The Stone Soup of Community Development

There are various versions of a fable that goes something like this: there is a community that lives in quiet disconnection, thinking it has nothing, until a stranger comes into town. He presents the only thing he has to offer to the community: a stone. Inspired, the community members offer what they have, a potato, garlic, some corn — and together the community sees it does have something! They can create a beautiful and rich broth with the gifts that each of them have to offer.

You might not think a stone could become a soup, but that is the beauty of this tale. When one offer is met with another the pieces of something beautiful can be brought together. The wisdom of the stranger is their gift of vision and community building.

John McKnight shared this fable during his keynote speech at Community Living Brant’s fourth annual ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) Symposium held this May.

Individual servings of “Stone Soup” prepared during the fourth annual Community Living Brant ABCD Symposium in May.

If everyone contributes the gifts they have, the whole community can share in rich gifts.

John shared an example of the Stone Soup Philosophy as exemplified by Henry Moore from Savannah, Georgia. Millions of dollars had been invested in an attempt to build resilience into the community, yet the initiative got no traction. There was little community involvement.

Mr. Moore had an idea.

Community members were then contacted and asked to write in and share their ideas. In return they could receive up to $100 toward their idea to make their community better. Up to 80 projects emerged from this initiative.

As it turned out, very few people wanted the money. They could, and would, develop the community funded on spirit rather than cash. For approximately $8,000, more community involvement came to life than had previously been managed after millions spent on programs. The invitation to share ideas resulted in a stone soup of community action.

There was a stone offered at the first Community Living Brant ABCD Symposium in 2018 by a community member. This particular stone had travelled with him and was offered at the time as a symbol of coming together and sharing gifts. It had been retired for two years when pandemic protocols meant that the symposium was online. The stone made a reappearance at this year’s symposium as the community came together once again in person.

The symbolism of the stone was felt deeply this year as community members gathered for a stone soup reflection. They brought to the table their gifts and knowledge, working together to create a vibrant community.

At a stone soup reception, led by Grand River community food educators, community members gathered together to share a meal and learn about food and the symbolism of stone soup as a representation of community and belonging.

Community comes from unexpected places. Where there may appear to be nothing, welcoming in the stranger and each other’s gifts can shift our communities into connectedness and vibrancy.


Lead photo cutline: A community food advisor holds the travelling soup stone offered at the first annual Community Living Brant ABCD Symposium in 2018.


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