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City Year Founding Story: Stone Soup

Photo by Theresa Thompson

There once was a traveler who came to a small village, tired and weary from his long journey. The traveler did not have anything to eat and hoped that a friendly villager would be able to feed him. He came to the first house and knocked on the door. He asked the woman who answered if she could spare just a small bit of food as he had traveled a long journey and was very hungry. The woman replied, “I’m sorry I have nothing to give you. I can barely feed my own family.”

So the traveler went to another door and asked again. The answer was the same: “I have nothing to give you.” He went from door to door and each time was turned away.

Undaunted, the traveler went to the village square, took a small tin cooking pot from his bag, filled it with water, started a fire and dropped a stone in the pot. As he boiled the water, a passing villager stopped and asked him what he was doing. The traveler replied, “I’m making stone soup. Would you like to join me?” The villager said yes, and he asked if carrots were good in stone soup. “Sure,” said the traveler. The villager went home and returned with carrots from his garden to add to the boiling water.

Soon, another curious villager came by and was invited to join them. She went home and returned with some potatoes. A young boy passed by and soon joined the group, bringing his mother and dinner plates from their home.

In time, a crowd gathered with everyone offering their own favorite ingredient: mushrooms, onions, salt, black pepper, acorn, squash. Everyone wanted to be part of the creation.

Finally, the traveler removed the stone and declared, “The stone soup is ready!” And the whole community joined in a feast where there was none before.

— Adapted from a Swedish Folktale and from Marcia Brown’s retelling of the fable in her book 'Stone Soup'

The Stone Soup folktale celebrates, and provides a powerful technique, for engaging and organizing resources for the common good. The pot is a wonderful metaphor for the untapped resources of community wealth that can be organized for the common good. The Stone Soup tale provides a tested recipe for leading social change by creating a public square to meet social needs: identify a need (hunger), and provide a structured way for people to participate in meeting that need (filling the pot), an initial resource (the water), a sense of excitement (the stone), and then add your own leadership.

Stone Soup reminds us that when we know others are participating in a public endeavor, and when we ourselves are included in both the process and the outcome, we are more likely to act on our idealism, generosity, sense of adventure, and the universal desire for a sense of community and connectedness. Stone Soup also celebrates the power of human resilience and ingenuity–the ability to change one’s circumstances, even upon the heels of rejection, by bringing out the best instincts of people, rather than appealing to, or condemning them for, their worst.

About the Artist: Theresa Thompson is a freelance artist/photographer in Fort Wayne, Indiana and a graduate of the University of Saint Francis. With a strong background in traditional art mediums, her current focus is in photography and digital art.