against coal, Margie sponsored experts to come to Dallas, including a scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, to speak with elected officials and civic and environmental leaders.
Over the past twenty years, Margie and John have spent hundreds of thousands of their own dollars and given countless hours of their time to better the environment, not just in Dallas, but in Crested Butte, their second home. They sponsor people to come speak by paying their airfare and offering them accommodations in their own home.
Their sponsorships aren’t always publicly noted, and Margie likes this. “It suits me fine not to be in the limelight, and to do whatever I can to bring key people together and help them get things done,” she explains. “You want people in positions of power and influence to learn what they need to know to get things done, and you want them to get
the glory and feel like they’re the ones who make things happen, even though it’s usually a lot of people making something happen.” She and John feel fortunate to be able to contribute this way. “Compared to most doctors’ families, we live beneath our means,” she says. “I’m not a Neiman Marcusy person and never have been. I don’t want to
own a bunch of expensive stuff. I’m always trying to get rid of stuff. It gives us much more pleasure to spend money on environmental issues than on stuff for ourselves.”
About a year ago, Margie began feeling she’d dropped a number of personal projects that were important to her. These days, she spends less time on large public causes and more on smaller ones at home and in her neighborhood. This spring, she and John organized a monthly series of neighborhood self-reliance classes for the White
Rock Neighborhood Association and the Shore Acres Beautification Club. The Haleys are hosting the first four. The first one in March focused on growing vegetables and was conducted by Don Lambert, a leader in Dallas community gardening. The April class provided information on keeping laying hens. As the classes continue, Margie
hopes their neighbor-participants will take on teaching roles, sharing any self-reliance skills they’ve developed with the group.
She also hopes that other neighborhood associations will be inspired to organize their own self-reliance classes and notes that this is happening throughout the U.S. “I’m not thinking up anything new by any means, just trying to implement things in my day-to-day world,” Margie says. “We’re living in a time when so many challenging developments are converging. Climate change, population growth, diminishing natural resources, unsafe food, and a financial crisis! I mean, there are so many things that should make us do differently, make us more selfsufficient.”
Margie would like to see a substantial increase in local food production and marketing throughout the Dallas area. A large, city-owned utility easement in her neighborhood would make an excellent community garden, she thinks, and she’s talking with certain people to help bring it about. She recently joined the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which hosts an annual conference and other educational events throughout the state, and she has also joined Dallas Farmers Market Friends, a market she’s connected to through family history. Her great grandfather, business and civic leader A. A. Jackson, opened a wholesale produce company in 1883 that bore his name on the stretch of South Pearl St. that the market, under various names, has occupied ever since.
Acts of self-reliance, her own and others’, and the community they create, give Margie hope that these difficult times will make sustainable living the norm rather than the exception. “I was really happy to see Michelle Obama get the White House garden going! That is probably the biggest shot we could have for all of us to get people
gardening again! I honestly think that if ever there was a time to say, okay, we’re all in this mess together and we all need to pitch in and change how we live, it’s now. Think what a difference it could have made if George W. Bush instead of telling us to go shopping had said, ‘Why don’t you plant yourself a victory garden?’ It’s a wonderful
thing for children and all of us to know where our food comes from.” she says, and she and her husband are taking many of the steps to make that reality in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Backyard Poultry magazine, backyardpoultrymag.com
Note: Local ordinances about keeping poultry and other animals vary. In Dallas it is legal to keep chickens but not roosters.
Dallas Farmers Market Friends, dfmfriends.org
Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association,tofga.org
Texas Honeybee Guild, texashoneybeeguild.org
Texas Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair, theroundup.org
PAMELA WALKER, who lives in Houston, has worked actively in local farm and food community development since 1998. She is the author of Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas: Profiles of Organic Farmers and Ranchers Across the State (TAMU Press, 2009), and is currently writing a book about local farm and food communities in Texas, under contract with TAMU Press.