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Smiling sentinel

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To many North Raleigh residents, it's known simply as "the Big Man's place" for the giant statue out front. But the real pride of Bradsher farm on Louisburg Road is that it's one of just a handful of self-sufficient, family-owned farms remaining in the area.

Vera Bradsher remembers back 20 years ago when she and her husband Robert would leave their Raleigh apartment at 4 a.m., three small children in tow, and head on out to the farm Robert's folks had bought back in the 1950s. The local country folk, who stocked their pantries with produce from the Bradsher place, would start coming by at 5 a.m. to pick before it got too hot. They came back after dark to pick by moonlight. It was those folks, Vera says, who taught her to can and freeze her bounty.

It was back in those early "U-pick" days that Vera and Robert first became acquainted with the Big Man. He had stood atop the Giant Decorator store on Capital Boulevard for years until the store went out of business. The Bradshers put him at the front of their property and replaced his paintbrush and bucket with an overflowing harvest basket.

The Bradshers were good caretakers. The Big Man's clothes were always freshly painted (Vera briefly entertained the idea of sewing him some actual duds). They took him down at the end of every growing season to rest behind their barn. When he came back out the following summer, the locals knew the time was ripe for picking.

One year, the backhoe and wheel loader that moved the man were not quite in sync. He hit the dirt. Hard. Suffered busted kneecaps and a broken nose. Following reconstructive fiberglass surgery, he became a permanent fixture overlooking Louisburg Road.

During Hurricane Fran, while enormous oak trees were being uprooted, the Big Man stood his ground. Robert quips that when he saw the giant turn his head and squeeze his eyes shut, he knew it would be a powerful storm.

Over the years, the Bradshers have diversified. What was once primarily a self-pick produce farm has expanded to include a contracting firm that supplies sod, river rock, sand and soil to local homes and businesses.

The Bradsher kids have grown and diversified, too. Shelly is working toward a degree in psychology. Scott is a welder. Lori is a hairdresser. While all still have an active interest in the farm, Robert and Vera are gently nudging their children from the nest.

The former dirt road that is Louisburg will soon be nine heavily traveled lanes. The enormous I-540 Outer Loop is just a stone's throw away. While rural ambiance has given way to "progress," the Bradsher farm has thrived through changing times. And the Big Man, who once looked out over a peaceful vegetable farm and watched as few as 10 cars roll by each day, still smiles with open arms to all who pass his domain.

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