Stones Into Soup

By Helen Mitternight

If you don’t know the fable, stone soup sounds pretty unappetizing, or like the latest abstemious diet fad.

But the fable tells of a soup made delicious by the clever manipulations of a beggar who gets people to drop in just one more ingredient to season the broth. Eventually, the soup is full of good things, a metaphor for something made better by cooperation.

That’s the philosophy behind The Stone Soup Collective, which creates delicious soups – without stones – and gives away four jars to senior citizens for every jar purchased. The original goal was one free jar, but thanks to the generosity of donated produce from Rosebank Farms and GrowFood Carolina, kitchen space from The Schoolhouse and Charleston Area Senior Citizens, and volunteer labor, that donation has grown four-fold.

“The Stone Soup Collective is based on an old folk tale, and it’s really about how we are far better off and wealthier and healthier when we share what we have,” says M. Renee Orth, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit. “It comes through the mindset that we have abundance here and that the scarcity people are experiencing is something we are creating ourselves.”

Of course, not every scarcity is perception alone, and that’s where the collective comes in. Each week, Renee and her volunteers create soups that center around plants, grains and legumes, and use local produce. Renee likes to think of the soup like a virtual hug, warming and nourishing people who have lost a lot.

For foodies, the soups offer a gourmet experience.

“Today, we made a split pea with organic carrots and celery, and some local potatoes,” Renee says. “I’ve made kale in a miso-zucchini broth with ginger, and a winter squash using Seminole Squash.”

That last ingredient is part of Slow Food’s attempt to preserve a heritage seed. Renee says the squash is a cross between an acorn and a butternut squash.

Renee says she is passionate about changing the way people eat to have a lighter impact on the planet and to be healthier. When she’s not making soup, she is an attorney, working on business litigation. But before she moved to Charleston three years ago, she delivered organic salads in Los Angeles. Her favorite part was the deliveries of the unsold salads to those in need, and it became the seed for the Stone Soup idea.

Stone Soup is delivered through Meals on Wheels, and also takes soup and bread to the Ansonborough House, a senior center. Renee always ends the meal service by taking a couple of containers of soup to one housebound resident.

“She told me the other day that there had been times our soup was the only food she had in her house. She told me, ‘Sometimes I feel like a wilted flower and I eat your soup and I come back to life,’” Renee says.

The Stone Soup Collective works with Enough Pie on Tuesdays in the Butterfly Book Nook to co-host a Soup and Storytelling event, aiming to bring the community together over pots of soup and good storytelling.

Renee is starting a chapter of the collective at College of Charleston to provide soup on Wednesdays, targeting food insecurity among students.

In the future, she’d like to persuade the business community here to keep a stock of healthy soups in refrigerators for employees.

She says she believes in the power of soup.

“Most of us like to eat and that food was the glue that held us together in villages and tribes and families,” she says. “We’ve lost a lot of that, but I like to think our soups are the ‘SOUP-er Glue’ that holds people together.”


Where to Buy Soup:
You can purchase soup from Stone Soup Collective at the Folly Beach Farmers Market on Mondays during the season, and on Mondays between 12 and 1 p.m. at The Schoolhouse in West Ashley.

Soups are $7 for a 16-ounce Mason jar, and returns of the jar earn $1 off the next jar.

You can find out more about the Soup and Storytelling events on The Stone Soup Collective CHS Facebook page.


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