The thistle it is actually considered a weed. For Thistle Farms and the women of Magdalene it represents the prickles of their past, with a center of beauty and the promise of new life. Thistle Farms is a social enterprise specifically built for the women that are part of or graduated from the 2-year residential community of Magdalene started by Becca Stevens in 1997. These women are off the streets of Nashville, Tennessee and desperate for help escaping prostitution, trafficking, and addictions. They are provided with housing, food, medical and dental expenses, as well as therapy, education, and job training - all at no cost to them. Thistle Farms and Magdalene are funded by donations and the product sales of Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Café.
Latitudes Fredericksburg and Warrenton employees went down to Nashville to learn more about the production of their products and their residential program. Seven employees of Latitudes participated in an education day put on by Thistle Farms.
Every morning they start their day at Thistle Farms with circle time at the Thistle Stop Café. All employees come together to say good morning and have a moment to encourage one another and have a daily meditative prayer focusing on one of the 24 guiding principles of Thistle Farms. A candle is lit for the women that are still out there suffering to see the light and find their way home. We had a lovely morning in the café learning how Thistle Farms has grown over the years and their hopes for expanding. Since 2005, 84% of residents have graduated the 2-year program successfully. Most of them choose to continue their employment at Thistle Farms. They have welcomed 15 new residents this year!
"This community has taught me that when hearts break, love pours out like a river forgetting her boundary. It is possible to see justice in its wake and believe love changes the world. When we step in that river's current, we stir up old bedrock that crumbles into generosity, and compassion." - Founder Becca Stevens
There are four residential Magdalene Houses, which provide a loving home environment for 24 women. This home, built in 2006, is home to 7 women. When the women walk up to this house they normally say, "I get to live here!?" For the first 6 months of the program the women focus solely on their own healing. All the women qualify for food stamps and receive a stipend for additional living expenses. They are responsible for cooking their own meals. On Monday they have mandatory house meetings and a mandatory house dinner. Each house member has to contribute a dish. Local volunteers come and give cooking classes which help the women get creative and healthy in the kitchen. The close knit community of the houses are very significant and teach the women how to live in a healthy and supportive community environment; something many of them have never known.
This is the paper studio at Thistle Farms. Journals, cards, and bookmarks are artistically produced here. The women make their own paper out of recycled and donated t-shirts and paper scraps. Each sheet has dried thistles added as a reminder of hope in dry forgotten places.
This is the sewing studio. It began from a donation of 12 sewing machines. They now produce coasters, hot pads, and totes. Volunteers came in to help teach sewing lessons and design product patterns. In the bottom left photo you will meet Tish, a graduate of the 2-year Magdalene program. She is a Thistle Farmer who knew nothing about sewing, but now has been working in her free time on what she is proudly holding up in the picture. She plans on making it into a pillow.
A cool community story: A young couple came to visit Thistle Farms and was so touched by this place they came up with a way to do more. They were getting married soon and instead of wedding gifts they asked everyone to give a Home Depot gift card. With this gift the couple bought flooring and spent their honeymoon side by side with Thistle Farmers installing it. This story proves just how infectious the love and hope is here.
These products you will recognize from Latitudes and may be even enjoying them in your own home. Their body care line makes lip balm, soaps, lotions, body butters, healing oils, and candles. These are all-natural products infused with herbs and oils. Thistle Farms has a sales team, production team, packaging team and shipping department. This provides valuable work experience and skills for the Magdalene residents and graduates. Thistle Farms products can be found in over 400 stores. While they are healing on the inside, these women are producing something healing for the outside.
A cool community story: While a local writer was visiting Thistle Farms he noticed that they had to wheel their finished products outside and around the back to get them down to packaging and shipping. He decided to make their lives easier and so donated proceeds from a book he authored to to fund the construction of an elevator connecting the two floors. They are very thankful!
This is packaging and shipping departments where wholesale and online orders are filled. They do an excellent job and take this opportunity to gain valuable work experience.
This is the Thistle Stop Café. Magdalene residents and graduates operate this café. From personal experience, I can say they make a delicious cup of Rosemary Revolution tea, served with a smile. If you are ever in Nashville, Tennessee, take the time to stop at the Thistle Stop! Besides purchasing the products in our store, this is another way to financially support Thistle Farms and witness the great work they are doing. When this café was being built the community really pulled together and gave time and materials. The floor was donated by Al Gore from his parent's tobacco barn, and creates a gorgeously rugged look you notice right away. A designer from Anthropologie donated their time to construct the unique tea cup chandeliers. Every cup was donated by someone in the community and most were filled with a story of the cup's history. You can see why this place is so FULL OF LOVE!
Thistle Farms and Magdalene fully embodies the fact that LOVE HEALS! Please come into Latitudes and see their handiwork on our shelves - and pass the love on by giving their products as gifts.
What do colorful gift bags have to do with vision care for artisans in India? Well, when you choose a free colorful upcycled sari gift pouch with your purchase, you can elect to make a donation to contribute to a fund that provides vision care to artisans in rural India.
We are partnering with Matr Boomie and their non-profit arm in India, SETU, to sponsor a free Health & Eye Check-up Camp. Good eyesight is especially key for artisans to be able to continue working and making a living. Due to lack of awareness, education and many times-funds, most artisans are forced to neglect their health and keep health issues at the last priority.
This camp will provide the following services for artisans and their family members:
• Free preventative health check-ups to detect general illness and risk factors.
• Free distribution of medicines.
• Free eye check-up.
• Advice, medication & exercises to improve poor vision.
• Free of cost distribution of spectacles for vision correction to the needy.
• Awareness regarding precautions while doing their jobs, if needed.
• Information on maintenance of general health & hygiene, prevention & cure of common diseases.
Each camp is budgeted as funds are raised. Our goal is to raise enough to fully fund one camp, which will serve 200-500 people. We are excited to see how quickly we can sponsor one of these eye camps, and appreciate your support!
Image courtesy of Matr Boomie