“Good morning, ladies!” greets Thistle & Bee’s “bee whisperer,” Sheena, as she visits each of the organization’s 60 bee hives. Talking and humming to the bees helps to calm them, so Sheena can check their hives, which is part of Sheena’s responsibility as an employee of Thistle & Bee’s social enterprise. What may seem routine is much more symbolic, as the beehive is really a model for community. “Industry, cooperation, community—we’re trying to build community among women who do not know how to be a part of one because of all the trauma they’ve lived through. So how do you live together in a way that’s mutually supportive, like the bees do?” poses Thistle & Bee’s Founder, Rev. Eyleen Farmer. “By providing housing through a two-year residential program and wrap-around services in conjunction with employment and job skills training, of course.”
Thistle & Bee’s mission is to help women who have survived prostitution and trafficking thrive. Rev. Farmer had always felt called to advocate for women, but it wasn’t until she attended a Thistle Farms’ Conference in Nashville that her calling materialized into Thistle & Bee. Rev. Farmer recalls heading home from the conference and thinking to herself, “This has to come to Memphis.”
Thistle & Bee gives survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking a fresh start by employing them to produce, package, and procure supplies necessary to sell their honey and granola products. “One thing I learned from Becca Stevens, Founder of Thistle Farms, is that your product has to be as beautiful as the story” says Rev. Farmer “but what is really interesting to me is that the honeybees are under threat, and the women we serve are under threat. So, the way we help the women, by helping the bees, creates this beautiful synchronicity of supporting environmental justice and justice for women.” One of the most effective motivations for women exiting the life of prostitution and trafficking is financial autonomy, so providing meaningful employment is crucial to the organization’s success.
Those who want to get involved with Thistle & Bee can do so in a variety of ways. One can participate in the mission by purchasing Thistle & Bee products online or from local stores who carry their products. “Monetary support is very important, but if you have a special skill or expertise that you think would benefit the women, we’re open to all kinds of collaboration and community partnerships” adds Executive Director, Eli Cloud. Educating oneself is another way to assist the organization, as the more one learns about the effects of sex trafficking and prostitution on the community the easier it will be for them to identify and speak up when they suspect something. Additionally, Thistle & Bee is always happy to sell their products at local farmers markets or events. They love being invited to speak at churches, schools, and community organizations to raise awareness. Supporting bee health by planting flowers in your yard can help the bees who make Thistle & Bee’s social enterprise possible, as well.
To hear more about Thistle & Bee’s programming first-hand be sure to attend their upcoming Sweeter Than Honey Luncheon on September 6th with special guest Becca Stevens. More information about Thistle & Bee and this event can be found via their website at thistleandbee.org.
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