LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests)

LEAF is a non-profit organization that teaches people about trees and gets them excited about the urban forest. We plant native trees in backyards and educate people on how to care for trees in their communities. A big focus of our work is on community engagement and tree stewardship.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

LEAF got its start in 1996, when Janet McKay started a small seedling distribution project in her Riverdale neighbourhood. Poor survival rates of seedlings led her to seek funding for a new program that offered trees to homeowners at a subsidized price, included personal, professional advice from arborists, and focused on getting diverse, native species in the right place. When residents were educated to act as effective stewards for the individual trees, survival rates rose rapidly. This initiative grew, and eventually became our subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program. Within two years we offered home delivery and planting services within the former City of Toronto. Toronto soon amalgamated and with the support of the Toronto Hydro Corporation, LEAF expanded to cover the entire new city. Since then, we have focused on improving the success rates of our backyard plantings, developing strict tree placement criteria and educating property owners on tree care. With survival rates greater than 90% four years after planting it is clear that we have developed a formula for success.

As our organization grew, we were able to offer additional resources to residents. Our Tree Tours, Tree Tenders Volunteer Training, Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens, EAB Ambassador program, Adopt-a-Tree and Young Urban Forest Leaders initiatives offered new ways for people to get involved, and each new program significantly increased our ability to raise awareness about the importance of the urban forest.

We now offer our core services throughout Toronto, York Region, and Ajax, and we continue to build capacity within communities through hands-on workshops, training sessions and special events. From our humble roots as a one-woman neighbourhood initiative, LEAF has grown into a trusted and respected leader in community-based urban forestry, with a full time staff and a dedicated team of volunteers. We continue to expand our program areas, and to offer high-quality education and outreach programs that get people excited about the urban forest!

Accolades and Accomplishments

  • 2014 Public Health Champion Award, Toronto Board of Health
  • 2012 Arboriculture Award of Merit, International Society of Arboriculture
  • 2011 Toronto's Best Activist Organization, NOW Magazine
  • 2010 Toronto's Best Activist Organization, NOW Magazine
  • 2010 Paul McGaw Memorial Conservation Award, NANPS
  • 2009 Toronto Tree Tours selected as "Vital Idea"
  • 2007 Green Toronto Environmental Awareness Award
  • 2005 Backyard Tree Planting Program selected as "Vital Idea"
  • 2004 Recognized as a Tree Advocacy Sponsor by Mayor David Miller
  • 2003 Arboriculture Award of Merit, International Society of Arboriculture

Our Programs How We Do It

Adopt-A-Park-Tree and Young Urban Forest Leaders 

Young Urban Forest Leaders Program

This unique, five-month training and mentorship program is designed to provide young women with hands-on experience in the traditionally male-dominated fields of arboriculture and urban forestry. The young women receive support and mentorship from LEAF staff, as well as guest lectures from other female urban forest leaders and experts. All training costs are subsidized by our partners, and priority is given to applicants with a demonstrated need to participate in a fully-funded training program.

After receiving 15 hours of arboriculture instruction and additional project-specific workshops, the participants work together in teams to support the creation of an Adopt-A-Park-Tree program in a local park. This includes creating an inventory of existing trees, developing a planting and maintenance plan, and planning a mulching and tree tour event in each park. In 2015, the Young Urban Forest Leaders worked with the communities in Regent Park and Fairmount Park, and program participants will be supporting the establishment of three new Adopt-a-Park-Tree initiatives in 2016.

Adopt-A-Park-Tree Program

Through the Adopt-a-Park-Tree Program, local communities work together to improve the survival rates and health of young trees in Toronto’s parks. This program connects residents with newly planted park trees, ideally in the first three to five years after planting while the tree is establishing its root system. Each young tree is adopted by an individual (or a group) who agrees to regularly water, weed and care for their tree from May to October. This individual care gives young trees a much better chance of survival, reducing the cost of replacement plantings and resulting in larger, healthier mature trees that provide more community benefits (such as shade, cooling, and air quality improvements).

Funding and Program Partners

The Adopt-A-Park-Tree and Young Urban Forest Leaders programs are supported in part by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Rotary Club.

Program Impact

Through the Adopt-A-Park-Tree program, adopters become invested in the park and connect with their community. The young trees have a much greater chance of survival, which enhances quality of life for area residents, strengthens our urban canopy, and can even save tax dollars by reducing park maintenance costs.

The young women who participate in the Young Urban Forest Leaders program gain valuable experience and a leg up into a field that has been traditionally dominated by men. They return to their own neighbourhoods with greater enthusiasm for community activism, and become the leaders of the next generation of urban forest champions.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Vibrant cities are those where residents are engaged and feel that they belong, where civic institutions reflect the diversity of the population, and where strong social connections unite people to one another and to their neighbourhoods (research consistently links a sense of belonging with good physical and mental health).

(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2014)

Toronto won’t be able to handle the effects of changes to our climate (increasing and severe weather events, etc.) if its natural and built environments aren’t in good shape. Features such as abundant tree canopy, stormwater control, and green roofs are key to the city’s resilience. Parks, recreation areas, and walkable neighbourhoods enhance health and quality of life for all residents."

(Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2014)

Participant Vignette

“Working with the Young Urban Forest Leaders was a great experience! Participants had a great time during the official Adopt–a-Park-Tree Launch organized by the Young Urban Forest Leaders. We had the opportunity to mulch and learn about the different tree species in the park. The work done by the Young Urban Forest Leaders is very important because it helps to promote tree stewardship in our communities. Thanks to the YUFL, we now have a stewardship plan to refer to when the Friends of Regent Park start the Adopt-a-Park-Tree in the spring of 2016!”

– Zahrah, Friends of Regent Park

“Thank you LEAF and all the many other sponsors that made this happen! Even with some bumps along the way it was a really fantastic experience I am very grateful for. I learned so much, solidified my understanding of urban forestry as something I would enjoy doing more of in the future and got to meet and work with some great people along the way!”

– 2015 Young Urban Forest Leaders Program Participant

 

Adopt-A-Street-Tree Program

Toronto has approximately 600,000 street trees which grow in some of the harshest urban conditions. They face a multitude of stresses such as limited soil and water, sidewalk salt and bicycle locks, which challenge their long-term health and survival. Stressed out and struggling trees can’t provide us with the same environmental benefits as healthy trees. In addition, if street trees are not thriving, municipalities face heightened maintenance and replacement costs. Simple acts of stewardship can go a very long way to help our street trees thrive. The added care and protection that the local community can provide will significantly increase tree survival and success, especially for those that are newly planted.

The goal of an Adopt-a-Street-Tree program is to foster a collaborative approach to tree protection and care, and to develop community tree care guidelines that can be replicated across Toronto. By helping the city’s most vulnerable trees grow to their leafiest potential, Torontonians may enjoy the numerous benefits that a lush urban canopy provides.

In 2015, LEAF had the opportunity to work closely with the City of Toronto and the Danforth community to develop an Adopt-a-Street-Tree Pilot Program for 142 new street trees planted between Woodbine and Victoria Park. The pilot was a great success, and in 2016, LEAF will continue to work with the Danforth community to further support this flourishing project.

Funding and Program Partners

The Adopt-A-Street-Tree program is funded in part by a grant from Live Green Toronto, a program of the City of Toronto, as well as by support from the Canadian TREE fund and the Tree Canada TD Greenstreets Program.

Program Impact

In 2015, LEAF provided the tools and training for volunteer tree adopters to care for 142 street trees. Each act of stewardship strengthens our urban forest and improves the overall health of our city. The young trees have a better chance of reaching maturity, the community benefits form the higher density of healthy trees, and the individuals who participate as stewards form closer ties to their neighbourhoods. Healthy, mature street trees encourage pedestrians to linger on sidewalks, increasing resident interaction, drawing customers to local businesses, and fostering a safer atmosphere. They also remove pollutants from the air, mitigate stormwater runoff, shade buildings and pavement (which can reduce energy bills and mitigate health hazards caused by extreme weather), and act as a barrier to noise pollution.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“A 2014 TD Economics report noted that the amount of particulate matter removed annually by Toronto’s urban forest (the trees, shrubs and plants that grow in parks, ravines, our lawns, and at the sides of streets) is equivalent to the amount released by over one million automobiles or 100,000 single family homes.”

(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2014)

Participant Vignette

"[The Adopt-A-Street-Tree Program] can be difficult especially on a hot day but my reward will be to see the trees survive and flourish! I love the idea of involving local business in the process of improving the neighbourhood and environment. I think it brings more people on board with improvements and promotes community spirit."

– Danforth business owner and tree adopter

 

Public Awareness and Community Engagement Programs

LEAF’s community engagement events and public awareness initiatives are designed to get people thinking about the urban forest and considering the benefits of trees. In 2015, these programs included:

Leslieville Tree Festival: This annual event, held in Leslie Grove Park, is a day of urban forest fun for the whole family. It features displays from environmental groups and green vendors, exciting live musical and dance performances, children's activities, local artists, tasty local food, and a ceremonial tree planting.

Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens: Planted and maintained by volunteer stewards, our Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens are located at 5 different TTC stations across Toronto. They showcase the beauty of native species and help build Toronto’s urban forest and provide an opportunity for local residents to play an active role in improving their communities.

Great Toronto Tree Hunt: This campaign called on Toronto residents to submit photos and stories of their favourite trees. The project was designed not only to celebrate the important trees in our lives, but also to send the message that Toronto values its trees – in all their diverse beauty. We received over 390 nominations in five categories – Beauty, Survivor, Heritage Potential, Size, and Uniqueness – over the course of the contest, and one winner in each category was awarded a $250 cash prize. Finalists were determined by public vote, and winners were selected from these finalists by a panel of judges.

Imagine A Greener Toronto Campaign: This campaign installed temporary murals of tree shadows on exterior surfaces throughout downtown, asking Torontonians to “Imagine a greener Toronto”. Images of the shadows also appeared on screens in TTC subway stations, and the installations coincided with a two week Twitter campaign where LEAF invited residents to share their thoughts on greening our city. LEAF used this platform to share information about the value of the urban forest and to offer suggestions on ways individuals can help support it.

Urban Wood Utilization projects: LEAF is working with the City of Toronto and other key stakeholders to increase the utilization of wood from urban trees in Toronto and Southern Ontario. These trees, which often have unique and interesting growth features due to the stresses of their urban environment, have died of old age, diseases and pest infestations, or need to be removed for safety or development reasons. In many cases this wood is considered a waste and its disposal is a cost to the homeowner or to the community, but this need not be the case. LEAF’s Urban Wood Utilization Initiative seeks to encourage the salvaging and re-use of what we consider a valued urban resource, to celebrate the intersection of urban and natural, to create unique local wood products and support local artisans, and to recognize the value and importance of urban trees to our city and its residents.

Outreach events: LEAF’s volunteer Outreach Team appears at local environmental events throughout Toronto and York Region to share their tree knowledge and inspire people to take action to support the urban forest.

Funding and Program Partners

The Leslieville Tree Festival is supported by Toronto Hydro and organized by LEAF in collaboration with Councillor Paula Fletcher, Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and Leslieville BIA.

LEAF’s Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens are supported Ontario Power Generation’s Biodiversity Program and the Toronto Transit Commission.

The Great Toronto Tree Hunt was funded by contributions from TD Friends of the Environment, Ontario Power Generation, and the City of Toronto.

Imagine A Greener Toronto Campaign was supported by The City of Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission, and Artscape.

Urban Wood Utilization: LEAF’s Urban Wood Utilization initiatives are supported by the City of Toronto - Economic Development & Culture.

Program Impact

LEAF’s education and outreach initiatives educate the public about the importance of the urban forest, the challenges it faces, and the ways in which they can help. They provide low-impact, high-reward activities that spark the imaginations of participants and encourage them to learn and explore further on their own. These initiatives are unique in that they reach individuals who might not currently participate in our other programs – people who rent their homes, condo dwellers, individuals with limited income, younger generations who are highly mobile, and others. These people may not be in a position to plant a tree themselves, but can still become outspoken and enthusiastic advocates for the urban forest, and they join a larger community of tree lovers and activists who care about taking action for the collective health of our city. Through our awareness campaigns we encourage residents to see every tree as a part of a greater urban forest, and in the process we hope that each individual will begin to feel a sense of belonging to the greater community of our city.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

The question on everyone’s mind is how do we transcend these destructive divisions and move forward? By wholeheartedly rejecting the divided city and embracing a new vision. By seeing ourselves as one city. A city where 140 diverse neighbourhoods pull together as one. Where Toronto is the driver of a thriving global city region. We must become “One place.” “One place” is a new way of thinking, working, and living together. As “One place” we will devise city-wide solutions to city-wide problems.

(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2014)

Vibrant cities are those where residents are engaged and feel that they belong, where civic institutions reflect the diversity of the population, and where strong social connections unite people to one another and to their neighbourhoods (research consistently links a sense of belonging with good physical and mental health).

(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2014)

Participant Vignette

“The tree hunt combined education, advocacy, and community-engagement in a very positive and productive way. As a continuing program that evolves over time I think it could be used to call inform and inspire on a variety of important topics like: invasive species, native species, endangered or rare trees, Toronto's history, the value of trees as green infrastructure, community empowerment, and much more.”- Anonymous, Great Toronto Tree Hunt Participant

 

Backyard Tree Planting Program

The Backyard Tree Planting Program (BYTP) offers native trees and shrubs to property owners at a subsidized cost. Certified arborists assist residents in making educated decisions about the type of tree that suits their property and where it should be planted. Since the first planting season in 1996, BYTP has helped citizens plant over 19,000 native trees and shrubs in their neighbourhoods.

Funding and Program Partners

This program is funded in part by grants from Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro Corporation..

Program Impact

LEAF’s residential planting program works with homeowners to get the right trees and shrubs in the right place where each will reach maximum size and age and optimal health, thus providing maximum benefits. LEAF provides the tools and professional support for each individual to nurture their young tree to healthy maturity.

Homeowners become the stewards of the urban forest, each taking care of their own tree and contributing to a healthier city. Each year, LEAF helps approximately 600 property owners plant over 1500 native trees and shrubs. Follow up shows a surivival rate of over 80%, ten years after planting.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“The City’s ambitious tree canopy growth goal—increasing coverage from 28% to 40% by 2057—will depend heavily on residents, because 60% of our trees are on private property. To meet this goal, the City needs to add over half a million new trees a year for the next 50 years. Its plan relies not only on natural regeneration and planting on public property, but on private residents planting and maintaining trees on their properties.”

(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2014)

“A team of international scientists conducted a large, comprehensive study based in Toronto that found that, even when controlling for socio-economic and demographic factors, people who live in neighbourhoods with a higher density of trees report considerably better health conditions. The study found that just 10 more trees in a city block improves health perception on average in ways that compare to being 7 years younger, having an additional $10,000 in annual personal income, or living in a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income.”

(Toronto’s Vital Signs® 2014)

Participant Vignette

"We didn’t have any trees or shrubs previously, so we took the advice of LEAF as to what mixture of plants would be suitable for our soil – which paid off! We like the variety, and that each tree and shrub serves a different purpose – adding shade, covering a lamp post, and providing privacy, among others. We love spending time as a family in the yard now, and our success with the trees inspired us to start a vegetable garden. Working with LEAF was a really good experience – they followed up with us and answered all my questions, and I am looking to purchase fruit trees with them in the future!."

- Abby, 2012 Backyard Tree Planting Program Participant (Follow-up conducted in Summer 2015)

“We chose to plant with LEAF because we wanted to give back to the environment. I love that the kit and trees are native species, and that they have given my boys a chance to see nature at its best. We especially love the kit, with its beautiful colours. It has attracted birds, bunnies, and other wildlife to our yard, and we'd like to expand it in the future. Working with LEAF has been amazing – their service is outstanding, and the follow-up is really great. I highly recommend the program!”

- Aysha, 2013 Backyard Tree Planting Program Participant (Follow-up conducted in Summer 2015)

 

Public Education Programs (Tree Tenders Volunteer Training Program, Tree Tours, Presentations and Workshops)

The Tree Tenders Volunteer Training helps citizens become volunteers with the skills and knowledge to enact positive, immediate change for the urban forest in their own neighbourhood. Each session provides basic arboriculture training which includes a combination of indoor and outdoor instruction, including a hands-on tree planting activity. Sessions are offered at affordable rates, and are open to the public. 

Tree Tours, Presentations and Workshops raise awareness and educate the public about urban forest issues. Sessions can include hands-on components. Topics include urban forest issues; native species; tree identification; tree care; biodiversity; citizen stewardship; and how the urban forest fits in with larger environmental concerns. We often work with libraries, residents’ associations and other community groups to provide these services.

Funding and Program Partners

These programs are funded in part by grants from Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro Corporation.

Program Impact

Tree Tenders graduates put their skills to work making tangible improvements to the urban forest.  For example, graduates help design, plant and maintain Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens at several TTC stations across the city.  Look for gardens at Old Mill Station, Bathurst Station, High Park Station, St Clair Station (Pleasant Blvd entrance) and Spadina Station (Walmer Rd entrance). In 2015 we trained 62 individuals as Tree Tenders, and for the first time ever we offered the program in Ajax and Mississauga.

Each year we lead tours that engage a wide range of individuals from diverse neighbourhoods across the city. Our specialized presentations and workshops reach hundreds of citizens, offering them the tools, knowledge and encouragent needed to take an active role in stewardship. LEAF also mentors emerging urban forest organizations and facilitates community tree inventories and Adopt-a-Tree projects. In 2015, we hosted 11 Tree Tours with over 400 participants, including our first in Mississauga and our largest ever York Region tour with 58 participants.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"As a society we can no longer afford to operate in isolation from one another. Our problems are too complex for any one solution alone. Our collective impact can create the kind of change our society, and indeed our world, needs. We owe it to each other, and to ourselves, to experiment with the power of collective impact."

- Anne Gloger, Storefront Director, East Scarborough Storefront

Participant Vignette

“I really appreciate how much I will take away from this course. Now that I have a better understanding of what trees need I am already starting to see things in my community that can be easily fixed.”

- Dave, 2015 Tree Tenders Graduate

"I have used it to better care for the trees and shrubs I have the privilege of tending in my back and front yards. When I've been out for walks and noticed young trees that are staked and do not need the support, I've untied the trees to let them move and grow as needed and to eliminate the risk of future girdling. I've also been noticing trees more - eg. their shape, where they're growing, etc, and have noticed when they've been well or poorly cared for, whether generally or on construction sites. My tree "awareness" is, generally, greater than it was before."

- Paula, 2009 Tree Tenders Graduate

"Yes. I have planted over two dozen trees (deciduous and coniferous) on my own property and those of friends, neighbours and relatives. The grassroots knowledge and engagement I acquired through the Tree Tenders course was central to my understanding as to not simply plant a tree...but to grow a tree. Trees must be nurtured. The ongoing process of nurturing trees is among the most important life forms central to our existence."

- Steven, 2007 Tree Tenders Graduate

"I seek out activities for my youth group in Toronto that will help them get more familiar with their surroundings and help them develop into leaders. The Tree Tour that LEAF provided to our group was excellent! The guide was friendly and energetic and took us on a tour of Trinity Bellwoods Park, an area of town that these youth were not familiar with. The youth in my group, who are mostly originally from China and live in North York, were exposed to fun facts about trees, and also an area of Toronto that was new to them. They were particularly amazed to learn that a river used to run where a street now is. Overall, I think Tree Tours are a great way to get people outside and learning about their surroundings and the environment."

- Hanna Caplan, Newcomer Youth Advisor, YMCA

What You Can Do

Adopt-A-Street-Tree, Adopt-A-Park-Tree & Young Urban Forest Leaders Programs

Activities a donation will support

A grant would provide funding for more young women to participate in our Young Urban Forest Leaders Program, giving them the skills and confidence to pursue careers in the fields of urban forestry and community activism and helping pave the way for future generations of female urban forest professionals. It would enable us to provide support to more parks and community organizations who wish to establish Adopt-A-Park-Tree and Adopt-A-Street-Tree programs, and give more young trees a chance for long and healthy lives.

Donation impact

As Toronto’s canopy ages, it is vital that we not only plant new trees but that we make sure these trees have a good chance of survival. Trees provide greater benefits if they are able to reach maturity, and the cost of constantly replacing young trees is prohibitive. By providing young trees with the best possible start in life we ensure the health of our urban forest for future generations. By involving park groups and nearby residents, we help create a community of invested stewards who care about the future of the trees and about their connections with each other, and participants reap the social and health benefits of feeling a part of something larger than themselves.

 

Public Awareness and Community Engagement Programs

Activities a donation will support

A grant will enable LEAF to design and implement new public awareness initiatives and community engagement programs, allowing us to share our knowledge and expertise more widely. These short-term projects allow us to be more experimental in our approach and reach audiences that we might otherwise miss.

Donation impact

Through future awareness campaigns we will get even more people excited about the urban forest and involved in its stewardship, and build a community of active urban forest champions!

 

Backyard Tree Planting Program

Activities a donation will support

A grant would enable LEAF to help more individuals plant the right tree in the right place on their property. Trees planted in backyards have the most ideal and protected growing environments and are most likely to survive to maturity. Not only do they have more soil and fewer conflicts with sidewalks, roads and utilities, they also have an educated family caring for them, and the continued support of LEAF staff with advice as needed.

Donation impact

Despite the fact that a tree is rooted in private property, the benefits of improved air quality, decreased storm water runoff, lower temperatures and aesthetic improvements provided by that tree, accrue to the community as a whole. Each tree is an important component of our overall urban forest and each resident is a caretaker, with an important stewardship role to play. Trees that are cared for and protected will grow to their maximum size and age, and those large, mature trees are the ones that provide the crucial environmental benefits that make our urban neighbourhoods liveable.

 

Public Education Programs (Tree Tenders Volunteer Training Program, Tree Tours, Presentations and Workshops)

Activities a donation will support

A grant will support LEAF in offering training to more individuals who will become active tree stewards. Funds would be used to establish additional stewardship sites where volunteer Tree Tenders graduates would take a leadership role in planning and implementing the projects.

Donation impact

Providing citizens with the information, tools and inspiration to get involved in caring for trees is what the Public Education Programs are all about. By recruiting and supporting individuals with an interest in our urban forest, we are able to achieve our mandate on a much greater scale. Trained volunteers provide thousands of hours of planting, maintaining, protecting and educating. They are the heart and soul of LEAF. Through their acts of stewardship, they make incredible contributions to their communities.

Contact

Janet McKay
Executive Director
416.413.9244 x17
Charitable Number: 868947797RR0001

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