Leaving the Limelight to Feed the Hungry: Jason Brown’s Story

By the age of 29, Jason Brown had played seven years in the NFL. His $37.5 million contract with the St. Louis Rams had made him the highest-paid center in the league, and he enjoyed the accompanying lifestyle. It came as a shock to everyone when the pro walked away from it all in 2012 and disappeared from the limelight. Two years later, he re-emerged determined to feed the hungry in a completely new career.

Jason Brown left St. Louis with his wife and children and returned to his home state of North Carolina. It was there that he bought a 1,030-acre farm in Louisburg, as NewsObserver describes. Brown’s time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and experience as a top offensive linemen in the NFL did little to prepare him for agricultural life, so he started researching on the Internet. Advice from local farmers and aid from the Society of St. Andrew helped him cultivate his farm and his dreams.

A man of deep faith, Brown named his oasis First Fruits Farms, with the goal to donate the “first fruits” of every harvest to feed the hungry. The road would not be easy. He spent all of 2013 learning the ropes to get the former dairy farm in shape. An initial planting of squash and cucumbers was destroyed due to heavy rains. With the apple, plum and pear trees still not mature, there was nothing to give away that first year.

The town of Louisburg, North Carolina, has less than 3,500 residents, with over a quarter living below the poverty line. Understanding the dire need, Brown remained undeterred. For his next harvest, he researched the types of foods needed at food pantries. In November 2014, after planting just five acres, Brown and his helpers harvested 10,000 pounds of cucumbers and 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. In collaboration with three local groups, 200 volunteers and 13 trucks, he gave the entire harvest to 10 communities, including his own.

“When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service,” Brown told CBS News in an interview. First Fruit Farms not only feeds the hungry, but it also provides research opportunities for North Carolina State University graduate students in agriculture. The farm even hosts an annual youth fishing derby.

This November, Brown intends to do it all over again with a Great Harvest Festival, complete with hayrides, fishing and live entertainment. The goal is to double the sweet potato harvest to 200,000 pounds.

Jason Brown says that he has never felt more successful. Whether it’s football or giving back to feed the hungry, everyone’s life has a purpose, and Brown has found his.

By: Crystal B. Shepeard

Image source: Flickr