Feeding the Need

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Hunger is an issue in our community as it is across the United States and the globe.  Farmers are often part of the solution, donating a portion of their crop to help feed the need.


The past two weeks my news feed as been full of articles about a new farmer in North Carolina who fed the need in a big way – by donating his entire harvest to local food pantries.


Six hundred volunteers, organized by the Society of St. Andrew, which connects gleaners to farmers, showed up to harvest 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.  The group usually gathers crops left behind but in this case, they were gathering everything.


Donating an entire harvest, the sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers, is a story in itself, but Jason Brown’s background makes this even more interesting story.  According to the articles I read he was a standout center for UNC (University of North Carolina for those of you not up on your college sports teams) before being drafted by Baltimore.  He played in the NFL for seven years, landing on the Rams roster after leaving the Ravens.  When Brown was released by St. Louis he decided, despite interest from several other teams, to quit football and become a farmer.


I read an article that appeared in ESPN The Magazine called “Giving Pause”. Brown’s brother served our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice.  “He has always struggled to make sense of his fortune, to reconcile the adulation heaped on football players with the thanklessness of being a soldier…,” the article said.  Perhaps it was that struggle, combined with his faith, that put Brown on his path to becoming a farmer. 


He didn’t know anything about farming.  But he had faith and help from You Tube videos and local farmers. 


I had this story on my mind when I walked into Sunday school this past weekend.  Our leader opened the lesson by asking us to think of a time when we had to have help.  We discussed how hard it was for many of us to admit we needed assistance.  We talked about homelessness and hunger in our community and ways individuals and groups can work to fullfill those needs. 


We talked of a community in Illinois, who answered the need of a family whose son was critically injured in a football game.  The next day, while the family was at the hospital, 16 combines picked 125,000 bushels of corn from 1,000 acres to save the family’s crop.


 This time of year it’s common for groups to hold canned food drives.  We hold one in our office every year at Christmas.  But after our lesson, after listening to the scripture from Deuteronomy 24:19, I started thinking of the benefits gleaning could have over a canned food drive.


                          “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field,

                            you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan,

                  and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings.”


Two things about that scripture jump out at me:


  1. Those in need did not have to ASK for help.
  2. Those in need had to WORK for the harvest they received.

The community made room for those people that needed food and were willing to work, who were willing to gather food from the fields for themselves and others.  I think that’s what Brown did. 


He didn’t wait for anyone in need to ask for help and those that needed it could help harvest the crops they would receive.  Yes, canned food drives help fill food pantry shelves, but I think empowering people in need to help harvest crops that will benefit not only themselves, but their fellow man, has a much stronger benefit to the community.


While his website mentions intentions to donate the “First Fruits” of every harvest, it’s not clear if Brown intends to donate only the first harvest or all of his future harvests.  Whatever he donates, the crop he has tended and harvested will be a blessing to those in need.  Brown already has next year’s event planned and hopes to harvest at least 200,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.


Now, most farmers can’t afford to donate their entire crop.  But many farmers do open their fields to gleaners so any crops left after harvest can be picked and donated to feed the hungry. 


One article mentioned that after the harvest, Brown said he’d never felt more successful.  Despite all his wins on the football field, he has found more fulfillment in a farm field.  The NFL may have given him a large paycheck (his last contract was for $37 million) but farming has given him something greater – an opportunity to serve his country, just like his brother.