When Jason Brown, one of the NFL's most successful offensive linemen, decided to walk away from the sport to pursue his passion of becoming a farmer, his agent declared that he was making "the biggest mistake of his life." At one point the highest paid center in the NFL (with a $37.5 million contract), Brown says he confidently stared back and replied, "No, I am not."
Despite the potential to continue earning millions at the prime of his career, the-then 28-year-old left behind one challenging career for another. In 2012, Brown quit football, purchased 1,000 acres in North Carolina, and using only knowledge gleaned from watching YouTube videos, he officially became a farmer. While he once worked in a gleaming stadium filled with tens of thousands of fans, now his workplace includes four large ponds, massive dairy barns, open fields, and plenty of cheering farm animals. And it's not just a successful business he's growing, but also one that aims to make a difference in people's lives.
"When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service," Brown told CBS Evening News' Steve Hartman.
Brown named his farm First Fruits Farm, a nod to the fact that all of his first harvests will be donated to community food pantries. As an example, a five-acre planting of sweet potatoes this year yielded more than 100,000 pounds for food collection agencies. Earlier, he gave away 170,000 pounds of cucumbers grown on 50 acres.
Rebecca Page, who works for the non-denominational food organization Society of St. Andrew, helped organize the massive number of volunteers needed to harvest Brown's charitable crops. She said the opportunity presented by First Fruits Farm is both unique and daunting, as her organization generally works with farmers who donate their leftovers and not a full-scale harvest.
“The celebrity and allure of lots of money ... and all that it can afford," Page told the Boston Globe, “My sense is that it didn’t corrupt him.’’
In addition to sizeable plantings of pear, apple and plum trees, Brown has also been researching the best field crops to benefit food pantries. In the future, he hopes families will come to his farm to fish his ponds, volunteer on harvests, and simply enjoy the beauty of working the land.
"This the most rewarding thing I've done with my life," he said. "It's living a life with purpose."
Related on MNN:
- Brad Pitt: 'I'm a farmer'
- Meet the accidental farmer who's reconnecting consumers to their food
- Modern Farmer: A magazine for foodies and farmers alike