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It’s 9 a.m. at the Thistle Farms manufacturing center on Charlotte Avenue, and, just as they have every morning for 20 years, employees—women survivors of trafficking, addiction, or prostitution—meditate around a candle, lit to help the next woman find her way home.
It’s been 20 years since founder and Episcopal priest Becca Stevens welcomed her first female survivors into a home, and, since then, Thistle Farms has become a nationally recognized organization with a residential program for female survivors, a bath and body company, a cafe, retail outlets, and a global marketplace.
“Last year, we were able to put over $1 million in the pockets of our employees, the survivors who work here,” Hal Cato, Thistle Farms CEO, says. “That economic healing piece is so important, which is why we’re putting so much energy right now into growing it and creating more jobs and opportunities.”
Over the past few years, Thistle Farms has grown 30 to 35 percent annually, creating an urgency to expand and invest in it as a vital business. During its 20th anniversary, the company will complete a $3 million renovation. The entire project includes growth on multiple fronts: a move from its 800-square-foot manufacturing facility to a 12,000-square-foot space just 200 feet away (the move, Cato says, will result in four times the production); a rebranding of the bath and body products to include sleek, white packaging that focuses on the core “Love Heals” message; a renovation of the cafe space, which will double in size and include a commercial kitchen, private event space, and Nashville chef Martha Stamps; the first-ever Thistle Farms retail storefront; and an expansion of the residential program into cities across the country and around the world.
“This expansion is not just for local women,” Stevens says. (Her latest book, Love Heals, will be released this fall.) “It’s a global movement for women’s freedom. There’s always a new story to be told, there’s always a new face to help.”
As the business grows domestically, Stevens continues her focus on a global scale. For far too long, she says, the dreams were too small. Her latest vision includes planting a new social enterprise in Greece, where Syrian refugees will create welcome mats out of the very life jackets that brought them to safety.
“Everything that we do, we’re doing to prepare for the next woman coming through the door,” she says. “That can keep you inspired for years.”
5122 Charlotte Ave, 615-298-1140; thistlefarms.org