Skip Navigation

The Kids Call Her The Butterfly Lady

Many students know "The Butterfly Lady" from education field days in Runnels County, Texas. For Pat Crowley, she wears her nickname like a badge of honor. She volunteers with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Earth Team Volunteer program.

"I love when kids see me at the store, and say, ‘Hi Butterfly Lady.’ And then tell me about how their family planted flowers at home and are seeing all kinds of butterflies and other insects. Every time it makes me remember why I volunteer those hours," Crowley said. "When I teach classes, I can typically see a light come on in many of the student’s faces and I see them become engaged with the lesson, which is why I am so passionate about pollinators and volunteering my time."

She married her high school sweetheart, Ed, who joined the Air Force and moved around the world and even worked for the White House for eight years under Johnson and Nixon, then went to Germany, Denver, Miami, and San Angelo. While Ed continued his military career, Crowley had two sons and earned a bachelor’s degree while working and raising a family. One of the many places Ed was stationed was at Goodfellow Air Force base in San Angelo. The Crowleys knew there was something that would bring them back to West Texas. Ultimately, it was the people of San Angelo and West Texas that resonated with them. Today, they are only 45 miles from San Angelo on their farm they bought after Ed’s retirement where he farms and raises cattle.

Crowley is retired for the second time after a long career in database management for different technology companies and government agencies including NASA. To settle into retirement, she decided that it was time to learn the ins and outs of the farming and ranching since she is now done with her career and she wanted to help her husband as much as she could.

"I told Ed I needed something new to feed my mind, so he took me to the USDA office and we stopped at the NRCS office and met Kathy Saunders, the district conservationist. We began talking about roots and carbohydrate storage, which I had been reading about before our visit," Crowley explained. "Kathy later came to the farm to talk about what we could do to improve our pastures and hay crop and update our conservation plan. At that point, I asked about the Earth Team Volunteer Program and Kathy put me to work."

"I am very lucky to have someone as passionate and hard working as an Earth Team Volunteer," said Kathy. "She began in 2015 and it’s always fun on days she works because we talk about different conservation concerns that sometimes I wouldn’t have thought about for my farmers and rancher in our area." Crowley began to consume information about agriculture and conservation. She knows that it is hard to have one without the other. The science behind conservation and agriculture made her mind race with passion especially after deciding to plant her own field of pollinator habitat.

"Planting native pollinator habitat was easy with the help of Kathy and her staff. They even helped me locate a quality site with the correct type of soil while also utilizing a native seed plant mix that continued to bloom at different times of year allowing food for all kinds of wildlife," Crowley said.

Her first assignment as an Earth Team Volunteer was to teach third and fourth graders at the Ballinger Elementary School the importance of pollinators which included a lot of information on butterflies which ultimately coined her nickname as "The Butterfly Lady."

"Children are our future and teachers plant seeds in kids heads every day, but you never know what is going to sprout whether it be engineering, agriculture, writing, or really it could be anything that becomes their passion." Crowley said. "I have taught pollinators, horse safety, and now soil health which just keeps fueling my passion for our natural resources and conservation."

Crowley continues to educate the public on conservation. She also continues to improve the land stewardship on her farm by continuing to convince Ed to plant more pollinator habitat and adopt conservation tillage practices such as no-till farming.

Crowley chuckled "This year, Ed planted one of his wheat fields using a no-till drill, so he is listening. Now I just need him to try cover crops which I think we have a field picked out with a seed list ready to order and to get planted."

Crowley plans to continue to be an Earth Team Volunteer to assist the local field staff with whatever they might need. She has not only become an asset to the NRCS but a part of the NRCS family. "The Butterfly Lady" will continue to be a local treasure at the area schools to help teach the importance of conservation.

The Kids Call Her The Butterfly Lady, Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, April)