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

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Am A Thistle Farmer: Penny

You may recognize Penny from her interviews on the three part series on National Public Radio. In this video, Penny talks more about her role at Thistle Farms and working - literally - with the thistles that grew under the bridges she used to live under. Another part of our series, "I Am A Thistle Farmer," part of our 10 Year Anniversary.

You can see all of our videos on our YouTube channel:

Videos by Becky Fluke

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summertime Mission Trips

Summertime means a break from school and a chance to travel to faraway lands. We are grateful that two groups from opposite sides of the country incorporated a trip to Nashville - and Thistle Farms - on their journeys!

The first group came from the west coast -- Menlo Park, California -- visited in June. Members of Trinity Church visited our manufacturing facility, some of the Magdalene houses and took a trip to Lewisburg to pick thistles. You can read their recap on their blog HERE.

A couple of weeks later, a group from the east coast -- Mystic, Connecticut -- came to Nashville to assist with flood damage, and spent some unplanned time at Thistle Farms. Members of the Mystic Congregational Church heard stories of hope and had a chance to make thistle paper. You can read their recap on their blog HERE.

We love meeting people from all over the world and look forward to more group trips in the summer and beyond! Contact for more info.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Am A Thistle Farmer: Rita

When you walk in the front door of Thistle Farms on 5122 Charlotte Pike in Nashville, the first person you'll see is the receptionist, Rita. She'll greet you with her warm smile and show you to the circle, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Come learn more about Rita in the latest video as part of our 10 Year Anniversary celebration.

You can see all of our videos on our YouTube channel:

Videos by Becky Fluke