Monday, July 29, 2013

Meet Our Keynote Speakers: Martina E. Vandenberg

Behind the scenes at Thistle Farms and Magdalene these days, we are busy planning for our first national conference Welcome to the Circle: A Global Movement for Community Healing to be held in Nashville October 13-15. Excitement is building, especially given the calibre of speakers who have signed on to join us. We want to share our excitement by making some key introductions.

It is our great honor to introduce you to our keynote speaker for Tuesday the 15th. Attorney Martina E. Vandenberg has spent nearly two decades fighting human trafficking, forced labor, rape as a war crime, and violence against women. Martina is widely regarded as an expert on an array of human rights issues with an impressive background that includes testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, the Helsinki Commission, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to name a few. As a former Human Rights Watch researcher, she spearheaded investigations in the Russian Federation, Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, and Ukraine. While Martina lived in the Russian Federation, she co-founded Syostri,one of Russia’s first rape crisis centers for women. She is also a Rhodes and Truman Scholar and adjunct faculty at the American University Washington College of Law.

Martina E. Vandenberg 

Impressive, right? So what can you expect at the conference?

Martina's work in recent years has concentrated on human trafficking victims in the U.S. In 2012, she established the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, a clearing house in Washington, DC that brings attorneys together with human trafficking survivors who need legal assistance.

At Welcome to the Circle, Martina will help unravel the range and availability of legal options offered to trafficking victims in the U.S. As her work involves advocating with non-governmental organization leaders and mentoring attorneys handling pro bono trafficking cases, she can help you, and your community, better understand laws and legal resources that will empower you in your work with survivors.

For more information about Thistle Farms’ First National Conference or to register go to or contact

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Lovin' - Part 2

Last week, we introduced you to three amazing interns that have decided to spend their summer with us. This week, we feature three more that are donating their time and talents, and finding their own place in the circle.

Gilchrist Green

1. Where do you attend school and what else do you do outside of Thistle Farms?
I am going to be a senior at Ensworth High School.

2. Which department do you work with directly?
I have been helping with the Thistle Stop Café and I basically do any job Courtney, the Café Coordinator, asks of me! I have helped her with some administrative things but mostly I help wash dishes and serve customers.

3. How did you learn about Thistle Farms?
I found out about Thistle Farms through my Dad, who is friends with the Director of Development & PR, Marlei Olson, and through my cousin Caitlin Bradley, who also used to intern at Thistle Farms. I was an intern last year and had such a good time, I wanted to continue this summer as well.

4. Why did you decide to intern at Thistle Farms?
I wanted to be an intern because I am so drawn to the mission of Thistle Farms and I wanted to be a part of it and help in any way I could.

5. What skills are you learning here and what is something you'll take away from this experience?
At the Thistle Stop Café, I am learning how to run a restaurant and a lot about customer service. And just from working behind the counter, I've picked up on how to make coffee and espressos, which is exciting!

This biggest thing I think I'll take away from my experience at Thistle Farms is my relationship with the women. I have become close with the women who work in the Café, like Arletha, Ronza & Terry and I love talking to them and hearing their stories. I hope I can continue a relationship with each of them even after I leave.

 Kayla Deep

1. Where do you attend school and what else do you do outside of Thistle Farms?

I'm currently a junior at Sewanee: The University of the South.

2. Which department do you work with directly?
I'm so delighted to be working in the PR and Development sector of Thistle Farms. Usually, I get to work directly with Marlei Olson, who manages, among many, many other projects, donations to Magdalene and Thistle Farms. I have been assisting a lot in this department – making sure everyone who has generously contributed to Magdalene is recognized in the appropriate way. One of my favorite tasks is writing thank you notes. I'm a big note-writer myself and I know how much people usually appreciate them.

3. How did you learn about Thistle Farms?
I found out about Thistle Farms through Sewanee alma matter and Thistle Farms founder, Becca Stevens. I mentioned the organization to relatives in Nashville and they raved about the program!

4. Why did you decide to intern at Thistle Farms?
I decided to apply to be an intern because I wanted to see firsthand the workings of a nonprofit – the things people do day-to-day to make momentous change.

5. What skills are you learning here and what is something you'll take away from this experience?
What I have taken away most from this experience so far is the sheer importance of the little things – the intentional actions that enable healing each day. I've loved just being around Thistle Farms and hanging around with some of the strongest women I've ever met. Being on the inside for a little while has made Thistle Farms even more magical and special to me.

Kelsey Urness

1. Where do you attend school and what else do you do outside of Thistle Farms?

I go to Vanderbilt University. I love to read, babysit, participate in Vanderbilt Wishmakers and Relay for Life and travel.

2. Which department do you work with directly?
I am helping out in the Marketing/Sales department and have been doing sales analysis, working on the new product look, some conference work, and a bit with social media.

3. How did you learn about Thistle Farms?
I found out about Thistle Farms through my mom and my church.

4. Why did you decide to intern at Thistle Farms?
I've volunteered here in the past with my church and have always wanted to get more involved. I thought about interning here and talked to our dear family friend Lisa Froeb about it and her words made me want to start the next day.

5. What skills are you learning here and what is something you'll take away from this experience?
I am learning more about Excel and everything that goes into making a shift in a product look. Also, just how much work putting together a national conference is! The biggest thing that I will take away is learning how a non-profit functions, and how its wheel has so many turning parts that all depend on each other for success. I've only been here a little over a month but it couldn't be more apparent how much love really does heal.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Six Thistle Challenge

No one, seriously, no one, has ever mistaken me for the outdoorsy type.  So when I say "I am a Thistle Farmer" the thought of me outside, on a tractor, sweaty, is a really valid reason to laugh.  I mowed the yard of my childhood home one time, as punishment for speaking disrespectfully to my mother.  My father decided on that day that HE had been punished far more harshly than I had been when he saw the nearly irreparable job I'd done to his previously lovely yard.

Farming: "0."
Going inside where it was nice and cool, to watch The Partridge Family: "1." 

I've spent a huge portion of my adult life working as Volunteer Coordinator at Thistle Farms. My skills lean toward a "sublime" category of farming, in that I have been given the opportunity to place and tend to volunteers from every possible background, age group, and skill set.  Seeing volunteers bloom into their places in our community has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Also, it can be done mostly indoors, away from the possibility of sweating or sunburn.

Metaphorically, I love thistle farming. I love the idea of taking something that people consider a weed and making it the star of the show. I love recycling. I love the changing of perspectives. I love the beauty contained in the restoration of dignity. But honestly, I don't get very excited by the prospect of climbing into a field of thistles to harvest a truckload full. You know, with what happened to the yard and all...

A few weeks ago, I was plucking the down from the thistles that had been in our weekly thistle arrangement at the Thistle Stop Cafe. Since we are dedicated recyclers, we use the feathery down from the thistles in those donated arrangements, along with all of the other donated thistle, in our handmade paper recipe. There were six thistles in this particular arrangement, as well as other beautiful wildflowers and foliage and when I looked down at my little pile of thistle down I thought about how six thistles looked like about the right amount for one 5 gallon bucket of paper pulp, which makes 25-30 single sheets of paper.  What would happen if lots of people each picked six thistles and put them all together? Wouldn't it be great to be a part of something so artful and so dependent upon people coming together as a community?

Six thistles…  I was excited by the prospect of what this could mean for us. Those of us who are gifted farmers, and those who aren't. All of us working together, doing something small and seeing the big difference it can make. Laughing, forgiving, and each of us finding our place with each thistle.  This is what Thistle Farms has always been. This is what we believe.

So I invite you to take the "Six Thistle Challenge." 

Sometime prior to July 28, pick six thistles. Choose dried thistles or choose blooming thistles and give them about five days to dry in your garage or any enclosed dry space. Bring your six thistles to Thistle Farms on Sunday, July 28, any time between 1-3 PM, and we will pluck the down from our thistles together in our circle of gratitude.

Your six thistles, along with every other farmer's six thistles will provide enough thistle down for our paper department for the next several months. Thanks, farmers.

By Stacye Wilson
Thistle Farms Volunteer Coordinator

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Lovin' - Part 1

Ahhh... summertime. The perfect season for vacationing, going to the beach and... interning. You read that right -- Thistle Farms is lucky enough to have six amazing students interning with us this summer and we couldn't be more thrilled.

Today, we spotlight three of those six to find out who they are, where they came from, why they're here and what they're getting out of their Thistle Farms experience.

Deery Brooks

1. Where do you attend school and what else do you do outside of Thistle Farms?
I go to Harpeth Hall where I run track and cross-country and am involved in service.   

2. Which department do you work with directly?
I am mainly helping with education and outreach by assisting Deb with plans for our first National Conference in October.

3. How did you learn about Thistle Farms?
I have always had the products around my house, so when my mom suggested I intern here, I jumped at the opportunity!

4. Why did you decide to intern at Thistle Farms?
I wanted to learn more about the program, specifically about its correlation with sex trafficking. Also, I wanted to do something productive and helpful with my time off of school.

5. What skills are you learning here and what is something you'll take away from this experience?
I have learned a lot about how an organization like this works, by seeing not only how the products are made, but also the work that goes in, so that everything runs smoothly. Also, I am learning to be more appreciative of products that I buy because I have seen the true time and energy that goes in to making the products. 

Ellen Andrews

1. Where do you attend school and what else do you do outside of Thistle Farms?
I'm a Junior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

2. Which department do you work with directly?
General Assistance, mainly helping with social media, PR / Thistle Farms blog, and assistance in the Thistle Stop Café.

3. How did you learn about Thistle Farms?
I have been a member of St. Augustine's since I was 7 years old. My mom, Robin Andrews, was a very involved volunteer during the start up of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. She always used to bring me to the chapel whenever she was helping out with candle making in the early days of Thistle Farms, so it's been a part of my life for about 13 years now.

4. Why did you decide to intern at Thistle Farms?
I love everything that Thistle Farms stands for and I love that I have kind of come full circle with Thistle Farms as a child volunteer, making candles in the kitchen of the A frame to a summer intern for the 2nd year in a row. I learn something new everyday not just in my work as an intern but from the women I am surrounded by. 

5. What skills are you learning here and what is something you'll take away from this experience?
Since I have been working with social media, I have learned a lot about navigating websites and HTML work, but I think I am learning and gaining so much more beyond office work, in terms of how I view the people and the world that I am surrounded by day in and day out. The biggest thing that I will take away from this experience is that love really has the power to heal so many things if given the chance to work its magic. This humbling experience has continued to help me become a more open, honest, and compassionate thistle farmer and I am so grateful!

Ebony Davidson

1. Where do you attend school and what else do you do outside of Thistle Farms?
I am a graduating senior at Tennessee State University, work part time at Macy’s and intern at Thistle Farms.

2. Which department do you work with directly?
I work mostly with Deb in Marketing and Education Outreach. We’re preparing for Thistle Farms’ first National Conference – Welcome To The Circle – Oct. 13-15.

3. How did you learn about Thistle Farms?
My mother, Katrina Robertson, graduated from the Magdalene program in 2007 and is the National Sales Director at Thistle Farms.

4. Why did you decide to intern at Thistle Farms?
I decided to intern here for several reasons. One is that I am working towards a double major in psychology and communications and Thistle Farms is the perfect mix of the two. Another reason is that Magdalene, Thistle Farms and the circle have been crucial to me and given me so much over the years. It was about time I found my own place in the circle.

5. What skills are you learning here and what is something you'll take away from this experience? 
I have learned so much about the non-profit business and the ins & outs of communications. Learning how to make these work together is an amazing experience and I’m so very grateful for this opportunity!

Monday, July 8, 2013

A New Life and A New Look

Earlier this year, ten beautiful and fiercely courageous women celebrated The 2013 Magdalene Graduation Ceremony, one of the most highly anticipated events of their lives.  Once again congratulations to the 2013 Magdalene Graduates and their families.  We as a community wish you continued healing as you move gracefully onto a new life.

Latisha Burns
Nickki Bryant
Angela Claybrooks
Shana Goodwin
Lydia Macklin
Angel Murphy
Cynthia Person
Leticia Smith
Andrea Stewart
Ronza Williams

We are also proud of another graduation in the house. The Thistle Farms Brand is graduating to a brand new look with a product label that is as energetic, powerful and resilient as the women that create them. As the Thistle Farm mission, products and global reach continues to grow, operations have also grown. Thanks and gratitude go out to expert branding specialists responsible for the brand new look and logo design, Delevante Creative. The new labels beautifully represent the next phase of Thistle Farms Operations. 

The very first product created was a candle, made in the kitchen of a small chapel in 2001.  Managing Director, Holli Anglin, commented on the early days, “The small group of women hovered around a tiny kitchen stove that did not require a high level of skill or equipment.  It was a beautiful start to Becca's vision and dream of a community to come together and heal.”  

Katrina Robertson, Thistle Farms National Sales Director, remembers the early days of her sales career, “I started working with the sales team in 2005 with a small team selling our products to retail stores. They trained me very well to sell eye pillows and cute little gift purses. The only problem was that we experienced was the increase in sales and we had to train more women to work on the sales team. That was a good problem to have!"

What began in a small church kitchen is now housed in an 11,000 square foot manufacturing facility.

Rest assured, that the most important Thistle Farms operations have NOT changed:

    All Thistle Farms products are still made lovingly by hand.

    All products are manufactured to save women’s lives.

    Magdalene will remain a safe place to recover from abuse and life on the streets.

    Purchasing products help women maintain financial independence.

Check out the new labels and shop online, click here!

Story by Heather Venesile

Photos by Peggy Napier (all new labels and and group photo of the women), Kristina Krug and Carolyn Snell.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Car People Who Care

We are blessed to have so many great friends and community partners and are grateful when they design a way to incorporate our message into their business. Below, our friend Mike explains the link between Thistle Farms and Providence Auto Group.

Everyone has a story. But, not everyone knows how to turn the page of his or her current story into something beautiful and redemptive. That’s why I love Thistle Farms. Through their mission to help some of the most broken and marginalized women gain job skills, learn responsibility, and develop a new sense of self, Thistle Farms gives women the tools needed to write a new story with their lives.

I first heard about Thistle Farms a few years ago at a Village Real Estate meeting. After hearing Thistle Farm’s passion for helping broken women who have survived the trap of prostitution, trafficking, addition, and homelessness, I was impressed. And as I listened to stories of unexpected and grace-filled redemption, I was deeply moved.

That’s why we partnered with Thistle Farms in my newest business venture, Providence Auto Group, along with the two other co-founders, Simon and Nathan. Whenever we sell a car at Providence, while paperwork and temporary tags are processing, we bring them over our Thistle Farms display. We tell them about the incredible transformation women have seen through this amazing Nashville non-profit. We explain how our hearts are greatly impacted by Thistle Farms. And then, the new car owner picks three products – and drives away with their new car and the story of Thistle Farms in their heart. It is our great hope that every customer will see how much beauty and goodness can be born from ashes.

What in the world is a car dealership doing partnering with non-profits, you may ask? When we created Providence, we were extremely passionate about creating the most remarkable car buying experience in the southeast, but also wanted to positively impact our local community. So, we decided to give cars away to people in need through our Giving Program.  A portion of proceeds from every car that we sell goes into our giving fund to buy a car for an individual in need. Mercy Ministries and Safe Haven help identify a worthy recipient, and Providence selects a car for the individual based on their personal needs.  

At Providence, I am honored to partner with Thistle Farms, promoting their impactful mission through each car sold. I am also proud that every Thistle Farms volunteer and resident receives a friends and family discount at Providence, and we’re also working on a unique matching grant program to help these amazing women buy a car. A car isn’t just a mode of transportation – it can help change a life in our car dependent society. Thistle Farm proves that fresh hope and new beginnings are always possible; beautiful stories can always be written. 

By Mike Zeller
Providence Auto Group