Making Stone Soup at the Core of Village Surrey


Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbours. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.

“There’s not a bite to eat in the whole province,” he was told. “Better keep moving on.”

“Oh, I have everything I need,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.

By now, hearing the rumour of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the “broth” and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.

“Ah,” the soldier said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — that’s hard to beat.”

Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. “Capital!” cried the soldier. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king.”

The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell and traveled on the next day.”


“Get your own stone” we are told, directly or indirectly since we are born…many try to accumulate stones as they find them: in our current social arrangement, some not only accumulate the stones, they also try to steal or sell them…

Today I attended what I think is the first of many meetings we will have with the friends who are also part of our small Transition group…we have been more or less busy organizing awareness and re-skilling activities at different levels for the community, but we didn’t make time (till today) to pay attention to what’s known as “Inner Permaculture” and “Social Permaculture”: our stories, values, needs, gifts, fears and expectations…

Today, we discovered that each one of us has not only a stone, but also carrots, cabbage, onion and many other things with which we can make a great soup.

Self-reliance doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is a selfish response to challenges and scarcity, while self-reliance is knowing your strengths and assets and being able to share them with others in exchange for what you don’t have: your weaknesses and needs.

When things get dark or tough, people react in different ways: some people go inwards and try to make sure they and their loved ones get what they need; some get greedy and use these moments to steal and hurt; others become dependent and needy…yet there is always a group that helps, builds and creates…in an excellent MOOC I’m taking (called Civic Ecology, Reclaiming Broken Places, by Cornell University) I learned that these are common responses in moments of war, disaster and despair and that people are resilient…


Resiliency, however, involves a delicate balance: too much stress may break the system, too little may make the system oblivious, blind, unprepared.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” says the Proverb

Preparation and/or response to any crisis, however conceived or implemented, need to meet the challenges they are supposed to serve: we can’t make soup with a stone, but we can show each other the richness lying in each other’s “gardens”.

In the many opportunities I have attended a Permaculture potluck, I find something simple but magical happens: while we never check who’s bringing what, we never end up with only salad, only bread or only beverage: there is always plenty of everything and we all eat enough, healthy and tasty.

Both the challenges we already face and those we may have ahead require the best from each one of us. I feel honoured to have met these extraordinary friends: able to see what’s coming and instead of running away to grow their own “carrots” or fight to see who has the biggest vegetable patch, are all eager to take a cauldron and a humble stone to empower others so we can all make a difference.


Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”
~ Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies

4 Comments on “Making Stone Soup at the Core of Village Surrey

  1. The stone story is a great parable. Unfortunately, if throughout the ages human nature hasn’t changed, I doubt permaculture will have any greater success.

    However, if it works for you it is great that there are kindred spirits round you. I wish I don’t have to drive such a long way to have the same myself!


    • You are right Helen, in any historical time, humans have reacted in different ways…that has not changed and there are no signs it will either. But there are always small or bigger groups who put aside their personal interests and comfort and jump to show, share, support and lead when necessary…that’s when showing others the value of the “stone soup” can be a great difference…

      Liked by 1 person

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