Sitting in a circle under the shade of an old maple tree, City of Toronto day campers joining LEAF for the JUFR program are prompted to describe what comes to their minds when they think of a forest.
Next, they are challenged to point out the differences between the forest they’ve described and the park they’re currently in. Immersed in the bustle of Riverdale East Park, the visiting campers are quick to point out the road noise, reduced tree cover and the presence of people. Their explanations paint forests as vibrant, diverse and full of plants and animals—usually due to limited human presence!
“You guys are actually in a forest right now, an urban forest!” Announce the Senior Urban Forest Rangers, the leaders of the JUFR program. “An urban forest is a network of all the trees, plants, animals AND humans within the city of Toronto.”
“We’d like you guys to leave today knowing that we’re all a part of the urban forest,” the Senior Rangers tell them.The realization that people are a part of the forest is an important takeaway of the JUFR program. By playing the role of stewards, city residents are capable of providing both protection and care, starting with a single tree. Mulching and watering the many young trees of Riverdale East Park emphasizes the importance of also caring for our immediate environment, as the nature by our homes is just as authentic as the lush forest of our minds.
Encouraging children to view themselves as a vital part of nature can cultivate more environmentally responsible behavior. By envisioning ourselves within nature rather than outside it, the JUFR program hopes to foster an increased awareness towards the direct impacts that our actions have on our shared natural resources.
To love trees as our homes means sharing them with the squirrels; acknowledging nested birds and tending to thirsty roots. Leaving with thoughts of love and unity, the children scurry away.
“Spread the word, spread the love”.
Darya Shinwary is the Youth Programs Assistant at LEAF.
The Junior Urban Forest Rangers program is supported by Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation.
LEAF offers a subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program for private property. The program is supported by The City of Toronto, The Regional Municipality of York, The City of Markham, The Town of Newmarket, The Town of Ajax, Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro. For details on how you can participate, visit http://yourleaf.org.