Transforming Lives with Granola
Susan Binkley and the Blue Monarch Recovery Home help abused women reclaim their lives.
Nineteen years ago, Susan Binkley dreamed that God called her to help women trapped in cycles of addiction and abuse with—wait for it—granola.
So she did. Susan is the founder of a successful line of granola snacks called Out of the Blue and an effective recovery home called Blue Monarch. Not that the past nineteen years have gone without their challenges. Susan began by opening a cafe in Sewanee called The Blue Chair, hiring women in recovery to work the kitchen.
“It was a holy disaster,” Susan recalls, describing the difficulties endured. Many of the women she employed struggled to remember tasks like arriving on time. Or at all. Many had fears of working in public.
“I’ve learned over time,” Susan observes, “that this was not a question of laziness or lack of consideration, but rather major self-esteem issues. These women had no sense of their own value—they think, ‘How could it matter if I don’t show up to work?’” Susan understood that a more holistic approach was needed, and—after finding the perfect location, a former bed and breakfast nestled on a 50-acre farm—Blue Monarch opened its doors in 2003.
Today, Blue Monarch is a middle Tennessee haven, welcoming recovering women and their children to a safe, beautiful home complete with rocking chairs to enjoy the views from the porch and a swimming pool to cool off on a hot summer day. As the butterfly imagery suggests, Blue Monarch’s holistic approach helps women transform their lives, offering classes in nutrition, self-esteem, and parenting. There are also drug recovery programs, spiritual development activities, and counseling for residents and their children. As the women grow stronger, they are invited to join the granola kitchen staff. Here they learn not only the time-tested recipe for Out of the Blue’s crunchy granola—the staff bakes over 9,000 pounds of the yummy snack per year!—but also vital job skills that they will need when they are ready to leave. In addition, inside every bag is a photograph of one of the women who baked the granola with her special story of recovery on the back.
The genesis of all this success began when, on a hunch, Susan brought her granola to a Pick Tennessee tradeshow and emerged with fourteen new customers, including heavy-hitters like Whole Foods and Nashville’s Fido. As the granola business grew, so too did the opportunity for recovering women to establish consistent work histories and gain critical skills. Today, Out of the Blue operates from the commercial kitchen space in the Blue Monarch farmhouse and can barely keep up with demand.
“The most exciting thing is seeing women who used to make money illegally get really excited about their first honest paycheck,” Susan shares. “They are proud to show this to their kids.”
Looking at the stunning Blue Monarch property, it is hard to imagine a better place to recover. Any visitor would be thrilled merely to relax on the wrap-around porch. But, for the residents, Blue Monarch is nothing short of a miracle. Donaree Masters, a program graduate who now runs the granola kitchen, puts it this way: “Even if I had never had my addiction, I could not be in a better spot than I am in now. The beauty of what happens here, seeing these women growing and learning—being here is a dream come true.”
Residents are encouraged to remain with Blue Monarch for 12 to 24 months, considerably longer than other rehabilitation programs. They also prioritize women with young children and oversee each child’s recovery alongside the mother’s. y. “Some of these kids have never truly played before because they lived in states of constant worry,” says Kate Cataldo, Development Coordinator. “To see them playing and laughing is a miracle.”
Blue Monarch strives to equip these women with the fortitude to persevere. “Falling back into old habits is easy,” Susan says, “because that is what is familiar.” Newfound self-reliance, trust in support structures, a deepened faith, and—of course—the homemade granola are the tools that Susan and her staff employ to change these ladies’ lives. “To come in where they know no one and keep going,” Susan says, “it’s like an every-day trust fall.”
At Blue Monarch, they catch each other, helping human spirits get back on their feet while making good things for our bodies.
You can find Out of the Blue Granola at many stores around town, including Kroger, Whole Foods, Turnip Truck, Produce Place, and Fido. You can also order it online at bluemonarch.org.