A former NFL lineman renowned for having walked away from his lucrative career to become a Franklin County farmer will deliver the Commencement Address at Louisburg College’s graduation Friday, May 12.
The Rev. Dr. Mark La Branche, Louisburg College president, will be featured speaker at Baccalaureate, scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, May 11 at Louisburg United Methodist Church.
The next day, Commencement starts at 2 p.m. at the Jones Performing Arts Center. About 150 students are expected to receive degrees; academic honors will be awarded, as well. Jason Brown, a Henderson, N.C., native and 2005 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, will speak.
Brown played football for the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams before returning to North Carolina in 2012. He bought 1,000 acres near Louisburg and then watched YouTube videos to learn how to grow food on the land he called First Fruits Farm.
Brown grows sweet potatoes, cucumbers and other produce and each year gives away the first fruits of his harvest to local food pantries and churches. His mission: “to share the love of Christ and aid in hunger relief in eastern North Carolina.” His unusual story has been featured on the CBS Evening News and in the News & Observer, among others.
Brown said he and his wife, Dr. Tay Brown, a dentist, followed a call to return to rural North Carolina and serve their neighbors, though they had never farmed before. The couple, who have four children, have hosted a youth fishing derby, invited graduate students from NC State University to do research on the farm, and collaborated with many faith and service organizations and thousands of volunteers.
Dr. La Branche came to Louisburg College in 2009 from Alabama’s Huntingdon College, where he was a senior vice president. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Boston University and Master of Divinity from Emory University and spent 18 years in parish ministry, serving churches in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
He and his wife, Mona, live in downtown Louisburg, where they have been active at Louisburg United Methodist Church and in the community. In addition to his service to Louisburg College, Dr. La Branche has been president of the Louisburg Lions Club and a board member of the United Way of Franklin County. He also has served on the Executive Committee of the North Carolina Association of Independent Colleges and on the board of the National Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities of the United Methodist Church.