Former NFL player shares his story of First Fruits Farm ministry

Former center for the St. Louis Rams Jason Brown spoke at First United Methodist Church recently about his First Fruits Farm ministry. Pictured with Brown is Associate Pastor Vickie Lawrence, and Pastor David Beam with Jason and Tay Brown’s seven children.

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

Jason Brown, former center for the St. Louis Rams football team, recently spoke at First United Methodist Church about his farm which he aptly named “First Fruits Farm. He spoke in front of a packed sanctuary at rapt attention as he gave his testimonial. In 2009, Brown was the-highest paid center in the NFL (National Football League), earning $37.5 million through a five year contract. He had it all, or so he thought. After two years he was cut as the starting center. He could have chosen to sign with several other NFL teams with offers of millions from the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens but Brown walked away from his career in sports.  

Growing up in a faith-based household

When Brown was young, his father had a government job in Washington D.C. but his mother felt that D.C. would not be a good environment to raise kids so she moved the family to her hometown of Henderson, N.C. Brown’s father commuted and saw the family on weekends. Brown vowed that he would never do that to his family and yet that is exactly what happened with his career in the NFL.

He woke up on his 27th birthday reflecting upon his life. His brother, Lunsford, who had enlisted in the army, had recently been killed in Iraq. “He made an impact,” Brown remarked. “Here I am a millionaire and living a life of worldly success and selfish entertainment. I wanted to change.”

Brown’s days as a child, brought up in a faith-based home, had a profound impact on him. Sermons and Bible verses began to play in his head. Verses like 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,” and Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  “All these seeds planted early in my life came back,” Brown said. 

Hearing the call

He sensed God calling him to leave football, but he was confused about what God wanted him to do. He prayed, “God what can I do moving forward with the gifts, talents, abilities and blessings You’ve given me?” 

He continued to pray and read from the book of Genesis, the story of Joseph preparing for a famine in Egypt. At the same time he read stories online about people in dire need in his home state. He fell to his knees asking “God are You leading me to store up food for my family?” He sensed God telling him, “I want you to store up food for my people throughout North Carolina.”  Finally Brown knew what he had to do. He was to move back to North Carolina to become a farmer. 

Brown wrestled with the idea of becoming a farmer and he studied YouTube videos and made himself a student of other farmers. The idea took some getting used to for his wife Tay. She says, “there was a moment of concern when Jason told me he wanted to leave the NFL. I’m definitely a planner and it was such a sudden adjustment from what we were used to. But I made the decision to put my fears aside, have faith in God and support my husband,”

Tay had invested years studying to become a dentist and had established a lucrative practice, so moving to North Carolina meant that she would have to put her career on hold. Tay agreed to follow her husband to do God’s work and so they moved to Henderson and home schooled their kids. 

Having faith to survive

Brown purchased a 1000 acre farm in Louisburg N.C with the proceeds from the sale of his mammoth home in St, Louis, Missouri.  At the same time he found out that he was basically broke due to some poor investments, the economic downturn and other unforeseen events. He had no idea how he was going to purchase the equipment, seeds, fuel and other essentials needed to manage his farm, let alone care for his family. For the first time in his life Brown wondered how he was going to pay the monthly bills, let alone accomplish what God wanted him to do. With tears streaming down his cheeks, the 6-foot-3-inch, 325 pound former lineman-right there in the middle of the field yelled toward Heaven: “Lord I’m out here working for You. I’m not receiving any benefits for this. Why have You forsaken me?” A prayer he had prayed before echoed in his head: “God, I want to be drawn to You. God, I want to be taken to a place where I call out to You. Where I need You.”  “God, You know I need a tractor,” he prayed now with fervor. “I don’t know how You’re going to do it, but I know You are going to provide it. Lord may it be one of those nice John Deere tractors, with four-wheel drive, an enclosed cab, air conditioning, and enough horsepower to do what I need to do. I’m going to trust you.”

Brown’s father had loaned him a 1968 Allis-Chalmers 190XT tractor. Back in the day, the tractor was a technological marvel but now it was unreliable. Flies and mosquitoes swirled around his head as he sat atop the vehicle.  He swatted at them unsuccessfully and the soot and dust were so thick, he labored to breathe. 

Word of the Browns’ farm ministry spread, leading to a local and national media blitz. Emails poured in including one from a gentleman asking if they had any equipment needs. Not knowing who the man was, Brown didn’t answer. As the emails persisted Brown finally responded. He met the man and Brown explained that he had been praying for a tractor. “We can help you with that” the man stated. “You have a big farm so I’m sure you need good-sized tractor, something reliable, a John Deere.” 

Brown was taken aback by this and asked what his intentions and expectations were. 

“The Holy Spirit asked me to reach out to you,” the man replied. “The only obligation you have is to continue to be obedient to the Holy Spirit the same way I’m being obedient right now.”  Brown felt goose bumps. The man called the local dealership, negotiated everything, and an enclosed cab, air-conditioned, four-wheeled drive tractor was delivered to Brown’s farm with a full tank of gas. 

“This is just one of the countless prayers that were answered; I can’t take credit for any of it. This is not my farm, it’s God’s farm. I’m just His humble steward.”

So, Brown decided to plant sweet potatoes on his 1,000 acre farm, due to their long shelf life. He relies on volunteers to help with the harvest. Each fall, the farm hosts an event called the Harvest of Hope, when volunteers come to help pick and bag the sweet potatoes for delivery to food banks. That is no small task when you are anticipating a harvest of more than 50 tons. Brown’s faith was tested in 2015 when he and Tay were expecting 1,500 volunteers to show up for harvest and the forecast called for rain. That day the volunteers showed up as did the rain and 1,000 of them left. The rain stopped and the sun came out and so did 500 faithful people who stayed for the harvest. Over the years the Browns have added some cattle and chickens to their farm. The older children help out with tasks on the farm as will the younger ones when they are old enough. 

Jason and Tay have discovered that teamwork is the key to a successful marriage. Although Tay does not have a dental practice anymore, she subs for other practices when needed. With a home-school schedule, a farm and speaking engagements, Tay and Jason still make time for just the two of them. When the kids go to bed at 8 o’clock at night, that gives Tay and Jason the quality time to spend together.

“We have more opportunity to spend time together now than we did during my days in the NFL,” said Brown. The Browns now have seven children and one on the way and the family says they couldn’t be happier living on their “First Fruits Farm.”