RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)- Jason Brown knew very little about farming when he purchased more than 1,000 acres and decided he wanted to feed the hungry.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (http://bit.ly/1yf29XZ) former UNC-Chapel Hill and NFL standout Jason Brown bought a sprawling farm near Louisburg and relied on his vision and faith to make it work.
Last weekend, his goal came to fruition when he gave away 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. He was hoping to give away that many more Saturday.
“You look over a sweet potato field and you don’t see a crop,” Brown said. “The vines are kind of wilting. There is nothing there to pick. You’ve got to have faith.
“I went out to plow up the potatoes last week and looked behind the tractor. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite as beautiful as those big brown potatoes lying everywhere.”
Brown’s First Fruits Farm already had yielded 10,000 pounds of cucumbers, which were also given away.
About half the sweet potato crop has been harvested, helped by the Society of St. Andrews. Rebecca Page, the Triangle coordinator of the gleaning group, had about 200 people and 13 trucks in the fields last week and hoped to have at least that many again Saturday.
The group usually goes into fields after a harvest and gleans the crops that were missed, but Brown told Page that he wanted to give away the entire crop.
“Saturday was simply a wonderful day, but . we’re in over our heads,” Page said of harvesting so many potatoes. “Potatoes are the perfect food, and there is such a great need. . I know that it is all good and that this is wonderful, but when you are in the middle trying to organize something this big, there is some anxiety. We need a lot of help, but a lot of people are going to get food.”
St. Andrews is a national group that links gleaners with farmers. The group has no trucks or storage areas and coordinates with shelters, food pantries and other distribution points.
The Inter-Faith Foodshuttle.org got 9,063 pounds of potatoes last week. Food pantries and shelters in Durham, Wake Forest, Oxford, Warrenton, Granville County, Knightdale, Garner, Raleigh and Henderson got many more.
“We recover about 7 million tons of food a year and gleaning provides 38 to 40 percent of the produce we get,” said Cindy Sink, the marketing and communications director of Inter-Faith. “Gleaning is a wonderful way to get healthy food to people in our community.”
Brown was a three-year starter at center at North Carolina. He spent his first two NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, then played three seasons with the St. Louis Rams before he was released in March 2012.
San Francisco, Carolina and Baltimore contacted him about possibly joining their teams, but he decided he wanted to pursue his dream of farming for others.
“What he is doing is unbelievable,” said Page, the gleaning coordinator. “The time, the effort, the work, the cost. And he gives it away.”
Brown hopes to plant at least twice as many acres of sweet potatoes next year, and he envisions a harvest celebration.
“I can picture 500, 1,000 people here gleaning the fields until noon and then having a celebration of the harvest with food and music. It would be a great celebration and fellowship,” he said.
“I can envision things. I look out over this farm and see such a blessing. This has been more than I could have ever imagined. I have been blessed more than I blessed others.”
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