Local Heroes: Homer Dudley

WC: 401

By: Autumn Faughn

Bio: coming

Retirement isn't really something Homer Dudley is comfortable with. In fact, it's more like a four-letter word. According to Homer, starting a garden was "just something to do." His family has owned the one acre Mt. Juliet garden for over 125 years. He began work with Healing Hands International, a Nashville based 501c3 organization, which teaches sustainable food production methods. At Healing Hands Homer discovered gravity-drip irrigation. Now, sharing that information is his passion.

Homer's road to sustainable food production led him to become a certified master gardener. When the land began to bear more than he could consume, he made the decision to load up his truck and deliver his vegetables to lowincome neighborhoods near his Lebanon home. Homer gives away everything he grows. Initially, it was a door-to-door process. Homer's first forays into the neighborhood were welcomed with caution. Today, all it takes is driving his red truck into an empty parking lot and the community comes out to greet him.

Homer even mentors teachers. He introduced gravity-drip irrigation to Justin Stefanski, Horticulture Extension Agent for the University of Tennessee Extension program. Now, Justin and Homer teach multiple classes each season on the subject which has grown to be among the most popular classes in the extension program. He's a local celebrity among the master gardeners who attend the U.T. classes and a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. "What Homer does is truly a labor of love," says Stefanski. "To see someone work that hard and give away what he accomplishes is unbelievable. He gives from the heart."

Homer's work with Healing Hands International has taken him to Africa and Honduras to teach food production methods. It's a source of pride. He eagerly shares photos of his trips featuring proud men and women beaming at the bushels of vegetables they have produced. Giving people the skills they need to end famine and hunger is a gift he won't stop offering any time soon. At age 72, Homer shows no evidence of slowing down. He has increased the size of his garden, just in time for spring, with the goal of doubling the families that will receive the fruits of his work. This fall, Homer will return to Honduras to continue teaching the men and women how to grow their own vegetables; a subject that sparks his eyes when he speaks.