People Issue

Leslie Finical Halleck: The Chicken Quixote

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Leslie Finical Halleck, author of research papers in plant ecology and botany, and general manager of one of the city's oldest garden and landscape nurseries, might seem an unlikely Don Quixote to be found tilting against windmills at City Hall.

But that's before she tells you, quite candidly: "I'm an Army colonel's daughter, and I have an issue with authority."

Her battle started in the summer of 2009, when she picked up the phone and found a powerful City Council member on the line. She was by then several months into a poultry-education and chicken-sales operation at North Haven, the thriving gardening center in North Dallas. The councilman informed her that there had been complaints about her new business. Soon after, she was contacted by city officials, who explained in firm tones that it would have to stop. The chickens were, they asserted quite confidently, illegal.

"They were threatening to shut the business down," Halleck says. But she had researched city laws before ever launching her city chicken program. She was convinced City Hall was wrong. "I just didn't buy it," she says.

At first, North Haven's longtime owners were not thrilled to find themselves in such a contretemps. But Halleck assured them: "They don't have the right to do that, and you can't let them treat you that way."

So North Haven gave Halleck the go-ahead to fight City Hall on its dime. She did. And she won. After months of wrangling, she finally found a voicemail on her phone from City Hall saying she could keep selling chickens.

Today, her chicken business thrives, and Halleck and North Haven have become even bigger influences on Dallas gardeners, promoting and teaching home techniques for vegetable production. Halleck says she has learned something about Dallas: Despite its reputation for conservatism, it's surprisingly open to novelty and even a bit of eccentricity.

And that's good, she says, because raising edible plants and keeping food-producing animals is a quirky but satisfying way for city dwellers to take command of their own domains.

"One thing my dad would always say to me ... has become very apropos," she says, and repeats the mantra: "Bloom where you're planted."

See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze