The poetic justice of--Love Heals--as the tag line of a company run by survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution is deeper than all the scars women carry from childhood trauma and rape. For survivors, sex has been monetized and violent for years. On the street with pimps and johns, it is not about love. It is about survival, drugs, and turning tricks. Learning how it is that love heals is one of the goals of the community of Thistle Farms, an all-natural manufacturing company that sells body care products. At the social enterprise women find their way back into a world that has allowed them to fall through the deep cracks of hard, unjust systems.
For two years women live in rent free communal houses and find the mental, dental, physical and educational help they need. A key element in the process is to be economically independent in order to gain control of their destinies. The social enterprise began in 2001 as a means to provide that economic security, and as a vehicle to engage people in understanding why women turn to the streets and to get past education into action. None of us had ever run a company, but we didn’t shy away from launching a movement. Our mission was to live into the truth that love is the strongest force for social change in the world. It is remarkable that 13 years later we are on pace to grow 100% based on the first-quarter numbers and break the million-dollar mark in sales. Many of the leaders of the company are just coming into their own as business executives, sales people, and entrepreneurs. Shana Goodwin, one of the sales' executives says the biggest lie she was told when she was sold to a drug dealer as a teenager was she was stupid. Although she never finished 7th grade, she is one of the smartest, most enterprising women you will meet. She can manage an excel spreadsheet with the 280 accounts across the country and explain to a group of business women that by purchasing products, they are helping women find freedom.
There is no secret to our success. Our business is an open book that supports volunteers and more than 1,200 annual visitors to the company where people tour the facility and drink a healing cup of thistle tea at the Café. Love is worth so much. It is a endless commodity we can tap into when we put people first and swear we won’t leave any sisters behind. There is an old saying, “If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal a village, heal the women.” The women of Thistle Farms are bringing healing and practical ideas to create sanctuary to cities across the United States. We are speaking at hundreds of churches, conventions, and gatherings to spread the truth of how love is lavish and economical. Just by our presence in Nashville, Tennessee, we bring over half a million dollars in savings, taxes and revenues with no federal or state funding. We are part of wider movement that is changing the tide of the conversation away from blame and shame towards practical healing with quantifiable value.
We will continue to rise to the occasion for the thousands of women still on the streets who deserve to be more than just survivors of child rape, trafficking, prostitution and addiction. They are bankers, manufacturing directors, baristas, distributors, social media marketers, facilitators, case managers, outreach directors, receptionists, candle makers, and paper makers. Love is a good business model that can teach traditional businesses about how to sustain a community as you grow a company. The business of Thistle Farms teaches us how we can serve one another, love the earth, and hope for the future.
By The Reverend Becca Stevens
Author of #SnakeOil