The Main (and Secret) Reason I Joined the LEAF Young Urban Forest Leaders

If I asked you to close your eyes right now and picture a tree, what would it look like? Can you describe it: Its size, its shape and its leaves? My brain-tree looks like a pine, and there’s a very good reason for that. It’s also the secret reason that I wanted to join the Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) Program. But to understand why my brain-tree is a pine, and why that made me want to spend a summer learning about urban forestry, I have to tell you a little story.


When I was a kid, my dad wrapped a length of rope around the trunk of a pine tree and used it to pull himself up to the top. My siblings and I were standing at the bottom, collecting all the cones he threw down.

We made a fire and tossed the cones in, listened for the pop, then fished them back out with thick twigs so we could smash the seed casings open and eat the insides. Later that night, we collected fallen needles and made soft beds to lay our sleeping bags on and slept under the stars. The trees took care of us that day.


I didn’t yet know what those pine trees were called, but I knew that I loved them, and I knew that they loved me.

I joined YUFL because I wanted to see if I can turn my love of trees from a hobby into a career. And -- even though it’s kind of silly to confess -- I wanted to put a name to my pine trees (stone pine, by the way), and understand why they take care of us, and how each of us, personally, can return the favour.

Through the course of the program, I learned more than I expected about caring for the urban forest. After one short summer, I already feel equipped with the tools and information I need to lead the growth of the greenery in my community, even just in my capacity as a resident. 

Beyond basic tree biology and identification, the program approaches trees from a holistic framework. Trees were never discussed in a vacuum, rather in reference to their native habitat, influenced by (and influencing!) soil, weather, pollution, wildlife, urban architecture and more. I learned how to take stock of the current state of the trees in my neighbourhood and how to put a plan together to address their specific needs.


I got to find out how trees take care of us and how I can ensure their prosperity. Through guest speakers and career seminars within the program, I also got to find out more about the forestry industry in the Greater Toronto Area and the various career paths that I can pursue.

(If you’re keeping track, this means I checked all the boxes I was hoping to check by joining YUFL)

My love for trees comes from a very personal history with them. I still associate the smell of pine with summers spent hiking, foraging and camping under the stars. I still feel loved whenever a tree branch brushes the top of my head as I walk by. But if my time at YUFL has taught me anything, it’s that almost everybody is connected to trees in some way, and feels an inexplicable fondness for them. 

If this sounds like you, then I urge you to apply for the YUFL program next year. Even if you already know the names of all your favourite trees, I promise you that it’s an enriching experience that will give you a solid start at growing the urban forest in your own community.


This blog was written by Lynn Charafeddine, a participant of the 2020 Young Urban Forest Leaders Program.


The Young Urban Forest Leaders Program is supported by the City of Toronto.