From Astroturf to Carolina Dirt

Jason Brown and the Story of First Fruits Farm

 

words by: Nic Stoltzfus

 

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Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
~ Proverbs 8:9-10 NIV

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Has God ever touched your heart, encouraged you to take a leap of faith and do something big? What if it meant completely giving up your job, starting a new job in a different field, and relocating your family to a completely different state?

Jason Brown did just that. He was a starting NFL center making millions of dollars, praised by millions of people. But God touched his heart, and Jason decided to walk away from the NFL to become a farmer, a career he knew next to nothing about. How did this man switch fields from Astroturf to Carolina dirt? This is the story of Jason Brown and the founding of First Fruits Farm.

Roots

Jason’s grandfather Jasper Brown was a farmer in Yanceyville, North Carolina. For generations, his ancestors farmed North Carolina’s rich loam. During the ’60s, when schools were desegregating across the US, Jasper enrolled his children in a former all-white school in hopes of providing a better education for his children. This angered the local white community, and they reacted by harassing the Brown family: a noose was hung in a tree outside their farm, dynamite exploded their fields, and two cars full of white men tried to run Jasper off the road and kill him. This was too much for the family to take: Jasper, his wife, and four children fled to Washington, DC.

Jasper’s son Lunsford grew up in DC, over a hundred miles away from his North Carolina farming roots. But he held onto them how he could: he married a girl from North Carolina and became a landscaping architect. However, Lunsford and his wife were worried about raising a family in violence-ridden DC, so his wife and the children left Washington, DC to be closer to her family in Henderson. Lunsford remained in DC at his job, so his children grew up not spending a lot of time with their father. His son Jason was born in Henderson, North Carolina, on May 5th, 1983.  

Growing up, Jason and his older brother Lunsford II (known by the family as “Ducie”) spent summers in DC helping with their father’s landscaping business. Jason said, “Over those summers, I learned how to make things beautiful. I learned how to landscape and garden on a small scale.”

 

The rich farmland of Yanceyville, North Carolina where Jasper Brown made his living.

The rich farmland of Yanceyville, North Carolina where Jasper Brown made his living.

 

When he was thirteen, Jason figured out the priorities he valued most in his life: faith, family, and education. These three things were the roots that gave him strength and stability. Faith, family, education.

In middle school, Jason was a chubby kid who enjoyed books more than working out. But in high school, he discovered he had a knack for lifting weights, and he excelled on the football field. Brown graduated high school in 2001, top ten in his class. That fall, he was accepted on a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Jason did well at UNC: he was ranked several times as the top center in the nation and set several school records in weightlifting.

During this time, Jason’s older brother Ducie married and enrolled in the US Army. Jason was skeptical about his brother’s decision and questioned the risk involved. Ducie responded, “Before you can help somebody else, you first have to help yourself.” He told Jason that he wanted to dedicate his life to service.

Uprooted

It was in Chapel Hill where Jason met Tay. Tay was paying her way through college at Duke University, and she was committed to her goal of becoming a dentist and making a better life for herself. She was born into a single parent home, and life growing up for her was challenging. Jason admired her faith, hard work ethic, and quiet determination. The day after their first date, Jason called his parents and said, “I’ve found the one. God sent me the woman I’m going to marry.”

Jason and Tay got married on July 25th, 2003. Less than two months after one of the happiest days of his life, Jason was hit with horrible news: his brother Ducie was dead.

On September 20th, a mortar round exploded in the tent where Ducie and members from his unit were located in an Iraqi prison outside of Baghdad. His body absorbed the blast, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. After the funeral, Ducie’s widow Sherrie gave him one of his brother’s shrapnel-shredded dog tags. Jason wore Ducie’s dog tag for every game for the remainder of his college career. It symbolized to Jason his brother’s sacrifice and commitment to living a life of faith and purpose.

 

Jason Brown on the field as the center for the St. Louis Rams

Jason Brown on the field as the center for the St. Louis Rams

 

After Jason finished his four years of college at UNC, he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens to play as center in the 2005 NFL draft. At the same time, Tay was accepted into dental school at UNC. Unfortunately, this meant that they would be living apart during this time. Jason and Tay’s first child JW was born when Jason was away for a football game. This was hard on Jason—he was reminded of his father’s absence growing up, yet he was doing the same thing with his son.

In 2009, Jason was recruited by the St. Louis Rams in a multimillion-dollar deal. By this time, Tay was finished with dental school, so they no longer had to live apart. The couple bought a twelve-thousand-square-foot mansion in St. Louis and stuffed it full of the trappings of success, right down to two stocked bars, one with a fifteen hundred dollar bottle of cognac. Even though Jason valued faith, family, and education, his life had been uprooted by his scramble for more money; living the high life of glitz and glamor; and yearning for more, more, more.

This is not what God had planned for Jason’s life. On his twenty-seventh birthday, Jason was given a vision. When he looked in the mirror that morning, he saw his brother Ducie’s reflection, and these words were laid on his heart: What are you doing with your life that’s so great? 

Jason felt convicted, but he didn’t change his life right away. Even though he was at the pinnacle of worldly success, his family life was crumbling around him. Tay had consulted a lawyer about filing for divorce. When Jason asked his oldest son one day if Jesus was real or just a story, JW told his dad, “Jesus isn’t real. Jesus is make-believe.” His son’s answer troubled him…

To read the full story, purchase an August back issue here.

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Nic Stoltzfus is the editorial manager at Plain Values magazine. He and his new bride Jen live in Reading, PA and enjoy gardening, canning, and cooking (especially food from other countries!). He is currently working on a novel about the immigrant Stoltzfus family.

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