NFL Star Returns Home and Grows N.C. Roots
Jason Brown knew leaving the NFL to give back to his Eastern N.C. home was a leap of faith. He had no idea what his community would give in return.
An all-conference offensive lineman at UNC-Chapel Hill, Jason spent seven years in the National Football League. But the Henderson, N.C. native felt a higher calling to give back to the state that helped him grow.
In 2012, Jason quit football to tend to the 1,000-acre First Fruits Farm just outside of Henderson. His goal was to grow easily cultivated and harvested produce, and donate it to families. But Jason hadn't farmed a day in his life, so he sought advice from friends and local farmers online to prepare for his first harvest in the fall of 2014.
That's when North Carolinians starting giving back to him. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and organizations like Society of St. Andrew, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Jason and his family harvested and donated 120,000 pounds of sweet potatoes to 25,000 families.
"I thought I'd be doing the brunt of the work," said Jason. "Being able to count on hundreds of volunteers really speaks to North Carolinians' heart and spirit."
Jason wants to treat the symptoms while getting to the root of the problem. "Our state's diverse soil and climate make it an ideal place to farm. I want to inspire and empower people, especially our youth, to help others and develop a life skill."
The goal for 2015: 250,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and other produce, which he'll harvest alongside more than 1,000 volunteers. Jason also plans to give much of it to military families along the Eastern seaboard in honor of his late brother, Lunsford Bernard Brown II, an Army intelligence specialist who died in 2003 while serving his country in Iraq.
"Strangers come up to me and thank me, and I thank them right back. I'm the one who's blessed," he said.