Leader Silviculture, a company which provides tree planters on contract for Aspen Planers and other local forestry companies, encouraged its employees to make donations to the Nicola Valley Food Bank in honour of World Hunger Day, which takes place on May 28.

“It’s something that came up through our Safety Advocate,” explained Francois Sauve, owner of Leader Silviculture.

“He sent us something a few weeks ago about World Hunger Day which is on May 28 traditionally, and he suggested through our association (the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association) that it would be a good idea, a great gesture on the part of the tree planting community, to try to organize some kind of a fundraiser and give to the local communities. So that’s how it started.”

On May 28, planters in both Merritt and Kamloops agreed to donate within the community.

“I said if you want to donate on Thursday, you can donate your trees,” said Sauve.

“Planters are paid by the tree, so if they’re paid 25-cents per tree, during that day some would say, okay, I want to give 100 trees, some actually gave their whole day, the entire day’s earning. And what we said was, if you are going to give a donation the company will match that donation. Just to encourage them so that all of us would contribute, not just the planters but also the company.”

The initiative was well received in Merritt, a town many of the planters this year call home, and also the town that gave Leader Silviculture its start with some of its first major contracts.

“I guess there was more of an emotional attachment to Merritt, we’ve been working in that town for almost 30 years off and on, pretty much every year,” said Sauve.

“And we’ve been working for Aspen Planers since 2006, so we’ve established a lot of links with the community over the years. The company’s reason for existence is actually work that was offered to me in Merritt, 30 years ago. We were a really small company just starting and we worked for the Ministry in Merritt and we worked for Tolko, just little contracts here and there. But this is where, for us, our company started, we went from five employees to now almost 100.”

Due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19, tree planters were not able to get out in the community as they had during previous years. Stringent health checks, measures of social distancing and sanitization meant planters went directly from work to their lodgings. In this way, planters for Leader Silviculture were able to avoid a single case of coronavirus and also protect the community of Merritt.

“Because of COVID-19 we’ve had to implement some measures so we could abide by the public health order that was issued,” explained Sauve.

“Part of our safety plan and our standard operating procedure to limit the exposure of the planters with the people who are at risk in the community.”

For this reason, the company provided a van for the two people who were selected to be in charge of cleaning everything each day, taking clothing to the local laundromat, and picking up food orders from the grocery stores. Once a week these two would also gather up all the empty recyclables from the motel and donate them to the food bank, this in addition to the $3490.30 raised on May 28.

Sauve commented that it was a benefit to the company and the community to be able to hire tree planters from Merritt this season, and believes that the work ethic of the group will be an asset to them later in life.

“All these years we’ve been in Merritt, it’s been difficult, we’ve never been able to hire local population, just very limited success,” said Sauve.

“And finally, now it seems like we’ve been able to have a breakthrough… it’s really cool that we’re starting to see some of the young Merritt people actually getting into tree planting. It’s a great activity for them, it’s a great money earner, and it’s very, very hard work. There’s no freebies, if you plant no trees you make no money, it’s that simple. You can’t pretend to work hard; you have to work really hard. For me, it’s probably the best thing I ever did in my life. I thought I was a good worker until I did tree planting. You’re out there in the middle of nowhere and you’re just by yourself, so the motivation has to come from the inside. It’s quite a challenge. If they’re successful at it, those are lifelong values that they can take with them and apply to any other work that they go into.”