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Jason Brown on "Centered: Trading Your Plans for a Life that Matters"

The American Dream 

Jason grew up in the church. He praised the Lord, read his Bible, and considered himself a Christ follower. In middle school, he was an overweight kid who got bullied by a girl a third of his size. He was always in his brother’s shadow. Ducie was seven years older than Jason. He was a great artist, had carpentry and stonework skills, and excelled at video games. Jason idolized him. When Jason entered high school, he decided to try out for the football team and band. Football practice was physically demanding but marching band was a lot easier. After the first week Jason quit football but told the coach that he would get in shape and be back to try out next year. Jason began lifting weights and got stronger. He tried out for the track and field team that spring as a discus and shot-put thrower. He won the high school state championship in discus. His classmates began looking at him differently as the fat melted away and his confidence started to increase. The next year he played football and continued on the track and field team. For Jason, football wasn’t about the thrill of the game or the competition or dreams of playing in the NFL. It was about being liked. He worked hard at academics and football in high school to have a better chance at earning a scholarship. His hard work paid off. He received a full ride to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to play football. 

Everyone around Jason was pumping up his ego except for his brother who reminded him that they were proud of him but he needed to remain humble too. Ducie’s life at that point had not turned out so great. He washed out of college and was working at a prison. Jason’s brother was no longer winning at everything or so he thought. In 2001, when their grandmother died everyone attending the funeral was praising Jason for his accomplishments. Jealous of the praise, Ducie challenged Jason to a race. Surprisingly, Ducie won. Jason was angry and lashed out at his brother and said, “What are you doing so great with your life. I have a scholarship to play football at UNC.” Ducie walked away after hearing his brother’s hurtful remarks. A few months later, Ducie began taking steps to improve his life. He even joined the United States Army. Unfortunately, his life was cut short and Army Specialist Lunsford Bernard Brown II died on September 20, 2003 in a mortar attack in Iraq. 

Leaving the NFL 

While in college, Jason met Tay and they married in 2003. He was working hard to meet his goals in football and Tay was working hard to meet her own goals in the field of dentistry. After his senior year, the NFL draft would take Jason to the Baltimore Ravens while Tay stayed in North Carolina for dental school. The physical distance between Jason and Tay was just something they accepted as necessary to reach their goals. Meanwhile, they had started their family, began to acquire great wealth, and fame, but on the inside their marriage and family were struggling. Jason knew what it was like to grow up without a father in the home. Although his parents were not divorced, he would only see his dad a couple of weekends a month since he lived in D.C. while his mom lived in N.C. As a football player Jason was absent at home from his wife and kids since he was playing football with the Ravens. After his contract ended Jason became a free agent in 2009 and was signed for a $37.5 million contract with the St. Louis Rams. He became the highest paid center in the NFL history at that time. Tay graduated from dental school and went to St. Louis with Jason and their children, but the tension in the marriage increased as they both were managing their professional careers.                  

In 2010 on Jason’s 27th birthday he woke up in their luxury mansion, looked in the mirror and saw Ducie. He heard the same words that he had said to Ducie years earlier when he lost the race at their grandmother’s funeral, “What are you doing with your life that’s so great? What are you doing with your life that’s so awesome?” Jason knew the answer to both questions was: nothing. This planted the first seed of what would be a whole new direction in Jason’s life.

Jason had a vision where he was in his huge mansion all alone. He and Tay were divorced and his children were not around. It brought Jason to his knees. He cried, “Jesus whatever You want me to do right now, I will do it. You can restore and redeem my family.” In 2011, Jason began to fast, pray and read the Word as he sought to grow closer to God. Each time God pointed his attention to the story of Joseph (Gen. 37-50). He revealed to Jason through Scriptures that there’s going to be a famine and he needed to prepare. At first, Jason ran to the store and bought can goods, but then realized that was not what God was saying at all. Instead, God was asking Jason to feed His sheep. He wanted Jason to take care of His people. After he worked through some reasoning, Jason realized what God was truly calling him to do was be a farmer. He asked the Lord for help. He had two years left on his football contract. He asked God to make the transition easy for him. On January 2, 2012 a new coach joined the Rams and decided to release some of the veteran players. Jason was released from his contract and able to walk away and pursue God’s call on his life.

First Fruits

Jason and Tay purchased a 1,000 acre farm in 2012. They decided to name it: First Fruits Farm. The term firstfruits is mentioned thirty times in the King James Version. Jason and Tay decided whatever land God would give them that they’d use to grow food and they would give away the fresh fruits of the that land – the first and the best – to people in need (food banks and charities in the region). So, he started watching YouTube Videos. His experience in the NFL prepared him for this because a big part of his job in football was watching film. It helped him break down what he saw in the YouTube videos with regard to farming. Another tool that helped him was the Farmers’ Almanac. It was filled with tons of information of farming from weather trends to gardening tips. 

One day, Jason prayed, “God, I want You to take me to a place where I depend on You. Where I lean on you for everything. Where I cry out to You, God.” Be careful what you pray for. All of his investments dried up and all his money was gone. “I didn’t think Tay and I would have to worry about finances the rest of our lives,” shares Jason. He had the farm and enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table, but he lacked the money needed to begin farming. He could have sold the farm, but he knew God had called them to this assignment. Tay could have gone back to work full time as a dentist, but then she would not be able to homeschool their eight children. “We left a life of comfort to follow God to what we thought would be our own Promised Land,” recalls Jason. Instead, it felt like it was a 1,000-acre wilderness he was forced to walk. People already thought Jason was insane for walking away from his football career to embrace a life of farming. He was struggling financially and felt forsaken by God.

He used a 1968 borrowed tractor to begin his farming adventure until one day he cried out to God for a new tractor. He specified what he needed: a hundred horsepower, four-wheel drive and an air-conditioned cab. Less than a year later God provided the tractor he asked for. For his first crop, he wanted to grow sweet potatoes on the back side of a hill on the farm. He reached out to his neighbor, Les Webster, who knew Jason’s story about leaving football to farm and help the hungry. When Jason told him about his desire to plant five acres of sweet potatoes Les contacted his buddies, David and Allen Rose, in Nashville, North Carolina who had a huge farming operation. Jason still did not know how he was going to pay for the sweet potatoes because he had no money. A month later, Les and Jason went to look at the field where Jason wanted to plant sweet potatoes. To his surprise, the field had been dug, prepped, and rowed. There were tiny sprouts of green all over the field. The sweet potato slips were already in the ground. Les had helped Jason out by getting the land prepped for planting and his buddies David and Allen had donated the sweet potato transplants. Jason was overwhelmed at God’s faithfulness. He knew he would need help to harvest 100,00 pounds of sweet potatoes. His staff consisted of himself and his family. God told him not to worry so Jason simply trusted that He would provide the help he needed. Two weeks later, Jason received a call from the Society of St. Andrews. Volunteers from this club would go out into local fields after the main crop was harvested and glean the leftovers. Instead of gleaning the leftovers, Jason explained they would get to harvest the crop. More than six hundred volunteers showed up and 120,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were harvested. Plus, 10,000 pounds of cucumbers from Len’s fields which all went to feed thousands of hungry families. 

Since 2014, Jason and his family have donated more than 1.6 million servings of fresh produce to their community. They continue to give away nearly everything they grow which includes sweet potatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, and more. Tay works as a dentist a couple of days a week which helps to pay the bills. Jason is frequently paid to speak at churches, schools, and conventions. Every year by God’s grace since they’ve started farming they’ve been able to help the hungry. 

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