Saturday, February 7, 2015

Q&A with Becca Stevens

Becca Stevens is the author of the new book The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World's Favorite Beverage From Its Violent History. Her other books include Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling. She is an Episcopal priest who serves as chaplain at St. Augustine's at Vanderbilt University, and is the founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms, which help women recovering from violence, prostitution, and addiction. 

Q: How did you create the Thistle Stop Cafe, and why did you decide to write a book based on its creation and the history of tea? 

A: The cafe was born out of a need to feed all the people wanting to be a part of the Thistle Farms community and learn about our models for housing women survivors and social enterprise. The idea of the cafe came before the book and provided a great time frame to create a manuscript with a bit of plot! 

Sometimes tea books can get a bit dense and I thought putting it in context of a new social enterprise and the hardships and joys of establishing one would make it a better read. 

Q: You write, "The relationship between tea and religion remains strong throughout the world today." What are some of the aspects of that relationship that are most meaningful to you? 

A: One of the obvious aspects of the relationship is the Japanese tea ceremony. It is a ritualized way to drink tea in which we learn intention, gratitude, and healing. 

One of the less obvious aspects is the connection between any tea party and the fellowship of friends and family. When we gather and drink tea from a shared pot, we come as equals to exchange ideas, to strengthen relationships, and to ​calm our spirits.

Q: In the book, you discuss the concept of Shared Trade. What is that, and how does tea fit into the fair trade movement? 

A: Shared Trade is an alliance of women's social enterprises throughout the world dedicated to increasing the value of producers of products and increasing the markets for those products. 

Tea is one of the great offerings of shared trade. We buy at a higher than wholesale market price, offer the distributing and allow customers to buy from many organizations from one site. 

We have removed some of the links in the producer to consumer chain and have committed ourselves to improving the lives of the women in the shared trade partner enterprises.  ​ 

Q: How is the cafe doing? 

A: It is still unbelievable to me how well the cafe is doing. The community has supported it faithfully and it is a self-sustaining operation.  ​ 

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: In the upcoming year we are working on three initiatives. First, we are expanding our national market through focused campaigns such as the year of the geranium, the justice tea, and the hope candle.

Second, we are furthering our outreach in other cities that want to open housing first communities for women survivors​ of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. 

Finally, we are launching a capital campaign to expand our Thistle Farms manufacturing facility and cafe to welcome more and more people into this movement for women's freedom.   

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: You should know that you and your readers are a part of this movement. Tell your story, share our products, drink justice tea, and continue to offer support to individual women trying to heal from the universal issues of sexual violence they have borne on their backs. The story of violence is tragic, but the story of Thistle Farms, the cafe, and the women is a story of hope.  ​

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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