Thistle Farms is the official name of the entire organization. Magdalene was the original name given to the organization in 1997. As the organization has grown, Magdalene now refers specifically to the Residential Program within Thistle Farms. Also part of Thistle Farms are the following social enterprises:
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Residents of Thistle Farms are referred to the program through family members, friends, public health departments, recovery communities, and the criminal justice system. Six women participate in Magdalene on the Inside--a therapeutic community program at the Tennessee Prison for Women--with the intention of transitioning to Thistle Farms Residential Program upon their release from prison.
When residents enter the program, they bring with them the burdens of addiction, records of arrest and incarceration, and the trauma of past physical and sexual abuse. On average, a Thistle Farms resident or graduate was first raped between the ages of seven and eleven, first used drugs and/or alcohol in their early teens, and first hit the streets between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Up to 75% of residents meet federal criteria of having been trafficked while walking the streets through their teens and early 20’s. All residents and graduates have survived rape and/or physical assault--often aggravated by the use of a weapon--while being trafficked or prostituting. 100% of residents meet the criteria for diagnosis of a co-occurring illness.
The experience and memory of sexual or physical abuse often shapes the understanding of an individuals beliefs towards their relationships and sexuality. A combination of trauma, poor self-esteem, and social isolation fuels unsafe, commercial sexual activity. Pimps and traffickers seek individuals who are emotionally vulnerable and separated from family and social networks, thus making girls and women who experienced sexual abuse an easy target for exploiting.
Product sales provide stable income for residents and graduates. Through product sales, employees move towards independence and financial stability. A stable income allows Thistle Farms employees to purchase their own cars, pay their own bills and taxes, and support their families, their health, and their continued recovery. This past year, residents and graduates received over $600,000 in income through Thistle Farms. As a result, graduates have purchased their first home, driven their first cars, and dropped their children off at school for the first time.
We are grateful for your interest in raising funds for the program. Our board has developed some community fundraising guidelines to respect our supporters, employees, and your time and enthusiasm. Clear expectations seem to help everyone! Click here for more info.
As we are a training and sheltered work space, our budgets don’t give us the flexibility to be generous with giveaways. This isn't due to the worthiness of the cause, only that we are trying to be good stewards of the financial support we receive and the hard work of the women here. In order to cover the costs of giveaways, we would need a donor to subsidize the expense. We are happy to donate a gift basket for silent auctions and community events when notified at least a month in advance (and depending on the number of requests in a month). We can also offer 10-20% discounts for volume orders. Please contact email@example.com for these requests.
Please visit our Student Resources.
We greatly appreciate all invitations. We usually just accept invitations at events where all the costs are covered. For reasons of teamwork, safety and accountability, Thistle Farms always sends at least two employees to any events. Once we budget for pay, travel fees and associated costs, we can’t afford to pay booth fees. Most of the events we attend we are invited to share the story of hope and how we have grown into the largest social enterprise run by survivors.
Women will share a short story about the experiences of their life that brought them to Thistle Farms. More importantly, they will speak on behalf of all the women of Thistle Farms, and to the issues of prostitution, trafficking and addiction that impact all our communities, and what you can do to make a difference. We ask that you do not ask survivors details about their experiences in prostitution, trafficking, addiction, or the abuse and violence from their past.
When I first began working with women on the streets of Nashville I had one child and was pregnant with my second. The idea of opening a two year free sanctuary for women survivors had been simmering for years. But with the demands of work and a growing family that idea was just sitting on the back burner. Then late one afternoon in 1994 I was leaving work and putting my four year old son in the car seat when he looked up at me and asked, "momma why is that lady smiling?" The billboard he could see was a huge image of a stripper in a cat suit smiling. The question broke my heart, because I knew one day he wouldn't ask it. The sign would just fade into the landscape where women are bought and sold without notice. On that day I felt a fire burning in my chest and knew I needed to open the first home for women who have survived lives of trafficking addiction and prostitution. The woman in the cat suit was a sign. What I would also learn later is that because I have a history of child sex abuse in my background, is that I had a deep connection to the women I was serving in shelters and in ministry on the streets at that time. My son was a living prayer, and by the grace of God that day I could see the sign and hear the prayer.
What has surprised me most is the generosity and love of people all over the world. I have learned not to be cynical. I have learned that people want to hope with you. I have learned that women who endure the universal issues of sexual violence on their individual backs have hope coursing through their veins. The hundreds of women who have come through this community who long for forgiveness and healing are great teachers, farmers, and healers. I have also been surprised at how well the social enterprise has done. Who knew we were going to be such successful thistle farmers. We are now the largest social enterprise run by survivors in the United States.
Try to keep it all really simple. Doing the work of Thistle Farms amidst budget shortcomings, calendars, and personalities can feel very complicated. Keeping it simple is akin to keeping it more peaceful. I try to remember to Grieve fully, feel Gratitude profoundly, and be humble enough do the Grunt work! That is it really. It is that simple and that hard. Sometimes when we try to explain it more, we just dilute the message. And the message is simply Love Heals. Love should be seen as a lavish business ideal, capable of transforming community. Keep engaging your mission and be willing to change.