Cultivating Change: Four fall planting ideas to nurture hope

By Lisa Kivirist

Photo: John D. Ivanko Photography 

As the growing season of 2020 ends, we celebrate the abundance of the butternuts and Brussels sprouts amidst a deep heaviness. As women with our hands in the soil and sharing a commitment to the long-term health of the planet and people, this past year adds up like no other with multiple crucial and compound concerns that weigh heavily on our hearts.

For many of us, a patch of peace has always been our land, taking the strain of the world and channeling it productively into growing and raising food while stewarding the soil. For others, solace comes in the kitchen, creating healthy sustenance from the harvest—like the Harvest Spring Rolls pictured here (see recipe, below).

As fall now bursts into the air, use this new season to start to cultivate something that sows hope and positive change for the future. This can be a very symbolic and personal planting that you alone know about and do with intention. Or perhaps it involves and supports others collaboratively. The idea here is to channel what we women in sustainable agriculture already deeply know: planting just about anything in the soil grows hope and is an act that fulfills us with optimism for the future.

The key: to be conscious and thoughtful in how and what we do in order to amplify the meaning and outcome, even if it’s an audience of simply ourselves. Read on for four ideas to tap into this autumn season that thoughtfully connect your land and what you plant with what’s to come. 

1. Plan a Justice Garden

“I started thinking about what one could plant that would perpetuate what a certain person symbolized to you,” shares Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm in LaValle, Wisconsin.

“This became very real to me after Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing. I wanted to do something to honor her life and saw this as an opportunity to do something positive and celebrate someone’s immense contributions while still helping manifest grief through what I know best: plants.”

Schneider, who also serves as a Farmland Access Navigator with Renewing the Countryside, identified an area on her land for this new bed and is researching what would go into this plant guild, a polyculture where plants support each other with complimentary functions, as emblematic of the collaborative core of justice.

“Chestnuts, coltsfoot and black-eyed Susans are a possibility with their hardy characteristics. Also shooting star and leadplant, two prairie plants with staying power,” details Schneider. “Right now, I’m focusing on preparing the bed for spring planting by sheet mulching, layering different elements both for weed suppression and feeding the soil that feeds us.”

Photo: Patricia / Treasure People


2. Plant bulbs to share spring blooms

“I’ve been planting more bulbs this fall with the idea that I’ll have lots of flowers to share with local neighbors and friends come spring,” offers Noreen Thomas of Doubting Thomas Farms in Moorhead, Minnesota. An organic grain farmer by trade, this is a personal new mission of hers to have more flower inventory on hand next spring to give away after what will be undoubtedly a long winter under the pandemic. “I’m planting more daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. You can even find a lot of good sales and deals on prices now as most places that sell bulbs want to clear them out and really mark them down,” laughs Thomas.

Thomas also took things a step further and went over to plant some bulbs at a friend’s house who is going through a particularly rough personal spot currently. “Seeing a pop of color in the early spring I know will bring a smile and make her feel good and is an easy thing I can do.”



3. Embrace seed symbolism

“Fall is when prairie seeds mature. Those seeds are hope for the future as there are plants that take over seven years before you see them once you spread the seed. It's hope mixed with faith followed by joy,” adds Marci Hess, the woman landowner behind Driftless Prairies in Blanchardville, Wisconsin, 60 acres of over 200 plant species and over 30 native trees and bush species that create a native haven for wildlife. 

“Hope creates more habitat to sustain our wildlife and hope for more beautiful natural areas that soothe our souls,” she continues. “We harvest a small portion of the seeds and spread them to less diverse areas and share them with friends. As I look at our native ecosystems, I think of all the friends who shared their seeds with me and really see seeds are the renewal of life, this year more than ever.”

Photo: Marci Hess




4. Think color and health

Photo: Roberta Barham

What are ways to add and celebrate color on your land?  Color both lifts spirits and can also symbolize various sentiments you want to channel. Aronia, for example, offers a beautiful, seasonal orange-red fall foliage color as well as the actual plant benefits.

“Aronia is a native super fruit that is good for our environment, adds to a permaculture plan, is perennial and you can grow it in your backyard,” explains Roberta Barham of Barham Gardens and from the same farm-hood as Hess in southern Wisconsin. Her organic farm, Barham Gardens, grows aronia berries and she is a leading aronia advocate and served as president of the Midwest Aronia Association. “Importantly, aronia offers multiple health benefits especially for the heart, so important to keep strong for our future challenges.”

Fall also reminds us to celebrate color before the upcoming dormant and duller palette for winter. For a true creative, culinary explosion, try making these Harvest Spring Rolls by gathering whatever colorful herbs and vegetables left in your garden.




  Harvest Spring Rolls

  From Farmstead Chef

Savor the summer garden beautify – and flavor – with spring rolls. Channel your inner culinary artist and organize your “palette” of chopped ingredients and roll.  Spring roll wrappers are made from rice and can be found at Asian grocery stores and turn near clear when wet to showcase colors.  It’s hard to accurately estimate how much filing you need but any leftovers can make a quick and easy stir fry.



6 oz. extra-firm tofu (half a 1 lb container)

¼ c. soy sauce

6 oz. rice noodles (small noodle size); cooked according to package directions

8 rice paper wrappers

Variety of chopped greens and herbs: mint, basil, lettuce

Julienned crunchy vegetables like carrots


For the sauce:

4 T. sugar

¼ c. soy sauce

1 c. chicken broth

2 T. cornstarch

¼ c. cold water

1 clove garlic, minced



Photo: John D. Ivanko Photography 


Slice tofu in ½-inch sections. Remove any moisture by gently squeezing with a towel. Place tofu on non-stick baking pan with a lip. Pour soy sauce on top of tofu. Bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees, turning the tofu sections until they are dry and browned. Remove and cut the tofu into strips the size of French fries, then set aside in bowl.

To use the rice paper wrappers:  Hold each wrapper under a cool water faucet for about three seconds and lay on a moist towel.  We find this process (versus soaking in water) keeps the wrappers less mushy.

Once the wrapper is flexible and still flat on the moist towel, layer and place your ingredients in the middle of the wrapper.  With a little practice, you’ll see exactly where to place items and roll so you can “see” the colors.  Placing nasturtiums first and then basil leaves create a nice color contract. No stress here but do work quickly.  One strip of seasoned tofu in the middle works well. 

Fold the bottom of the wrapper over the fillings, then fold the two sides and continue to roll it up tightly, just like a burrito. The key is to keep the wrappers moist and the fillings dry.  If one busts apart, just eat it!

After all the spring rolls are completed, serve immediately with the sauce below (this batch makes extra which work great in stir fries) or soy sauce or other dipping sauce. We’ve found spring rolls best eaten immediately; they don’t keep well once rolled.

Yield: 8 spring rolls.


For the sauce:

Combine sugar, soy sauce and broth in pot. Bring to boil.

Mix the cornstarch with the cold water and add to broth mixture. Cook until smooth and thickened.

Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute, stirring in garlic.

Serve at room temperature. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to five days.

Yield: 1.5 cups.