On the snowy morning of Friday the 1st of February, Social Work Forum traveled to Thistle Farms. If you don’t already know about Thistle Farms, you should first learn what Magdalene is. “Magdalene is a residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.” Thistle Farms, then, is “…the social enterprise that is run by the women of Magdalene. By hand, the women create natural bath and body products that are as good for the earth as they are for the body. Purchases of Thistle Farms products directly benefit the women by whom they were made.”
Not only did we get to tour their facility, but they also welcomed us to participate in their morning meditation which consisted of a short reading from a devotional followed by everyone going around in a circle to introduce themselves and say a little something about their day. The amount of love that Thistle Farms and Magdalene has for their women touches everyone within a 100 foot perimeter.
After meditation, we heard an amazing women named Shana bravely tell her personal story about what she’s been through and how Magdalene and Thistle Farms has helped her to recover. She was very honest with us about how her life has had it’s ups and downs. When asked to share with us a bit of advice, she told us that we should never expect to truly relate with or fully understand where a woman like her has been.
We then spoke with Deb, who is in charge of Thistle Farms’ education and outreach. She told our group a bit more about how Thistle Farms works with local organizations and how they’ve expanded and changed over time. This is to make way for newer and better ideas such as their upcoming Thistle Stop Café which they hope to open this Spring. One of the moving things that Deb brought up was that once you learn about these things – the lives of women who have been prostitutes in the past and suffered a great deal of brokenness – you can’t look away any more. You can’t pretend to be unaware of the way they get used and abused any more. The only logical response is action. One of the ways we can act on what we’ve learned is to become advocates on behalf of these women. Deb brought up that sometimes these women are taken advantage of such as with their bills. Sometimes others will exploit the fact that they may not have a full education. Social workers can advocate for these women and the fair treatment they deserve.
Once we were done speaking with Deb, we were invited to help Jennifer in the paper studio. Jennifer is vivacious and full of life. She showed us how to make paper with a variety of crazy materials while singing along to some songs that she really loves. While some of us worked on making the actual paper, the rest of us worked on cutting up a bunch of old white t-shirts that will be later used in the paper making process. We weren’t exactly sure about the whole process, but Jennifer assured us that it all works out.
In addition to making beautiful paper products, Thistle Farms also makes beauty products and candles. They sell these at their Charlotte location and also in over 200 stores in Tennessee and across the country.
For all the harsh realities that Thistle Farms employees have had to deal with in their past, they sure to seem to love life now and that shows in the way they treat guests and volunteers. If you don’t leave Thistle Farms with a smile on your face then something might be wrong with you.