Becca Stevens talks Thistle Farms with Guilford community

As the first part of Guilford’s speaker series on women and economic development, on Monday, Oct. 1, Founder and President of Thistle Farms Becca Stevens discussed with the Guilford community the impacts of and secrets behind Thistle Farms.

“Love heals,” is the motto of Thistle Farms, a justice enterprise centered around supporting women survivors of human trafficking, prostitution and drug addiction. Thistle Farms allows affected women to stay in one of their four houses for two years, without the burden of paying rent. The organization also employs the women to help them get off their feet.

Regina Mullins, one of the first five members of the program, recalled coming into Thistle Farms.

“Coming to that program, I felt lost,” said Mullins. “I felt there was no hope. I was coming from a life of drug addiction, prostitution, going across country, which they call trafficking. Being trafficked, I lost everything, including myself.

“One of the things I realized coming into that program was that I was able to find me again. Someone believed in me, and led me to a different lifestyle, one I had forgotten about.”

Thistle Farms provided Mullins not only a safe place to heal, but also a job when rejection seemed to be a recurring theme. Mullins expressed her thought process at the time.

“I want a real job,” Mullins said. “I want a legal job. I want to show my sons that I can take care of me, and I can take care of myself, and I can provide housing.”

Stevens first began helping women provide for themselves with the production and sale of candles in conjunction with Thistle Farms. Through this, Stevens has extended her reach worldwide, with more than “18 hundred women worldwide engaging in the productive activities of her organization,” according to Academic Dean and Provost of Guilford College Frank Boyd.

According to Stevens, there are four keys to the success of Thistle Farms: live gratefully, dig deeper, trust your own voice and practice every day.

Stevens expanded on living gratefully with an anecdote about Sheela, a graduate of her program.

“Sheela began her life of being trafficked at the age of five years old,” said Stevens. “When she tells her story, she talks about being all over the U.S., and she remembers being duct-taped and thrown in the Salt Lake.”

Upon graduating from the program, Sheela traveled to Guadalajara. Appalled by the living conditions of a fellow mother, Sheela jumped at the chance to help fund a booth so that the Moringa Madres could sell their products.

The Moringa Madres was a justice enterprise in Guadalajara under Operation Feed San Juan Cosala that was attempting to get off the ground at the time. The project grows and harvests Moringa leaves to help those who take part in this enterprise support their families.

“It was a way for Sheela to give back,” Stevens said. “To say thank you, to live gratefully.”

Thistle Farms also decided to dig deeper into the refugee crisis.

“The issue of refugees and the issue of human trafficking are linked,” Stevens said. “More than 12,000 girls are currently missing from refugee camps.”

Thistle Farms seeks to empower women in refugee camps by giving them a means to start supporting themselves, such as through weaving welcome home mats out of life vests.

“They didn’t want one more interview, they didn’t want one more bible study,” Mullins said. “They wanted a means, a way to help support themselves. But they didn’t want to do it with the life vests, that was like taboo. This represented death. Something that had represented death to them turned into a purpose for life.”

Stevens also emphasized the importance of trusting one’s voice.

“I wished that I had trusted myself a lot earlier,” Stevens said. “That I could trust that there’d be a community around me that could join together, we could do something that none of us could imagine alone.”

Thistle Farms continues to aid women every day.

“I think it’s important to continue to call attention to all the abuse and exploitation that women, including femmes, are enduring all the time,” said WGSS Faculty Member Nancy Daukas.

Teaching Specialist and Coordinator of the Speaker Series Sonalini Sapra explained her reasoning for choosing Stevens as the inaugural speaker for the series.

“The work that Becca is doing with Thistle Farms and the Magdalene Program really spoke,” said Sapra. “Just the kind of opportunities that the organization is offering to women with a history of prostitution and drug abuse.”

Community members are encouraged to become a part of the movement and initiative. Both volunteer and internship opportunities are available on Thistle Farm’s website,