We Are Building American Buddhism

Buddhist Wisdom Reshaping Our Food System

By Ari Pliskin
Stone Soup Cafe

The Lenz Foundation Grant to Stone Soup Cafe had a very positive impact on our work to spread an alternative model of hunger relief and community building.  Because of the Collaboration training, I can see the ways that organizational structure, capacity building and collaboration helped move towards the optimal allocation of resources for increasing impact.  

Coordination: Identifying Mutual Benefit

While serving as Stone Soup Café executive staff, the Collaboration training informed my work to deepen Stone Soup Café’s partnership with Just Roots. As I serve as Just Roots’ Treasurer, Just Roots continues to provide locally grown, organic vegetables to the Stone Soup Café. The training highlighted the importance of recognizing what each partner offers and led me to see that Stone Soup provides Just Roots with a key opportunity to fulfill its mission of increasing access to healthy local food. Because this is important for Just Roots fundraising, Stone Soup Café has advertised its connection with Just Roots. This fits within the type of alliance that the Prescencing Institute identified in our Collaboration training as “Coordination.”



Decoupling: A New Organization is Born 

The second way the Collaboration training benefited Stone Soup was through the creation of what came to be known as Unity Tables. The founding organizers of the Stone Soup Café were always inspired by the vision of creating a model that would have a broader impact beyond our small New England town. When I conducted the work of promoting the national network under the auspices of the Stone Soup Café, there was conflict because the Stone Soup Board of Directors was selected for their local expertise and connections.  The creation of Unity Tables was a case of decoupling two functions that had been merged into one organization so that the old organization and the new one could focus on their appropriate activities and collaborate together as two separate entities. 

While this report focuses on the Stone Soup Café and my report due in April will focus on what Unity Tables was able to accomplish as a result of receiving a Lenz grant, it is worth noting that the organization that became Unity Tables was essentially born, in concept if not technicality, at the September 2013 Collaboration training. People who knew me as Bernie Glassman’s Assistant started to see me as an emerging leader and as a peer. Their encouragement helped me see myself playing on a bigger level sooner than I had anticipated. The goal of presenting at the June 2014 conference spurred me to get my new organization ready to receive funds and broaden its impact. The funding Unity Tables received as a result of the Collaboration application process made it possible for me to move on from Stone Soup staff and dedicate myself fully to Unity Tables. Recognizing this success, my Bernie ordained me as a Zen Peacemaker Order Minister in December of 2014.

Renewed Focus & New Collaborations

With a separate organization to channel the nationally focused energy, the leaders of the Stone Soup Café could focus on their local mission while partnering with Unity Tables to share the wisdom of their experience. As a corps of capable volunteers handles functions I used to play as Stone Soup Cafe staff, I am now focusing on building governance capacity as Stone Soup Board President. Stone Soup has been serving a weekly meal for over three years and attendance has continued to grow, from the original 30 people per week to now occasionally reaching 140 guests per week.  

The spirit of collaboration continues to be central to Unity Tables, as that organization has solidified a partnership with One World Everybody Eats.  Unity Tables has become the official trainer for OWEE's growing nework of 50+ pay-what-you-can cafes around the United States.  Thank you to the Lenz community for making this possible.      

Cafes in in OWEE Network Now Served by Unity Tables 

Rev. Ari Setsudo Pliskin

Stone Soup Cafe, Founder, Board President

Just Roots, Board Treasurer

Unity Tables, Founder, Executive Director 

One World Everybody Eats, Board Member

Zen Peacemaker Order, United States National Governance Circle, East Coast Regional Governance Circle