Thistle Farms stands for the truth that, in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world. – Reverend Becca Stevens, Founder of Thistle Farms
I am a huge follower of journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s work. The couple have dedicated their lives to promoting women’s rights around the world and it was after reading their eye-opening book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” that I made up my mind to devote my life to giving back and making a difference. I know it sounds rather cliché but honestly, I was so moved and intellectually awakened by their book that I began my work volunteering abroad, fundraising for building a school in Nepal and all the other social good writing and advocacy I do.
Their most recent book and documentary “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities” expands on the overall themes in “Half the Sky”. It was from watching the documentary on PBS last year that I learned about the inspiring work of Reverend Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms, and I was delighted when they contacted me for an interview on my blog.
Like many amazing organizations, Thistle Farms and its residential program Magdalene, all began by one woman who wanted to make a difference and promote change, Becca Stevens, an Episcopal Priest from Tennessee. Becca was finishing her last year of Divinity School at Vanderbilt and became inspired to give back to the community. After talking with police officers, homeless people and other social services within the community she realized a strong need to help women get off the streets and away from drugs, trafficking and prostitution. Many people believe that prostitution and human trafficking exist only in third world countries when in fact it is a huge problem here in the United States as well.
Here are a few stats on sex trafficking in the United States that will surely surprise you :
- Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States. (United Nations)
- Approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States. (U.S. Department of Justice)
- The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13-14 years old. (U.S. Department of Justice)
- A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and the average pimp has 4 to 6 girls. (U.S. Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
- One in three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. (National Runaway Hotline)
Realizing that prostitution, trafficking and drug addiction was a huge issue without many solutions or opportunities for women to get off drugs and off the street, Becca established the Magdalene program in 1997, a two-year residential program and advocacy service that helps get women off the street and beat addiction. As the program expanded Becca realized that another obstacle remained. Once the women graduated the program, it was hard for them to get a job after having a criminal record (many of the women had been arrested several times during their years in prostitution). Without a sustainable income, these women would easily fall back into the streets meaning Becca had to think of another opportunity for them.
In 2001 Becca launched Thistle Farms, a social enterprise of women survivors of prostitution and drug addiction that provides an opportunity for a sustainable income and future for the women. The name “thistle” was used to represent how tough and resilient these women are, like a thistle. Yet on the inside they are beautiful. Although Becca does not actually run a farm, her social enterprise creates on site all the products that Thistle Farms makes and sells, and it is all done by the women survivors. Once a woman is hired, she can work there for life providing her with economic empowerment and an opportunity to not only survive but thrive.
Thistle Farms houses a natural bath and body care company, Thistle Stop Café, a paper and sewing studio and a global marketplace called Shared Trade. Today, Thistle Farms employees more than 50 survivors and benefits over 700 women a year. Proceeds support Thistle Farms and the residential program, Magdalene. The community provides housing, food, healthcare, therapy and education for two years, without charging residents or receiving taxpayer money.
Here is a short video about Thistle Farms:
Just in time for the holidays, Thistle Farms has launched their 2015 Holiday Collection of beautiful, all natural bath and body products all made by women survivors of drug addiction and prostitution. Each purchase you make goes back to help these women improve their lives. It is a beautiful thing!
Thistle Farms and Becca Stevens have been featured on numerous national platforms including the A Path Appears on PBS, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, and NPR. Thistle Farms stands for the truth that, in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.
BECCA STEVENS is an Episcopal priest, entrepreneur, author, and social justice activist. She is founder and president of Thistle Farms, a community of women who have survived trafficking, prostitution and addiction. She has been featured in New York Times, on ABC World News, NPR, PBS, CNN and was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House in 2011. Most recently she has been featured in the PBS documentary, “A Path Appears.” She was named 2014 Humanitarian of the Year by the Small Business Council of America as well as the TJ Martell Foundation, has been inducted into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, and was conferred an honorary doctorate by Sewanee: The University of the South. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Grammy-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, and their three sons.