Saturday, December 24, 2011

Signs of Christmas

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ -- Luke 2

Early one morning last week under a drizzle and a thick blanket of fog, I headed off to Radnor Lake for a moment of peace from the busiest Advent I have known at Thistle Farms and St. Augustine's. There, perched on a low branch beside the lake was a majestic bald eagle. I know they roost in the foothills of Tennessee, but seeing it watching me 20 feet away was still startling. It was a sign to me, as clear as if I had been a shepherd out watching my flocks at night, of good tidings from an angel of the Lord.

Christmas is the season of signs. The author of Luke's Gospel makes the signs of Christmas, such as stars, angels and dreams, the beginning of his Gospel with poetic mastery. Into the tradition of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, he sows with signs a theological blanket that cover us this holy season with grace, joy, lowliness, peace and universalism. The shepherds were given the sign that they would see a baby in a barn wrapped in a blanket. The magi were given the star as sign. Mary and Joseph were given dreams. Since the celebration of these sign were recognized by the church, this has been the season for all God's people with eyes to see, to find sings that point them to the Christ in this world, tucked away like a baby in a barn, to fill our days with hope and glad tidings.

Looking back at seasons past, Christmas has always come to me in signs. I remember in 2004 when we were building a big new house for Magdalene in a pretty rough neighborhood. I was driving to the construction sight and worrying if this home could ever be a sanctuary for the women in this neighborhood. Then, like swaddling clothes, I saw a red ribbon tied in a bow on a neighbor’s door. It was a sign of peace and hope in the midst of doubt and fear. I remember in 2001 driving home about 10:30 on Christmas Eve after a service. We were just getting ready to launch Thistle Farms and I was preoccupied the whole of advent. All the sudden driving I realized the roads were quiet just as I drove past the hospice at 19th and Charlotte. There was only one light on in the whole place. As I imagined the person keeping vigil on Christmas Eve as someone they loved was dying, the light all of the sudden looked as holy as a star over a manger. I remember just last year how it was the simple dancing of a candle flame that brought the spirit of hope and peace to me. As I watched it flicker on the altar, I thought about how a single candle can cut a path through the darkest night, and how I had gotten to be part of a community that had made about 50,000 candles through Thistle Farms over the past 10 years. It was like the multitude of the heavenly host filling my heart and singing.

You have signs that have carried you through this season like the most treasured gifts of Christmas. Chances are, your signs of Christmas rarely have been found in packages under your tree. It is not surprising that we all have signs, but they always come to us as surprises. This is the season to name them and recognize them as gifts of love that renew glad tidings that Emmanuel, God with us, was born. Your signs and my signs remind us that the eternal love of God is still visible in this temporal world and it can still turn stone to flesh in a heartbeat.

For me the eagle was a great sign of Christmas. The eagle is obvious because it looks like my totem, the hawk, dressed up like Santa. There are probably a million ways to see any sign. In the rainy foggy wilderness, the eagle had to hunt by getting in close, and it didn't look lofty on that dreary morning, it looked determined. The eagle preached that morning with a clarity that I can only strive for -- that its not always visions of mountain tops, lofty cathedrals, and sugar plums.  Sometimes the holiest is lowly, determined and alone.

The sign of Christmas is the moment we remember that our hearts beat to hope. The sign of Christmas is a welling of gratitude that bears the gift of loving the whole world. The sign of Christmas is a community that can take this world as it is -- seeing the horrible in the glorious, the meaningless suffering in the midst of deep meaning, and the sorrow in the midst of joy. And so with grateful hearts beating to hope we never, ever stop searching for signs as diligently as a hunting eagle on a foggy morning, that bring us glad tidings of peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

By Becca Stevens

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last Minute Holiday Cheer

Credit: Chicago Now

It's your favorite time of year:  rushing to get to the airport, long lines at the check in counter and you just realized you didn't get anything for your Aunt Betty!  No need to fear, you still have a chance to pick up some handmade love before you take off for a winter wonderland.

Thistle Farms products are located in the Nashville International Airport (BNA) at Nashville Star and NaSah's Nashville Nails.  Stop in, grab Aunt Betty a Body Butter and spread the holiday cheer wherever you're going!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thistle Farmers at The Farm

The great volunteers at The Farm at Natchez Trace have been lovingly hosting our Christmas party for the last few years and they really know how to treat humans as well as pets. Thanks for everything, Farm friends!


Sunday, December 4, 2011


When I was 15 I bought a quarter-inch square of purple satin that claimed, from the card stock that it was mounted on, to be cut from Marilyn Monroe's bed sheet. When I saw it, the patchouli scented air in my favorite record shop seemed to stand absolutely still and I eagerly gave up three hours worth of hard earned babysitting money to own something that her gentle hand may have actually touched. I don't remember exactly, but surely I was at least a little bit skeptical. Purple satin does seem a bit cliche'.

I guess I wanted to prove that Marilyn could trust me to take good care of her scrap of shiny bed sheet and understand that I would look after this improbable, yet possible, possession with love and care. More than anything else, something unknown made me believe that some of this sweet lady's overlooked goodness could pass on to me if I were to touch something that she had touched. My heart was broken by her "Magdalene-ness" as well as her commonness long before the truths of this type of sisterhood were parts of my everyday life.

That was 30 years ago, and now I have outlived many of the people whose spirits I have admired and loved. I have walked back through hospital rooms and houses touching, very delicately, the possessions of family and friends whose exits from this life left me begging for one last touch. A wedding ring here and a baseball cap there. All intimate emblems of their having "been here." All, in some way, fulfilling that desperate fantasy of "if I just had one more minute, this is the tenderness with which I would hold you…"

It is in that spirit today that I will leave my home office to buy a body balm at Thistle Farms. Although I already have several, I need one from the stock that's on the shelves now. Yesterday, one of our dearest volunteers, Susie, better known as "Grammie" to all of us, died peacefully from an illness none of us even knew she had. Grammie was our chief body balm container cleaner. She lovingly prepared body balms for labeling and gave so freely of her compassion that I am positive that the goodness of her pretty trembling hands can actually still touch me back.

In my first conversation with Grammie she introduced herself very formally as Mary Sue. By the end of that conversation she was "Susie." When I met her a few days later in person she asked me to call her "Grammie." And that's how it happened. As the Volunteer Coordinator at Magdalene and Thistle Farms I love it when someone shows up a few times and we organically find their place in the circle together. Grammie seemed to know that we needed a Grammie before she even got here. Just knowing that was the first of her many gifts to us.

Please forgive an overzealous knowledge of pop culture, but Marilyn Monroe would have been 85 this year. I always think it's sort of funny when somebody's dad spends their life napping in a recliner only to find out that he is the same age as Mick Jagger. I guess our ages are all about what we make of them. Grammie's familiar youthful giggle and innate girlishness remind me that there is a right and a beautiful way to grow old.

Whether you are a celebrity or a volunteer, leaving those who loved you with a memory of the exact way your hand felt on theirs is an important gift. I take that memory with me today, along with my new body balm and the image of Grammie, always looking photo-ready and never once complaining in her blue OSHA-required manufacturing area cap.


by Stacye Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator


Saturday, November 26, 2011

All Ages Welcome To The Circle

People from all ages come to Thistle Farms to meet the women, see products being hand made and learn about love and healing. Below are some of the reflections from a group of youth -- in grades 4-7 -- from Westminster Presbyterian Church's Mission Camp, after their visit.

"My experience at Thistle Farms was amazing. I learned how it changes people's lives and I think that is so cool. My experience was also fun because I got to see the products that they make and I even got to buy some of the products." 
Anna A.
12 years old

"Thistle Farms was a great experience! I didn't just have fun; I learned things about how the choices people make affect their lives."
Addison W.
12 years old
Interested in bringing your group to Thistle Farms?  For volunteering opportunities, contact and for education workshops, contact


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving for Donna Grayer

Magdalene's Beloved Program Director: 
Donna Grayer

We want to salute the Director of our Program Services Team.

In 2004 Donna Grayer came to work at Magdalene as our Clinical Director. While she brought more than 20 years of clinical experience working with homeless and addicted adults to our programs, it is what she brings to her work everyday for which we are most grateful.

As this Thanksgiving approaches, we are mindful of Donna's steady, compassionate, and thoughtful presence that allows residents, staff and volunteers to find a place in our community for growth and recovery.

Here are some of the things residents and grads have said about her:

When I went into the program, I felt like nothing, and Ms. Donna was the light at the end of the tunnel. She showed me how to be a woman. At the beginning, we all feel like dirt on the ground and unworthy. She shows and reminds us that we are women who should be treated with dignity and respect. She is my stepping stone. 
- Shelby

To me, Donna is the glue that holds the programming team together. She also really helps the women with their mental issues. In my eyes, she's a mentor. She's the person who helped me believe in myself--that I could do anything." 
- Shelia

Ms. Donna is a loving, nurturing woman who is willing to take time out to help other people with their problems. She helps us keep our issues and communication at 'level one. 

Ms. Donna is my mentor. She's a good person to talk to, and she's a wonderful listener. 

She's my momma away from home. 
- Jordan

Thank you Donna for your love, commitment and passion that has made the difference in the lives of so many women!  We love you!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Continued Personal Journey To Health

You might remember the 5K the women of Magdalene & Thistle Farms participated in earlier this year.  One of the Magdalene women who walked that day has continued her own personal journey to health by becoming a committed walker.

Lydia has lost 20 pounds since September and has lost a total of 60 pounds. She currently walks up to 5 miles each day and is participating today in The Mayor's Challenge 5K.

Lydia was mentioned in today's Tennessean and her poetry is featured monthly in The Contributor and on her blog.  Congratulations and good luck, Lydia -- we're all cheering for you!

Friday, October 28, 2011

MEET A RETAILER: Charlie Thigpen's Garden Gallery

Charlie Thigpen refers to his Garden Gallery as more than a garden shop or gallery—“it is the brick and mortar incarnation of a longtime dream.” With over 20 years of experience, Charlie has elevated his skills in landscaping and plant design to what can only be referred to as haute art, and thanks to a shot in the arm from his wife Cindy, he now uses his store to help bring “the little miracles” of the natural world to his customers, as well as readers of Southern Living magazine!

Drawn to the story behind the products and our of use of all-natural ingredients, the Garden Gallery now includes Thistle Farms’ own brand of little miracles in its inventory. In celebration of this new partnership, Charlie has invited us to join him at the Pepper Place Farmers Market in Birmingham on Saturday, October 29th.

Chelle and Monique are on their way there now, so if you are in the area, please stop by and say hello to them and Charlie!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Reflections From The White House

Credit:  Elizabeth Bewley / Tennessean Washington Bureau

As we mentioned before, the founder of Magdalene / Thistle Farms
- Becca Stevens
was honored by The White House as "Champions of Change.”  
The Tennessean interviewed Becca after her visit to the White House
and she had this to say:
“I’m saying the same thing over and over my whole life, 
but to say it in that space feels really special.
I’m grateful that I get to speak my words, 
in that space, 
for the people I represent.”

Below is the official White House video of the event
(Becca's speech is on at 0:56:10)
and you can read a transcript of Becca's speech HERE.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Totem

Becca Stevens gave this powerful talk on the night of the 2011 Magdalene Fall Fundraiser, Totems & Sacred Spaces.  You can reflect again on the meaning of the totem and join in Becca's vision that began nearly 15 years ago.

NPR did a four part series on Thistle Farms and Magdalene this year. It was an intense time, especially when they requested an interview with a woman who had relapsed. Tara agreed, even though she was struggling. The week before the story aired, Tara was arrested and all of us were scared and grieving. We had never been through anything like this. Jacki Lyden, the correspondent, said that they either had to pull the story or disclose what had happened. I told her that while our community believed in love without judgment, the people listening to NPR would probably judge us harshly. I told her that we had been through hard relapses, through women killed and beaten so badly it took days to identify the body, but in our 15 years and 150 graduates, we had never been on the other end, where a woman who had relapsed was arrested for homicide. What if a million people heard it and just gave up on the dream that love heals?

I listened to the broadcast by myself while I was in Connecticut at Trinity College for a speaking engagement. I walked around the campus listening with my iPhone clutched in my sweaty palms and prayed. NPR told our whole story, including the devastating news about Tara. What we came to understand was that a million people cried with us at the horrific reality of the violence of the streets and the courage of the women of Magdalene to live differently. The response was a real witness to the truth that when love heals, it washes over all of us.

In a long letter to me Tara wrote that she can look out through a sliver in a razor-wire fence and glimpse a thistle and remember that her story is not over yet. Thistle Farms has been a whirlwind since the airing with the women speaking their truth in love about why women walk the streets and what it takes to bring them home to over 10,000 people at conferences and events. We have never wavered on our mission to be a witness to the truth that love is the most powerful force for social change in the world.

The Hawk totem came to me at the same time we began the journey of opening Magdalene fifteen years ago. The hawk came swooping in and has been there every step of the way. It is been a sign to me that we need to be as fierce in love and as focused as the hawk in our vision. The Hawk soars to the heavens on a breeze and reminds us that the mission of Magdalene and Thistle Farms is not just a statement about the past but a vision that propels us forward with power. That vision is honed by a trusted board, a tireless staff, and hundreds of dedicated volunteers. That hawk vision is centered on individual women moving from lives tormented by traumatic, abusive childhoods and violence to life on the streets and in jails, into a life that can soar on a breeze and imagine a future.

On a visit to a prison this year to tell our story, we walked by a woman behind glass in solitary confinement. Her cheeks were etched like a ravine in a valley carved by a river of tears. There was a mural across from her in the hallway was a hawk flying over a valley. I swear love can make the connection between a valley of tears and a free bird soaring over mountains. The healing is slow and mysterious, and it takes all of us to make it happen. Our vision looks into new fields here and afar.

That vision includes opening a Thistle Stop Café at our manufacturing facility led by Desmond and Roberto. The cafe would welcome the public to Thistle Farms, provide another training ground for the women of Magdalene, and would serve the hundreds of individuals that come to us from around the country to learn about our model and about how we make paper.

That vision includes launching sister programs like Eden House, founded three weeks ago in New Orleans after Jennifer, Kenny, Tim, Gwen and I spent the week there. We are working closely with cities like St. Louis, Atlanta, and Dallas that want to learn our best practices and implement them in their own communities.

That vision includes breaking the million dollar annual sales figure in the next two years and moving into 25 Whole Food stores as well as over 200 other retail outlets. Those figures will help us to be a force for changing a culture that still buys and sells women and holds other worn out notions.

That vision includes welcoming another 12 residents this year, opening a new house and helping the authorities of the women’s prison to imagine developing a Magdalene sanctuary inside prison walls.

That vision includes a new still at Thistle Farms dedicated to Joanne Cato by her family. That still will help us be the only local producer of healing essential oils on a commercial scale, and it will save lives by giving new women jobs, by the healing oils it will produce, and by the story it will spread to others.

That vision includes partnering with 3 other women’s enterprises in Lwala, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; and Kigali, Rwanda to introduce a new evening survival kit as we move into fairer trade and lift our communities together. We are having our pre-launch of these kits tonight. We are offering them to you first, the people who have changed the course of Magdalene and Thistle Farms forever by your presence and grace at this gathering.

Tonight there are eight hundred of us here, but there are more than a hundred women whose paperwork is sitting on Donna’s desk; women on the streets or in jails wishing on the full moon that they could find a home with us. Tonight, we could raise enough money in this one hour to keep the doors of our six homes open another year, to invite another 12 interns to be a part of this journey, to work with another 100 women who need help navigating the legal and mental health systems, to speak with another 200 groups about providing sanctuary for women’s bodies and spirits, to invite another 10 residents into Thistle Farms for vital training, and to go across our nation and the world to share the miracle and to inspire other cities to open their own communities.

Magdalene and Thistle Farms are a gift to the city; they cost nothing and save millions. Magdalene and Thistle Farms are a gift to all of us who donate our time, to buy into the hope that love is the most powerful force for change. Magdalene and Thistle Farms are a gift to all the women here tonight who are graduates and residents who found a chance at life.

This evening could be a totem; a sign to cities and social enterprises around the world that it can happen -- we can love the whole world one person at a time; we can change the course of one of the oldest forms of abuse this world has known; we can raise $350,000 in gifts and pledges in an evening and make this vision a reality. It can happen and it can happen with so much grace that all of us will walk out into the world filled with gratitude that it all had meaning and looking towards the sky for the new signs of Love’s healing power.

- Becca Stevens

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

United We Love

Introducing the Evening Survival Kit: A Collaboration Supporting Four Women's Enterprises Worldwide

Take part in the work of Thistle Farms in Nashville, Lwala in Kenya, Ikirezi in Rwanda, and ABAN in Ghana. This eclectic, yet timeless kit, includes:
  • Geranium Fields Scented Oil - a light, floral scent crafted by the women at Thistle Farms, using Ikirezi's geranium oil from the lush fields of Rwanda.
  • Two handcrafted, beaded bracelets made by the women of ABAN in Ghana.
  • Lip Smoothie - a pomegranate treat from Thistle Farms for shimmery, soft lips.
  • A beautiful print clutch sewn by the women of Lwala in Kenya. 
You are invited to celebrate the launch of this kit at a special event!

Please join us at a launch party for the Evening Survival Kit on 

Thursday, November 17 
5:30pm to 7:30pm 
The Pinnacle Building 
Offices of Bass, Berry & Sims
Nashville 37201

Light hor d'oeuvres, wine and tea will be served, and free parking will be offered underneath the building through the 3rd Avenue entrance. Please send RSVPs and questions to

The Evening Survival Kit will help you stay fabulous and fresh for any occasion--love is the best accessory! 

Our Partners:

We are thankful for the following 3 women's enterprises who are making a difference in the lives of women in their communities:

LWALA COMMUNITY ALLIANCE is a community initiative in Kenya focused on health, education, and economic sustainability. The Women's Sewing Project is a microenterprise with women tailors to improve the health status of women in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

IKIREZI, whose name means “precious pearl” in the local dialect, is a community-interest business that partners with small cooperatives of farmers, primarily widows and orphans of the genocide, in Rwanda ...... in Rwanda to produce high quality geranium oil. Ikirezi primarily works with widows and orphans in a holistic effort to restore their dignity, improve their livelihoods, and rebuild their communities.

ABAN's name comes from the West African Adinkra symbol "Aban," representing a fence, or something that is safe and sound. Their mission is to transform an environmental epidemic into hope by empowering young impoverished women in Ghana and providing them with the tools necessary to practice a trade, make a living, and become self-reliant leaders of their community.

THISTLE FARMS is the social enterprise that is run by the women of Magdalene, a two-year recovery program for women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction that was founded by Becca Stevens. By hand, the women create natural bath and body products that are as good for the earth as they are for the body. Purchases of Thistle Farms products directly benefit the women who made them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Champion of Change

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the White House’s Office of Public Engagement has selected Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene & Thistle Farms, as one of 15 “Champions of Change” to be highlighted at a White House event this coming week.

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. From fighting AIDS, to suicide prevention, the initiative highlights Americans who are influencing others, who have taken leadership in driving societal shifts and are making an impact in their communities and beyond. The Champions of Change event recognizing Becca and 14 other individuals working to end domestic violence will be held on Thursday, October 20th, 2011 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C.

Becca had this to say about the honor: “I believe this recognition is in honor of Magdalene’s witness for the past 15 years to the truth that love is the most powerful force for change in the world. I want to help change this culture that still buys and sells women and holds on to the worn-out notion that prostitution is a victimless crime. All of us at Magdalene stand in solidarity with women who are recovering from violence, prostitution and addiction and life on the streets.”

Please see local coverage on the award at the following locations:
News Channel 5
The Tennessean
Nashville Scene
Nashville Public Radio

Monday, October 17, 2011

Totems & Sacred Spaces

Last week the community of Magdalene & Thistle Farms celebrated Totems and Sacred Spaces. Chaired by Jay Joyner and Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, the event gathered over 800 people as we honored the totems and sacred spaces of our community. Together, we recognized the dedicated volunteer work of Carole Hagan who serves as our event coordinator, witnessed the powerful testimonies of Magdalene residents, and were moved by the musical performances by John Prine and Ashely Cleveland. In our gathering of old and new friends alike we created our very own communal totem as we raised $280,000 in gifts and pledges to provide sanctuary, treatment, education and work for women coming off the streets. We are thankful to all those who helped make the night a huge blessing.

The night also included a sneak peak of Thistle Farms' Evening Survival Kit-- our newest survival kit that supports four women's enterprises worldwide. We will be launching this exclusive kit in November. Be on the lookout for more details.

Here are a few photographs from the magical night.  To view all of them, see our photo albums on Facebook here and here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Still Dedication

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…
You shall make of these a holy anointing oil…
You shall consecrate them, 
that they may be holy; 
whatever touches them shall be holy.”
Exodus 30: 22, 25, 29

Thistle Farms and Magdalene owe a debt of gratitude to Joanne Cato, her family, and her friends!  On October 10, 2011, a still that will be used to make our very own essential oils was dedicated by Tom Cato, Cathie Cato Renken, Hal Cato, Susanne and Todd Cato, Fred Grgich, and Bobby McAlpine, on the occasion of Joanne's birthday.

We consecrated the still with a beautiful ceremony filled with overflowing joy, happy tears, and excitement. This great act of love and generosity will allow Thistle Farms to be a commercial producer of essential oils, and develop new healing products. As the sweet smell of lavender fills the work space, we are reminded again that our cup runneth over!

By Jordan Walker

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Parking Information For Tonight's Fundraiser

If you are coming to tonight's fundraiser, we have a full house! Try to carpool or arrive early by 5:45 to relieve traffic. Here are parking options:

  • Parking is available starting at 5:30 at the 25th Avenue Highland Garage (from 25th, pass Memorial Gym on right; turn left onto Highland; enter garage only on Highland).
  • Overflow parking is in the West Garage on the corner of 25th and Children's Way (near Blair School of Music). Street parking is also available on West End and is free beginning at 6:00. Paid parking is available at 2525 Garage on Kensington.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Friends In Atlanta

Cynthia, Jordan, Tim and Becca just got back from Atlanta where they spent the day with Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. One our of new friends blogged about their time together. To read her post, please click here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MEET A RETAILER: Serendipity

Serendipity, located near the hub of Belmont University, has resided on 12th Avenue South for the past decade. Founded by Ken and Julie Lutz, this eclectic and fashion-forward store serves women of all ages, sizes, and personal  styles. Their merchandise includes a serendipitous mix of hot designer brands as well as gift lines -- including Thistle Farms products! Armed with their passion for helping women overcome obstacles to personal fulfillment, Julie and Ken have identified Thistle Farms as their favorite local non-profit organization

Serendipity will donate 10% of its profits to Thistle Farms September 30 & October 1!

If you’re in the area, check out one of Thistle Farms’ favorite boutiques. For more information, visit here or call (615) 279-5570.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Magdalene Fall Fundraiser

Every fall we have a special event that brings the community together to celebrate the healing in all our lives. An inspirational introduction to Magdalene and Thistle Farms, the fall fundraiser features music, art and writings by residents and graduates. Through this one evening, we are able to raise almost half the funds we need to continue to keep our doors open to women from the streets.

The theme this year is Totems and Sacred Spaces. Totems are symbols that have a spiritual significance to us. Totems that have been created by the women of Magdalene/Thistle Farms will be on display that evening. The event is free but a reservation is required.

EVENT UPDATE 9/30/11: We have been overwhelmed with responses in the few days! We need to temporarily put new RSVPs on a waiting list while we determine how many more guests the venue will allow us to have - but we are hopeful we will be able to get everyone in! If you'd like to be added to the list, email Marlei.

Here are further details:

October 12, 6:00pm-8:00pm

Vanderbilt Student Life Center
310 25th Ave So.
Nashville, TN 37235

Chaired by Miranda Whitcomb Pontes & Jay Joyner, and celebrating the service of Carole Hagan.

We are grateful to the official event sponsors:

Toby & Mary Knox Pilkerton

And gratitude to the following companies.  With their support, gifts that evening will go directly to the women and the program:

Light hors d’oeuvres, wine, and tea will be served. There is no charge to attend but everyone is given an opportunity to make a contribution to Magdalene at the end of the evening.

Directions & Parking: From I440, take West End north and turn right on 25th Avenue South. From I 40, take Broadway/West End south and turn left onto 25th Ave South. The Student Life Center is on the left, across from Memorial Gym. For parking, pass the center and turn left onto Highland Ave. Garage is on right and opens by 5:45. Parking is also available on West End Avenue.

We hope you will be able to share this evening with us!

Strategic Planning

Below is a photo from our 
second strategic planning meeting 
at Thistle Farms led by Rick Seiters. 
We are ahead of all of the five goals 
we set as a company to reach in 2011.  
It has been a great process for all of us.  

Thank you Rick!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Journey To Health

 The Clarksville Running Club held its sixth annual Wilma Rudolph 5K and 10K races on June 25, 2011.

Thanks to the Faith Family Medical’s “Journey to Health” program, the women of Magdalene participated in – and completed! – a 5K, beginning at the Sango United Methodist Church, Clarksville, TN.

Jeff Wolfe, the Program Director for Journey to Health, worked with and trained the women for approximately three months. The Clarksville Running Club sponsored the race fees.  Fleet Feet gave us shoes and other incentives.  De Feet provided socks for $1.50 per pair (which usually cost $10!).  Girls on the Run and the Nashville Striders provided us with shirts, clothing, tons of moral support AND they plan on doing more in the future.

We want to thank Jeff, Marci (a volunteer at Faith Family Medical), Shelly (a graduate of the Journey to Health program who also completed the 5K with us), the Fleet Feet staff, the Clarksville Running Club, De Feet, Girls on the Run and the Nashville Striders for their dedication to a great cause.

What a great accomplishment for all of us!

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Am A Thistle Farmer: Beverly

Wrapping up our 10 Year Anniversary Celebration, watch the 10th and final spotlight on members in our community.  Here, Beverly shares her story, full of heartbreak and hope.  She is proud to say she is a Thistle Farmer and has found courage through the program and within herself.

You can see all of our videos on our YouTube

videos by Becky Fluke

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cause For A Celebration

Angie from Nashville celebrated her 27th birthday in a big way -- with a Thistle Farms home party!  Below, she shares her experience of planning the party and the evening itself.

Like many of you, I thought about throwing a Thistle Farms home party several times before. But, something always held me back. There was always a reason not to…. I’m just too busy to plan it right now. I don’t want to pressure people to feel like they need to buy things. Wouldn’t it be a better use of everyone’s time and funds just to make a cash donation? 
But somewhere in the midweeks of May just before my 27th birthday, the same thought kept creeping up: If not now, when? What could be a more perfect way to celebrate another year passed, and another year upcoming, than to gather all my friends and do something for someone else? 
After one email exchange with Thistle Farms' fabulous event coordinator: wham, bam, party-planned! In less than an hour, we had everything set: date, time, directions, and guidance on how to throw the perfect home party. It really couldn’t have been easier! 
Day of, we welcomed a few women from Magdalene and Thistle Farms an hour before party-time. They set up a beautiful product display, and we set out a few easy-peasy appetizers. Voila! Set and Ready!Shortly after, my nearest and dearest arrived and then settled in (the beauty of having a party in your living room…).  Rita, the Thistle Farms receptionist and a Magdalene participant, shared her story. It started with her account of addiction, violence, and prostitution, but ended with a beautiful testimony of restoration and hope. I looked around the room and saw my friends – who had never met this woman before – radiate with unfiltered love and acceptance. I doubt I will ever be more proud of them or love them more than in that moment.
Following Rita, Tracey shared a similar testimony. She went over each of the products on display, explained how they were made, and encouraged us to shop, shop, shop!  And, that we did!  
Each of us took turns trying lotions, smelling candles, and reading inspirational passages from the books. Many girls bought gift sets for friends who couldn’t make it or body butters and bath teas that they now couldn’t live without. One dear friend purchased scented lip balms to include in her bridesmaids gifts for her recent wedding! Others tried to think of ways to continue their new relationship with the organization: hosting the women at their office, volunteering as a GED tutor, throwing their own home parties…  
Now, let’s be honest: I know I have a pretty awesome group of friends. But I was absolutely blown away. I had no idea that they would be so into it. For weeks following, I received emails and phone calls thanking me for introducing them to Thistle Farms and asking for contact information so they could continue that relationship.  
I keep thinking about Thistle Farms' motto: “Love Heals.” And, I continue to circle around the same thought: so does community. After excuse upon excuse for not having a home party, I am so grateful to Thistle Farms for allowing us to share in their community for one night – and hopefully, many to come.

Now, dear blog readers, it’s your turn! Have you ever thought about throwing a Thistle Farms party? There are a million reasons why it’s not a good time or even a good idea. Push those excuses aside and take the plunge! You don’t need a special occasion or a specific reason. Just gather your girls and be ready to spend a night in community. You’ll be so glad you did! 
Story & Photos by Angie Stapleton

To plan your next celebration or home party, email Carole at

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Am A Thistle Farmer: Dorinda

Dorinda works for the Department of Corrections and is a volunteer board member at Thistle Farms.  10 years ago, she was a reporter at a local television station and was sent to cover a story on the handmade bath and body products of this local business... and she never left.  Part of our 10 Year Anniversary Celebration.

You can see all of our videos on our YouTube

Videos by Becky Fluke

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thistle Farmers In Lwala, Kenya

Lwala is a beautiful farming village in the western part of Kenya, Africa. It is a beautiful landscape of rolling mountains that surround lush fields of corn, sugar cane, as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables that are more exotic to my southern roots. There are fallow fields nestled among the cultivated crops that speak to my need for a bit of wildness and rest. In the midst of this Eden lays the Lwala Community Alliance. It is home to a clinic, an education program, and the Lwala sewing cooperative. I came here with my family to spend the week meeting the women who participate in the cooperative so that we could develop some new products.

I have spent the days sitting with the women sewing in a 1200 square foot tin building where they operate manual sewing machines and produce school uniforms, reusable menstrual pads, and kits for Thistle Farms. Christine, who is 32 years old and the mother of seven children, is a charismatic leader who explains with ease how she moved here when she got married. She also talks about the prevalence of domestic violence among women and how earning a living frees women from that struggle because they no longer have to "ask their husbands for money for food." She and the other women heard about the job opportunity from posters hung at the clinic and schools and applied in 2009 when the cooperative began. Being paid for work not only gives them hope for their own lives she explains, but also, "It makes it possible for the children to attend school." She explains, "When I was young there were many hardships…” and without lifting her eyes from the task of sewing she says, “but I left home and went to a polytechnic school even though my family was against it and learned how to sew."

Elizabeth's story is similar in that she too could not afford an education and came here when she married. She sits and explains her story with a measuring tape draped around her neck and smiles even while she talks about the harsh reality of growing up in the grip of poverties strong hold. She talks to me while Oliva, her youngest, sits on her lap while she hems bags for Thistle Farms. Above all she wanted to make sure that I shared, "We are grateful to Thistle Farms for ordering bags. The work has changed our lives and we hope you think of more things for us to sew." She learned to sew from a cousin she stayed with while she was growing up.

Other women in the group had parents who died early and are trying to stay healthy while living with HIV. They buy utensils, clothing and food as well as pay for their children to go to school, and it is on their minds as they are trying to sew some 200 bags before I leave. There is a young sewer in the group who has one four-year-old son. She has completed high school and dreams of going to college. She says that this job allows her to save money to someday help make her dream come true. Jane, who is the mother of seven children, never went to school and cannot read or write. "It’s important to me that my children can learn," she explains. She thanks me for the interview and for asking her important questions.

Through all the interviews I am sitting in the sweet space where fragile dreams are taking root. Seeds of hope are being sown on as fertile ground in the hearts of the women as the rich soil surrounds the building. I will carry Christine, Elizabeth and Jane's stories and weave them into the tapestry of stories I have heard over the past ten years at Thistle Farms. Together they make a beautiful picture of how community heals individuals and transforms the world. I don't take any of it for granted and sit, like in a fallow field, and wait for another season I haven't yet even imagined. I can already feel how this harvest will produce another harvest of things that are useful, and healing, and that help us love each other a little better.

by Becca Stevens