Rock | Jason Brown

Irie Magazine - September 2015 - Jason Brown

Jason Brown

Wisdom For Life

Meet Jason Brown. A former American football center, Jason played college football at North Carolina and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He earned a starting position with the Ravens and later earned a $37 million five-year contract with the St. Louis Rams in free agency.

In April 2012, having played seven years in the NFL, Jason shocked his agent and his teammates by doing the unthinkable. In mid-contract, he walked away from the game he loved and excelled in to pursue his convictions.

At the time, Jason Brown, #60, was considered the best center in the game. He also had three teams eager to sign him to long-term contracts. But Jason had a higher calling. Jason wanted to become a farmer and help reduce poverty in his native rural Louisburg, North Carolina.

Irie Magazine sat down with Jason Brown to find out the reason behind the biggest trade of his life… an NFL career for a tractor.

The Interview

IRIE. When your were a kid, did you ever envision yourself growing up to become a farmer and owning a farm?

Jason Brown: There was never a vision of owning a farm. To tell you the truth, I really wanted to take over the family business which was landscaping. I did have a little bit of a green thumb. My father was a landscape architect. We mowed lawns, planted flowers and shrubs, and a few trees here and there. We didn’t plant the fruits and the vegetables and the fruit trees like we’re doing now. So it was definitely a very different green thumb.

IRIE. When you told your agent you wanted to leave football, your agent responded by saying, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life?” Was it a tough decision?

Jason Brown: It was tough. My agent knew how much gas I had left in my tank. He knew exactly what I was walking away from which was another long-term deal. It potentially would have been another $15-20 million dollar deal contract. There’s no player that walks away from a professional career and make that type of money after their career. Actually, most players struggle with the transition after their football career.

I knew that I was being called to the next step in my life… I had a higher calling in service. I definitely relied back on my faith… it was one of the hardest and toughest decisions I’ve ever made.

Also, the three teams that were offering me long-term deals were the Baltimore Ravens, the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers. If you had ask me a couple years prior what teams would you want to play for more so than anything else, I would have told you specifically those three teams. What are the odds that the three teams that you would have wanted to have played for are the three teams that want to sign you to a contract?

But God has placed so many other things on my heart beyond football. With all the talents and blessings that he has shared with me and my family, it wasn’t about Jason Brown anymore… it was about sharing those blessings with our local communities. Little did I know that it would take place on a farm.

IRIE. When did you first receive the calling to leave the NFL and become a farmer?

Jason Brown: I was still playing for St. Louis. It was early as 2010 that God started to place certain revelations in my heart. Especially the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis… that there’s going to be a famine throughout the land. I said to myself. “that’s ridiculous. We live in America. There’s not going to be a famine in the land.” Whenever we think of starvation or hunger, of course, we immediately associate it with third world countries. We don’t normally think of the United States of America.

But when you start to dig deeper and do the research, there is food insecurities. And food deserts are rampant all throughout every single state.

We receive confirmations all the time, if not everyday. Especially, earlier this year. For example, God started sharing with me that there’s going to be a famine in the land back in 2010. And now in 2015, the news is talking about the 4 year droughts that are taking place in California and how it’s sending a harsh, rippling effect throughout the entire food industry in America. Most people don’t know that more than 90% of a lot of fruits and vegetables are grown in Southern California. And right now, literally, those items are disappearing from grocery store shelves or if people can find them, they’re going to be extremely high in price, so expensive that the average person might not
be able to afford them. This is a very serious problem we’re talking about here.

Another troubling statistic is that the average age of the farmer in America is 59 years old. These farmers are pushing the age of senior citizens. The entire foundations of our food which comes from farms is literally on the shoulders of these farmers. There needs to be an awakening in this farming and agriculture revolution.

I’m 32 years old right now. Hopefully, I’m skewing the numbers a little bit. It really lies in our youth. When I invite youths out to the farm, they say to themselves, “You want us to go to a farm. That’s not cool.” They immediately want me to talk about football and my previous career because of course, that’s more glamourous. But I use that celebrity to get youths out to the farm, to get them to volunteer and to have a real food experience. Not just knowing where their food comes from, but having a helping hand in growing their food.

What takes place after that is that most of the experiences that our youths have nowadays are all virtual. Most of our youths are either watching televisions, playing video games, talking on the telephones, texting and doing social media.

All of that is electronic and virtual. But yet, when they come out to a farm, there is a real, tangible experience where their hands meet the dirt, where they can see the seeds germinate and grow into real foods.

When you offer that real experience, those kids are change for the rest of their lives. People naturally gravitate to things that are real. Our priorities are all out of whack.

IRIE. Did you experience any challenges or hurdles in getting your farm started?

Jason Brown: Oh yes! There’s always challenges because out here on the farm, you are exposed to the elements. You’re exposed to nature. Flooding rains or droughts, the hail, fluctuation in temperature and frost can kill off a crop.

Our first harvest was really a gleaning. We have a local farmer that has a cucumber contract. After he had fulfill his entire cucumber contract, I asked him if he would allow my family and other volunteers to be able to glean his fields. He said, “I haven’t allowed that before but I really wouldn’t be opposed to that either.” At that time, my wife and I reached out to the Society of St. Andrew which is a network of gleaners and they have an awesome contact list of hundreds if not thousands of gleaners. We 
were able to get 50 volunteers over the course of two weeks and we were able to save 10,000 lbs. of 
cucumbers to be able to give back to the local food banks and to the needy. Just saving that poundage alone, or else that field would have been plowed under; that would have been food that was wasted.

Our next crop that we pursued was 5 acres of sweet potatoes. And yes, I was still in the learning and growing process. I reached out to other local farmers and their response was phenomenal. I asked them for their expertise, and not only did they give me their expertise, they assisted with the donations of the sweet potato slips and also prepping and planting the fields.

We were just so touch by their actions. They didn’t have to do that. The overwhelming response that we received from the community and that how many people were willing to give back and to assist us with our food that we grew on the farm. With that, we were able to harvest more than 120,000 lbs. of sweet potatoes.

We’re still growing very slowly. As of today, we are in our second year of our cucumber gleans. My goal was to double the numbers that we achieved last year. And we have two more years of gleaning and actually today we are right at 15,000. At the end of saturday morning we should be well over 20,00 lbs. which is awesome. All of that is food that is saved that would otherwise go to spoilage. More than a third of all the food in america is lost due to waste or spoilage. If we could help fight against that and curve that 33 % in some manner we could do a lot to fight hunger just by eliminating waste and spoilage. That’s one of our efforts here on the farm as well.

A little bit later on this year, we plan on having our great harvest festival. That’s going to take place on close to 11 acres of sweet potatoes. Our goal is on November 7th to have more than 1000 volunteers out here at the farm and our numbers hopefully will be close to 250,000 lbs. of sweet potatoes that we’re going to be able to harvest all that day. And after we harvest all the potatoes, that’s when we’re going to party and have the festival. We’re going to be harvesting from about 8am to noon. And then from noon to about 4 pm, we’re going to have food and fellowship. We’re going to have some awesome Christian bands out here and have some fun farm fellowship.

IRIE. Can you share with the non-farmers what Gleaning is?

Jason Brown: Gleaning is a biblical term. Ruth, in the bible, was a gleaner. She went back after farmers that whatever they had left out in the field that they no longer wanted, she would go back behind them and pick up their leftovers. She was able to do a lot of good and feed a lot of people just through her gleaning efforts.

If you look at the numbers on the Society of St. Andrew’s website, gleaning helps to bring in millions upon millions of pounds of food every single year that is then donated back to the local food banks, charities, nonprofits, churches, you name it. It’s just a really good way where you’re able to eliminate spoilage out in the fields. It’s also a way to harvest food and give back without actually going out there and farming yourself.

There are plenty of farmers out there that all you have to do is ask and they will allow you to glean their fields at no cost.

IRIE. Is all the produce grown on your farm donated to charity or do you offer produce for sale to markets and local restaurants?

Jason Brown: Right now, God has led us to donate all of our crops back to the food banks and to feed the needy. But sometime within the next couple of years, there will be an opportunity for us to grow a marketable crop that can benefit some of the local restaurants or grocery store chains and some of those consumers. But right now, there is such a great need as far as eliminating hunger, it just hasn’t been placed in our hearts to pursue farming for financial gain.

IRIE. Can you share with us the meaning behind First Fruits Farm?

Jason Brown: My wife and I made a covenant. Before we purchased a farm, before we knew exactly 
which farm that we were going to be on, we made a covenant with God. We said, God, whatever place you bless us with, we are going to name it First Fruit Farm. And we are going to give the first fruit of everything is grown and produce on the farm, we are going to give it back to your people. It was after we made that covenant, that God really started to work and to move things spiritually. He allowed us to purchase, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful farms that I could ever imagine. It’s really a blessing to be here. This place has rolling hills, pines, large barns and silos. It truly is a privilege to be able to work here and to be able to give back on this farm!

IRIE. Now that you are a farmer, do you ever miss the NFL?

Jason Brown: You know, I get asked that question a lot. And the answer is, not at all. If there is anything I missed, it’s the camaraderie and the fellowship that I had with my teammates. But now, I’m able to have that same fellowship with other volunteers and gleaners and harvesters that come out here to the farm. For example, this morning we had 35 volunteers who came out for our cucumber glean, people that I had never met before. But yet, you form this instant connection and bond. It’s just a real awesome experience being able to work together towards a purpose.

IRIE. Do some of your former teammates come down to the farm to glean or harvest?

Jason Brown: I’ve had a couple of my teammates come down to visit the farm. One thing that I do is that I don’t give anyone a free pass. One of my closest friends want to come to the farm. I put them to work. I told them don’t bring your nice shoes or your nice clothes or else you are going to have to borrow some of mine. I try to give everyone a real farm experience.

IRIE. When you left the NFL to fulfill your higher calling, how did you begin the transition?

Jason Brown: To tell you the truth, we had been on My wife and I have been looking for land for years. Before, I wanted to purchase land, a couple hundred acres, just for selfish purposes. I wanted to purchase land so that I could have fun, ride four wheelers and fish and hunt and do things of that nature. But it really turned around and evolve when we said whatever land we purchase, there is going to be a purpose behind that land. That was also when the covenant came to name the place First Fruits Farm. God has worked so many thing out in the background for us that I can’t take credit for this place. It was truly a miracle and how things worked out.

IRIE. Do you feel that what you’ve learned from farming that you might allows the youths to go out and have that farming experience?

Jason Brown: We’ve had several schools out here to the farm in the past. A couple of groups that have been established for many years are the FFA, Future Farmers of America and many of the 4H clubs. A lot of them have phased out over the years but there really needs to be a jumpstart, a revitalization of these programs. When I talk to several schools, they tell me that they use to have a Future Farmers of America club or we use to have a 4H club at the school but they don’t have those programs anymore. When you think about some of the basic fundamental necessities of life, that should definitely be a part of the curriculum. Every child needs to know how to sow a seed and produce food. That’s fundamental. Every child should learn about agriculture and farming. That’s literally what our entire world is covered with… soil, dirt, water. Along with that is the responsibility of being good stewards with those resources. That’s what farming teachings as well.

IRIE. What is your ‘SOW A SEED’ program all about?

Jason Brown: We started Sow A Seed earlier this year. Now I know that I’m just one man. And I know that we can’t grow all the food that is needed right here on our farm. But yet, through our Sow A Seed program, we are trying to duplicate the efforts. What we ask for is that if anyone would like to start their own First Fruits garden, we are willing to send out a free packet of seed. We actually sent out several hundred packages of farm seeds. We received an overwhelming response. We received seed requests from all over the United States as well as from Africa and China. That’s pretty awesome. To think that there’s a First Fruits garden that is being grown halfway around the world. That’s very encouraging. So one thing that we’re trying to do is that we’re not just about growing food and giving it back to food banks. We’re also about sharing that wisdom as well. We want to encourage others to pursue agriculture because it’s really going to take the efforts of all of our youths to really catch on in order to make a difference.

IRIE. Is the Great Harvest Festival open to anyone?

Jason Brown: It’s open up to everyone. We receive groups of volunteers that want to travel as far away as Pennsylvania and South Carolina. We are not going to turn anyone away that wants to come and help out that day. It’s going to be an awesome event. We’re just thankful for the overwhelming response from the community because this field is just our family. We don’t have full-time employees. There’s very little resource at our disposal to produce the crops that we have here. Most of our efforts come from the help of community volunteers. For the sweet potato harvests, that will not be a gleaning event. That 11 acres will be all harvest and the entire field will be donated.

IRIE. Give thanks, Jason! Much Respect! Irie Magazine Logo