The quaint vegetable stand has comfortably sat next to Benders Ferry Road in Mt. Juliet for over five decades.

The gardener who works the 4.5 acres has lived eight decades. The fertile grounds produce ripe-off-the-vine vegetables of all types.

Homer Dudley journeys to this family farm seven days a week from his home in Lebanon to plant, till, hoe, fertilize, water, pick and sell daily the bountiful summer crops that grow with a spectacular backdrop of rolling hills and woods.

Acrobatic martins fly over the two 30x70-foot cold frames where more than half the plants grow to fruition. March’s tornado slapped one hard, but Dudley was able to overcome the damage.

What’s so special about Dudley’s vegetable stand is that it exists through the “honor system,” where people weigh what they are purchasing, do the quick math and self-pay in a little metal box that sits atop a small table under a lean-to.

“It’s been self-service here for 50 years,” said Dudley. “Most are old timers who have been coming here for decades and they are used to doing it. The new ones are shocked to see my system here. I truly believed 99 percent of the people are honest. Totally honest.”

He says he never had a problem with sticky fingers the past half century.

To observe Dudley behind the wheel of a Gator — maneuvering meandering roads through the garden plot, pointing out the blackberry patches, grapevines, tomato and cucumber plots and a myriad of other gardens – you’d never believe he’ll turn 81 in August.

The fact he works the majority of the 450 tomato plants, 150 cucumber plants, as well as squash, potatoes, peppers, corn, zucchini, beans and watermelons while he has cancer, a diseased heart and survived a broken back incurred in a farm accident, attests to his durability and work ethic.

“I say, ‘Live your life and forget your age,’ ” said Dudley.

He says it’s always breezy atop the hill where the gardens grow. They are surrounded by some 140 acres that are left from his wife’s grandfather’s 1,500-acre farm that’s a stone’s throw from Old Hickory Lake.

“Some part of the farm was covered by Old Hickory Lake back then,” explained Dudley, referring to the damming of the Cumberland River in the 1950s. “And, today this is the last piece.”

The concept of a self-pay vegetable stand originated with Marie Parish who rented the farm house there for 77 years.

“She passed three years ago,” said Dudley. “Her stand was right there near the road and the traffic got so bad we now use this lean-to a little back off the road.”

The original farm thrived with cattle, chickens, pigs and a place to grind grain. Dudley said he’s kept up the tradition of growing crops. Plus, he tends to bees.

“Bees are in trouble these days,” he said.

Watermelons the size of soccer balls dot his huge watermelon field.

“The blossoms are so good for the bees,” the retired postal worker said. “They flock to them so much we can’t even get in there.”

Dudley worked for the post office 35 years, and also worked in real estate and development in North Carolina. Dudley and his wife, Joree, have two sons, Kent and Keith, who live in Florida. Kent helps out a bit with social media. The Dudley Farm Facebook pages has over 5,000 followers, said Dudley.

Dudley’s tomato varieties are Pink Girls (most popular), Heirloom Purple Cherokee, Big Beef and Red Deuce. He said the somewhat “ugly” heirlooms are all the rage these days.

“I couldn’t give them away three years ago,” he said.

His favorites are Big Beef and Pink Girls. The Big Beef is a cousin to the popular Bradley variety.

“Bradley’s are just too susceptible to disease,” he said.

Dudley said he’s most proud of his work overseas supervising variations of the “drip” watering system he uses on the farm. He uses special tubing placed in the large gardens and fills up a 250-gallon water tank, hefts it high with his tractor and provides the pressure to make the water seep into the tubing.

He went to Haiti last year to help repair a dam and canal in order to help feed 2,000 people. He’s also gone to Africa to teach people how to raise food. He’s also been to Honduras to assist doctors.

“I guess those trips are real highlights in my life,” he said. “Those are the important things that can really make a difference in lives.”

Kent said his dad is the best father in the world.

“He traveled with me to Cuba on a sailboat,” said Kent. “He just the best. I’m proud of all the mission work he and mom have done.”

DUDLEY’S VEGETABLE STAND

Location: 1707 Bender’s Ferry Rd. off of Lebanon Road about 1.7 miles past Joy Church.

Available: Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, watermelons, grapes and blackberries (all in season).

Cost: An “honor box” is available for customers to place money for the cost of their purchase.

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