Many in the nonprofit world are familiar with Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, who was named a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2016. Described as a social enterprise, the multifaceted Thistle Farms
community is run by survivors of addiction, human trafficking and prostitution. Located just outside Nashville, Thistle Farms serves as a refuge, home and workplace for recovering women who produce and sell home and body care products for more than 30,000 customers around the country, in addition to running an on-site cafe. Twenty years after its inception, it's in the midst of a total refresh.
"There are huge changes happening at Thistle Farms," says Dorris Walker, local events coordinator for the enterprise. For one, the products have undergone a rebranding, which includes new packaging, scents and labels for products such as lotion, soap and candles.
Another big change is an overhaul to Thistle Stop Cafe, a staple at Thistle Farms' campus that has been open for four years. Serving tea, coffee, breakfast and lunch to the community, the cafe has quickly outgrown its small space. "The cafe was built by the community, for the community," says Trish Ethridge, Thistle Stop Cafe events coordinator, who first came to the property recovering from a troubled past herself. "We currently function with only a panini press, a microwave and a flat grill, and we hand wash our dishes."
The cafe remodel includes giving the dining room a more modern look, as well as putting in a full commercial kitchen—an oven, stove and dishwasher, Ethridge notes, grinning. It will also help Thistle Stop Cafe attract corporate events to meet and dine in the new space, especially with the addition of well- known Nashville chef Martha Stamps, who will make her own breads and pastries on-site and introduce a new boxed-lunch menu.
For large groups unable to meet on-site at Thistle Farms, the most common arrangement is for some of the women to travel to the event location. "Sometimes [planners] want us to go to an office building, someone's home or a church, and we use that space," says Walker. The women can give an hourlong keynote tailored to the audience (often, it's sharing personal stories, conveying a spirit of hope and spreading the word about Thistle Farms) or simply talk for 10 minutes and show a video followed by a Q&A session with event attendees.
Products are a key part of Thistle Farms events as well. The women speaking at an event bring items like lotions and candles and set up tables so attendees can shop after the presentation. "They'll do a one-on-one talk with every customer," says Walker, "sharing about which survivor had a hand in making that particular product."
Another way Thistle Farms can be a part of events is through satellite parties, during which survivor leaders can speak to a group via Skype and send products and order forms in advance so participants can try them out as they listen. The satellite parties are currently free to set up.
Though events are an important part of getting out Thistle Farms' message, all acts are done with the goal of helping as many women as possible. "We don't try to get clients; we try to build community," notes Walker.