Jeff Planting

How one tree planter became the founder of something much larger

Jeff Schnurr was bumming in India when eight exiled Tibetan monks approached to ask him what was wrong. Schnurr had just been offered a treeplanting job in Canada that he had wanted, and was torn: Take the job, or keep travelling? “Planting trees is the highest act of virtue,” said one of the monks. In fact, they were ready to come with him. In the end only Schnurr left India, but his path forward seemed ordained.

The following off-season, he was visiting the Central African nation of Tanzania. The locals wanted to know: How did such a young man have the money to travel? Schnurr said he planted trees. Turned out that his Tanzanian friends wanted to plant trees, too—they needed timber. He helped them set up a seedling nursery, and before he knew it, Schnurr had founded Community Forests International.

Four years, 14 communities and 400,000 planted trees later, Schnurr’s Tanzanian colleagues no longer want to cut down the trees that now offer habitat for birds and butterflies, and a legacy of beauty for their children. “Now the long-term goal is forest restoration,” says Schnurr, who is expanding into ecological forestry in the Maritimes. He’s currently fundraising to buy a 700-acre woodlot that was selectively logged for 50 years by a couple who now plan to retire. “Think what this forest will be like in a hundred years,” Schnurr says. “It’s a way of thinking that’s greater than ourselves.”

Now for the truly amazing part: Community Forests International is almost entirely funded by Canadian treeplanters aged 18 to 24. “This is usually the first charitable donation they’ve ever made, but they’ll give $300,” he says. “That’s what’s kept me going.”

This profile is part of our Top 30 under 30 feature.