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From football field to farm, food ministry feeds the hungry
First Fruits Farm breaks 1 million pound mark
Published Thursday, October 10, 2019 1:11 pm
by Maria Magher | The Triangle Tribune

Jason Brown, who retired from the NFL in 2012 to start First Fruits Farm in Louisburg, North Carolina, celebrated passing the 1 million pound mark in donations to food pantries in the eastern part of the state.

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After seven years off the football field and on the farming field instead, former NFL lineman Jason Brown and his wife, Tay, celebrated a huge milestone in their unexpected ministry.

The couple’s First Fruits Farm in Louisburg, N.C., gave away its 1 millionth pound of food to local people in need.

The farm celebrated its fifth harvest at the annual Harvest Festival last week, where the couple marked the million-pound mark in donations.

“We made a promise to God that whatever He blessed us with, we would give the first fruits back to the people who need it,” Brown said of his original vision for the farm, which is what inspired the name. “When we saw the initial need from the community and just how fast our sweet potatoes were being absorbed by the local food pantries and soup kitchens, God placed it on our heart to give away our entire first harvest.”

For the first harvest in 2014, the farm gave away 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers to groups like the Interfaith Food Shuttle and the Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina. The farm gave away its entire harvest the second year, as well, and has given away the majority of its harvest every year since.

“Even though we’re called First Fruits Farm, we’re actually All Fruits Farm,” Brown said with a laugh.

Brown admits that the model is not sustainable. He says the farm receives some donations, but he puts a lot of his own money into the ministry to do corporate events or public speaking engagements. “We’ve had to be creative and try to do as much as we could on a shoestring budget,” he said.

Despite the challenge, the Browns are committed to the farm and their ministry, which is called Wisdom for Life. They started that ministry after Brown said he left his football career because he heard a calling from God.

“God placed His calling on my life and said, ‘Hey, Jason, I’ve got something greater in store for you even than playing in the NFL,’ and I was like, ‘Come on, Man,’ and it’s been a life service,” he said.

The original vision for the ministry was to help people learn more about God and the Bible, while also helping them to achieve greater health. The farm seemed a natural outgrowth of that ministry. It also seemed a natural outgrowth of his family’s history. Both of his parents grew up on farms, and Brown said the farm has been a great place to raise his eight children.

But he and his wife are thinking about more than their own children when they are working the farm. Brown said they are driven by helping those suffering from food insecurity throughout the state. “Just because someone may have a lower income, not middle class but lower class, debt doesn’t have to be synonymous with hunger,” he said.

At the same time, Brown said he also wants to set an example for others in the community to “sow seeds,” as well as for other African Americans to make a return to the land.

“There’s been a huge migration away from agriculture and away from the farms,” he said, noting that predatory practices and institutional racism drove people away. At the same time, there has been “black land loss” across the country, and “wealth is tied to the land.” Brown hopes that First Fruits Farm can set an example and meet a need at the same time.

The farm grows mostly sweet potatoes, but it has added sweet corn and has a “small summer garden” of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers. Earlier this year, an acre of blueberries was added to the 1,000-acre farm, and there are plans to later add raspberries, blackberries, and fruit trees. The Browns even renovated a dairy barn on the property and has started renting it out as an event venue.

“We’re just scratching the surface of our potential here at the farm,” Brown said. “By no means do we have the entire farm under production right now.”

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