Name: Jason Brown
Hometown: Henderson, North Carolina
Occupation: Formerly an NFL football player and currently a farmer
Most famous for: His six years playing professional football for the Baltimore Ravens and the St. Louis Rams; for leaving football to start a new career as a farmer at age 29 as the highest-paid center in NFL history at the time
How he got connected to food: While both of Brown’s parents grew up on farms, it was not until later in life that he found his own way back to the land through a spiritual calling to become a farmer.
“I was literally going through a midlife crisis at the age of 27 years old. I had to ask God. What would you have me to do with my life, more so than anything else, in order to have a fulfilling life, alright, even beyond football? What would you have me do in my life to make sure I am being a good servant, a good father, a good member of my community. And God pointed me towards agriculture. He said he wanted me to be a farmer.” Brown said.
This wild career turn from football to farming shocked many of those around him, but it was a call that he could not deny. In 2012, at the age of 29, Brown walked away from football to purchase and manage his own 1,000-acre farm called First Fruits Farm.
“I get a lot of critics out there that tell me, ‘Jason, if you continued to play football, you could’ve made millions of more dollars and you could’ve purchased more food and given it away than what you’re actually doing right now,’” Brown said in a video posted by University of North Carolina. “And, yeah, but at the same time, God has called me to be a farmer, and to be on the front lines and to give my heart first. No matter how much money you throw at problems, those problems still persist.”
What he cares about: Living a life of purpose; aiding in hunger relief in eastern North Carolina; raising his eight children on his farm; being a man of faith
Why he cares about it: Brown cares about farming and agriculture for religious reasons but political ones as well. He hopes that his farm and farming practices will set an example of community development through agriculture.
“If we’re truly going to inspire change,” said Brown, “if we’re truly going to see change in our food system and in ending hunger, we’re going to have to give our best.”
What he is doing about it: Managing his 1,000-acre farm in Louisburg, North Carolina, and donating produce to food pantries and churches in the area
Food project(s): In 2009, Brown signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the St.Louis Rams. By 2012, he purchased his own farm. Driven by living a life of greater purpose, he and his family relocated from the football field to the sweet potato field and did not look back.
“My agent, he told me, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,’'” Brown told CBS. “And I looked right back at him and I said, ‘No I am not.'”
In addition to growing and donating food, Brown hosts a series of events on the farm throughout the year, including an annual youth fishing derby, collaborative learning experiences with students who have graduated from North Carolina State University, and a slew of weddings at the property’s special events venue called the Amazing Grace Barn. The farm also offers volunteer opportunities to those in the community who want to get involved.
In 2014, based on the knowledge he had gleaned from YouTube farming tutorials, Brown and his farm operation gave away 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers to community organizations including the Interfaith Food Shuttle and the Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina. The following year, the farm gave away its entire harvest and has made a habit of donating the majority of its harvest ever since.
It has certainly made a difference. In 2019 the farm and the Brown family reached a remarkable milestone – donating its one-millionth pound of food to local residents in need.
Interesting stories about and food projects in online media:
- From football field to farm, food ministry feeds the hungry (The Charlotte Post)
- Football to farming: Former NFL standout donates fresh produce to homeless and hungry (WECT News)
- NFLer left millions to feed the world — and it’s working (NY Post)
- Ex-NFL star finds new passion in farming (CBS News)
- Former NFL star dumped 20 tons of sweet potatoes on a Chapel Hill lawn – with good intent (The News & Observer)
- Ex-NFL player who made $25 million quit football at age 29 to become a farmer (Insider)
- Trading Cleats for Beats (Growing a Greener World)