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The location is clandestine, the patrons are grimy and the waiting list is lengthy. It’s not Dallas’ hottest new nightclub (though if it were, it might be called Dirt, Green or Fresh); it’s the Lake Highlands Community Garden.

Garret Graham, Robert Gross’ grandson, displays butternut squash. : Photo by Desiree Espada

Garret Graham, Robert Gross’ grandson, displays butternut squash: Photos by Desiree Espada

Situated in the White Rock Valley neighborhood behind the city’s austere Environmental Health and Services building on Goforth Road, there are two acres of soil sprouting sundry vegetables sturdy enough to survive Texas summers.

The north end of the garden, which opened in 2008 on an empty swath of city property, contains 89 community plots, rented and maintained by individuals or families. Plot holders sign a contract and pay a small annual fee plus a $90 service deposit.

Interested parties these days are placed on a waiting list — containing some 15-20 hopefuls — until a plot becomes available.

Since 2009, the blooming Lois Diggs Butterfly Garden, developed with help from Texas Discovery Gardens, has occupied the lot nearest the entrance.

A teaching and demonstration garden, an herb garden and a separate rain garden also are front and center and recently spruced.

But the largest parcel of dirt is dedicated to the donation garden, a 2,000-square-foot space for growing organic produce that is donated to organizations that feed Dallas’ hungry residents.

Volunteers — plot holders as well as other community members — maintain this plot, donation garden manager Robert Gross says. The donation garden serves not only as a place for volunteers to learn more about gardening, but also as a source of food, augmenting the efforts of local charity organizations.

Designated “work day” Saturdays see dozens of volunteers tending the donation garden. Lake Highlands resident Guylaine Dore, who doesn’t have a 9-5 job or children, comes on weekdays, when it is quieter and when she feels she is more needed. A native Canadian who recently immigrated to our neighborhood and wants to eventually grow a home garden, she says she thinks working around the experts at Lake Highlands Community Garden will help her better understand Texas horticulture.

She also, for personal reasons, feels strongly about growing quality organic food for children in need.

As a youngster, she was on the receiving end of food bank donations, she says.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful. What the food bank did for us, what they do here, is generous,” she says. “But seldom is the bank produce fresh or organic, and if I can come out here and help with getting fresh vegetables to the charities, I want to do that.”

On a muggy but not unpleasant June morning, Dore and Gross analyze the garden — something is destroying the tomatoes, the peas are ripe, some leeks and butternut squash, too — and commence plucking. As soon as they finish, Gross will deliver the bounty to one of the beneficiaries.  On Mondays, he takes the crops to Network of Community Ministries, which serves families in the Richardson ISD boundaries.

“Within 30 minutes of pulling food from this garden, I can have them at Network,” Gross says.

Sometimes clients in the waiting room approach him — many know him by now — and help themselves to fresh leeks or whatever he has at the time, he says.

“You can tell they are in need. I see people in wheelchairs, sometimes overweight. I assume some are diabetic,” he says. “They can really use this.”

Dore adds that it is especially important to introduce children whose parents can’t afford organic produce to the taste and benefits of fresh, clean veggies.

“When they taste it as children, it can create a habit for the future,” she says.

Dabney Dwyer of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lake Highlands says Lake Highlands’ garden is one of several gardens partnering with her church’s food pantry. The addition of fresh organic produce to the church’s stock is beneficial to so many neighborhood families, she says. “It has made a huge difference to our pantry clients to come for their nonperishable items and get to take home red peppers, kale, lettuce and other produce.”

At the time of publication, the LHCG had donated more than 450 pounds of food to local foundations.

LHCG also partners with Family Gateway, which serves homeless parents and children; Operation Frontline, which educates the public about nutrition; and the North Texas Food Bank.

The LHCG regularly hosts local students who come to learn about topics such as horticulture, composting, butterflies and water conservation, to name a few.

To secure your own plot, add your name to the waiting list at lhgarden.org.

During the summer months, volunteers can visit the garden, located at 7901 Goforth, between 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Email lakehighlandsgarden@gmail.com to arrange volunteer hours.