Monday, June 24, 2013

Houston Comes To Nashville

In the past two and half years more than 1000 unique visitors from over 100 cities have visited Magdalene and Thistle Farms for our monthly education workshops. At Thistle Farms, we start our work days by lighting a candle and placing it in the middle of our circle to remember all of the women who are still out there suffering and pray for them to find their way home. When we greet new and returning friends, we say, "Welcome to the Circle." 

Below are thoughts from one of the visitors of our education workshop:

When the Education Director of Thistle Farms, Deb Markland, wrote to me with the subject line "favor" asking if I would write a blog post about my experience at our education workshop, I thought to myself, "Pretty much whatever she is about to ask me to do, I will do!"  And that's not just because she is a lovely person (which she is) but because our group got so much out of our time in Nashville that we would do anything to give back to an organization which not only educated us, but embraced  and inspired us.  

We came to the educational workshop from Houston to learn about the Thistle Farms model because we are building a program that serves the very same women that Magdalene / Thistle Farms does.  Our program will be a collaboration between Healthcare for the Homeless Houston (a free clinic that serves our homeless population) and Angela House (a residential substance abuse treatment program that helps female ex-offenders). 

The director of Angela House, Sr. Maureen O'Connell, and I arrived at Thistle Farms on a Monday morning and immediately felt welcome and at home.  And oh, the scent when we walked in!  That set the tone for the entire day. We spent some time getting to know the other workshop attendees and then we "circled up".  The circle is a time of prayer and welcome where everyone - happy Thistle Farmers, workshop attendees, women who have just started the Magdalene program - are introduced and warmly welcomed.  

Becca Stevens then joined us for a very informative and engaging talk on starting your own social enterprise, followed by a tour of the facilities and a presentation by an incredible woman who shared her story of how Thistle Farms helped her literally transform her life. Then we headed to tour the Magdalene residences and upon return, had a lovely lunch.  The afternoon featured Cary Rayson, the Executive Director of Magdalene who gave an incredibly helpful talk and Q and A session.  The day ended with a chance to shop the wonderful products we had been learning about all day. 

What was remarkable about the day, in addition to the incredible amount of information that they were able to convey in a short period of time, was that the experience was really wonderful for anyone interested in this area - from people who were just starting to explore the idea of ministering to these women, all the way to organizations with established programs who just need fine-tuning kind of advice.  Sr. Maureen and I left just so energized and excited about starting our program.

And the help didn't end there.  I have had many follow up questions about different aspects of the program, and volunteer and staff alike at Thistle Farms have been incredibly generous with their time and talent.  Now when I am at my desk at home, working on different aspects of launching our program, I light one of the candles I bought from Thistle Farms.  I do this because it brings me back to a day where I was surrounded by a community of love and acceptance that sees and values the beauty, strength and resilience of these women.  Their success and their passion is inspiring and motivating - it makes you think, who wouldn't want to learn how to be a Thistle Farmer?

By Andrea Link, MD
Healthcare for the Homeless Houston

If you want to learn more about becoming a Thistle Farmer, sign up for our First Annual National Conference, October 13-15.  Our goal is to share inspiration and best practices for meeting the recovery needs of women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, addiction and homelessness and to launch a shared trade alliance among Thistle Farms and other social enterprises whose primary mission is moving women permanently out of poverty.

Get more information and sign up at

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Upon arriving in San Eduardo in March 2012, our group from St. Augustine’s church in Nashville was carrying more than the usual medicines and supplies. Five sewing machines and sample fabrics purchased in Guayaquil were on hand as well.  For several years, Becca had been discussing with Gina Angulo, the priest at Iglesia de San Eduardo, the possibility of starting a women’s cooperative in San Eduardo. Various possibilities were mulled over with the women involved in the church and Escuela Ann Stevens.  They decided they wanted to sew. To get the enterprise off the ground, a small group flew down a day early and arranged the purchase of sewing machines. The machines were unpacked and Olga Zapato, one of the church leaders, sat down and began to sew. Olga gamely tried all of our ideas – backpacks, bags, and small bags for healing oils.  When the group packed up to leave three days later, the idea had taken hold - that the women of San Eduardo could make pouches for Thistle Farms’ healing oils.  All that was needed was the design.

In the ensuing months, photos were sent of beautiful backpacks and purses made of traditional Ecuadorian fabrics. When we arrived in March 2013 we eagerly awaited the arrival of the women from the sewing cooperative, but were quickly distracted by setting up the clinic. Toward the end of the first day, Becca asked the four women who were cooking for us if they would brew some tea she had blended.  Soon a rich concoction of chamomile, lemongrass, ginger and lime was ready and four women from St. Augustine’s invited the four cooks to sit and enjoy a small break.  As we shared over a cup of tea, we were thrilled to learn the recipe of a favorite soup, to hold the infant daughter of one of the cooks, and to share smiles even when not all shared the same language.

On the second morning, I asked Becca, “Where are the women who sew? Why haven’t they come?” We had brought another sewing machine with us and had plans to meet with the women to discuss the healing oil bags and ideas for how to grow their business, yet no one had shown up. Becca was as clueless as I, so Rosario, the lead cook, was consulted. When I asked her, she smiled and said, “It is us,” and pointed to three of the four cooks. It was a beautiful revelation that the women who were caring for the group’s needs were the same women who made up the fledgling cooperative that we were supporting.

The three seamstresses represent three generations of women. Blanca Saltos, 72, is a widow who lives with her niece. Rosario Cunalata, 50, is a single mother of 4 children, two of whom are still living at home. Marilu Barros, 29, has two teenagers.

On the third day of our visit, we discussed the symbolic possibilities for a cooperative name and the group chose Sibimbe, in honor of the Sibimbe River that runs through Ventanas, a nearby town. Rosario has fond memories of learning to swim in the Sibimbe River and liked the idea of naming the cooperative after the river that had influenced her life.  During the meeting, the women were intrigued by ideas generated on how to grow their business. But their excitement grew palpable when they were asked to model their bags and backpacks.  Laughter broke out as each woman practiced prancing down an imaginary catwalk!  They all expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity to help provide for their households. They appreciated feeling useful and making extra money for their families.

Sibimbe is in its early stages, but the communities of St. Augustine and of San Eduardo believe in these three women. In a huge gesture of faith, funds are being donated for a building to house the cooperative, with hopes that it will grow to include other women.  In an area where teen girls quit school to marry, it is hoped that some of the younger girls in San Eduardo will someday learn the valuable skills of sewing and enterprise.  Gina, for one, is excited about the possibilities. “The purpose of this cooperative is to provide decent work and to improve the quality of life for the women of San Eduardo. It is our hope that in the future there will be many more women that can be a part of Sibimbe.”  

The women are currently researching ideas for a local market and have considered making sheets for local sales. In the meantime, the design for the healing oil bags has been perfected. Thistle Farms has contracted to buy the bags as quickly as the women can make them, which is keeping their machines humming. It is a time of beginnings, a time of hope. Indeed, the possibilities that emerged with the delivery of those first five machines appear endless.

To support the women of Sibimbe in Ecuador and the women of Thistle Farms in Nashville, purchase our set of five Healing Oils with a hand-sewn case on our online store

Sibimbe is one of the partners of our Shared Trade Alliance. To find out more about Thistle Farms fellow share trade communities, join us at our first National Conference on October 13 - 15 in Nashville. For more information or to sign up, go to

By Kim Bailey 
St. Augustine's Volunteer
Liaison with Sibimbe

Monday, June 17, 2013

Common Rituals

My friend, Annie, has said that she is so much a creature of habit that she always welcomes a rut. When life sometimes falls into a daily sameness, she is comforted by it's predictability and coziness. Annie has one of the most colorful personalities I know, full of bawdy humor and the occasional possibility of a totally shaved head. Annie isn't boring, it's my opinion (after a few years of applying my own leanings toward amateur psychology), but rather, she simply has a reverence for ritual and ceremony, especially those traditions that have historically fallen to the women of a community.

There are so many people in the Thistle community who have taught us about the beauty of common rituals. Annie washes loads and loads of t-shirts for our paper studio. Babs and Gayle are teaching us the communal art of quilting. Fiona has taught us about the ritual of teatime. Marcie and Fran teach us that caring for our bodies can can be sacred time of healing, and as it becomes a ritual, every step can be a prayer of gratitude. Regina, one of the graduates of the very first group of Magdalene women, teaches us that if you "keep coming back," your sisters will carry your bags for you, and that knowing when you are too tired to carry them alone is a great gift. Lisa taught us that the person who grabs up the most unappealing volunteer jobs can harvest the greatest benefits of servanthood and hospitality.  

Our dear friend, Francie, has taught us about the rituals surrounding childbirth and women supporting women, so it was very exciting for all of us when Becca was booked as the keynote speaker at the annual convention of American College of Nurse-Midwives here in Nashville. The midwives allowed Thistle Farms to have a sales table at the event and it was the most successful sales event that Thistle Farms has ever had. They collected sewing supplies for our sewing studio and welcome basket items for women who are new to our community, filling an entire car down to the floorboard and up to it's roof with gifts of support and friendship. 

No one midwife did this alone. This was a loving example of how volumes of stories about simple kindnesses are written one word at a time. And isn't it absolutely the nature of the midwife profession to see the holiness in the smallest things? 

On the last day of the midwives' gathering, Regina went to the convention center to accept the gifts that the midwives had gathered for us. Before she accepted these gifts, an award had been given to one of the midwives for years of gentle service to her profession. In a place filled with such goodness, it only makes sense that the woman who received that award was the woman who, 20+ years ago, delivered Regina's first son. Sandwiched between that first meeting and this last, these women both carried universal stories of womanhood. Stories of giving and receiving, happiness and heartbreak, and the rituals that carry us though those stories, making us all the same.

Many thanks to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and all who teach us the joys of tradition and ritual, peace to you as your carry on your good work.  

By Stacye Wilson
Thistle Farms Volunteer Coordinator

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thistle Farms' First National Conference

Welcome To The Circle: 
A Global Movement for Community Healing

We're excited to announce that REGISTRATION IS OPEN for Thistle Farms' First National Conference on October 13-15, 2013 in Nashville.

Our goal is to share inspiration and best practices for meeting the recovery needs of women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, addiction and homelessness. 

Visit to find out details and reserve your spot before the end of June for the early bird rate! 

WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE: A Global Movement for Community Healing

•  INSPIRATION for Survivors of Sex Trafficking, Prostitution and the 

    Communities where they Live

•  INFORMATION on the Shared Trade Alliance, a Global Network of 

    Social Enterprises in which the Workforce is the Mission

•  REJUVENATION and Connection through Story & Song

YOU are part of a global movement. Welcome to the circle. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lisa Froeb Tribute

It is with great sadness and a very heavy, heavy heart that we announce that Lisa Froeb, a dear friend to Magdalene/Thistle Farms, wife to Luke Froeb, and mother to Jake and Halley Froeb, died in a hiking/climbing accident in remote Utah where Luke and Lisa own a cabin on Friday.

Lisa served this community as a Magdalene Board Member, Co-Chair of our 2010 fundraiser, and as a remarkable volunteer who was always eager to help and serve. Lisa was at the Grand Opening of the Thistle Stop Café, just prior to leaving for the trip in Utah.

A memorial service will be held Thursday, June 6, at 3pm in Benton Chapel on the Vanderbilt Campus. Reception will follow at 4:15pm-6pm at the Owen Graduate School of Management, right next door.

We offer prayers for Luke, Halley and Jake Froeb. A tribute page has been set up for her HERE and all are encouraged to join and post photos and memories of our dear friend.

Lisa, on left, pictured volunteering with Kay West at the Chestnut & Sage Fundraiser last fall.