About Cloud Forest Institute


CFI encourages communities to re-establish balance within ecological systems through environmental education and forest conservation.


Cloud Forest Institute was formed in 1996 as a 501(c)(3) scientific and educational non profit corporation. CFI students receive an indelible educational experience in an international setting by participating in Service Learning Projects that address environmental and social issues. 

CFI has developed an institute site near the protected biodiversity “hot spot” known as the Tropical Choco Andean Cloud Forest of Ecuador, South America, in the village of Mindo. A second site is located in the California Floristic Province of Mendocino County, Northern California, in the village of Boonville.

CFI supports organizations and community groups whose work is compatible with our mission by providing 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsorship to grassroots environmental education projects.


  • 1995 - The idea is born.
  • 1996 - The organization is formed.
  • 1998 - Founding directors enrolled with CSUMB
  • 1999 - Real Life Learning: Ecuador program is developed with CSUMB
  • 2000 - CFI becomes 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor for Mendocino Environmental Center
  • 2000 - CSUMB Real Life Learning: Ecuador Pilot Program is accomplished
  • 2000 - CFI receives determination as a 501 (c)(3)
  • 2001 - Second Real Life Learning Ecuador Program
  • 2001 - CFI/IBN goes under the umbrella of CIBT to be recognized as an Ecuadorian NGO
  • 2001 - CFI works at Salem in Mindo, Ecuador for five months hosting volunteers, interns, and students.
  • 2002 - CFI works in Mindo educating about the OCP pipeline project
  • 2003 - CFI sets up office at River Oaks Compu-Farm in Potter Valley, CA
  • 2004 - CFI begins community think tank to initiate Multiversity in Northern California
  • 2004 - CFI Presents the 2004 All Ages Revolutionary Summer School
  • 2005 - CFI Presents the 2005 All Ages Revolutionary Summer School
  • 2006 - CFI holds 10 year anniversary summer course in Ecuador, co-founds the Amazon Mycorenewal Project (AMP)
  • 2007 - CFI and AMP initiate first mycoremediation experiments in Lago Agrio
  • 2008 - CFI/AMP interns Jess Work and Brian Pace initiate annual Service Learning Mycoremediation course in Ecuador
  • 2009 - CFI/AMP Service Learning Mycoremediation course in Ecuador. CFI aquires site in Mindo for Central Offices.
  • 2010 - CFI finds location in Boonville for MendoDragon Intentional Community
  • 2011 - CFI initiates year-round volunteer program in Mindo. Month long 3 section Service Learning summer course

Ecuador was chosen as the first site of Cloud Forest Institute for a number of reasons. We have over the years developed many contacts in the country and appreciate its environmental and cultural abundance as well as sympathize with its precarious state of being in debt to the first world and run by corrupt politicians. Ready to be ravaged by transnational investors and developers, the country is trying to “make it” in the competitive global economy. Ecuador’s determination to have “the highest biodiversity per hectare of any South American Country” and “at the current rate of deforestation, 2.3% per year, will be nearly denuded by 2025” makes it vital to protect. The small country is the home of at least 10 (this figure is arguable, many say more and some say less) distinct existing indigenous groups, all in danger of loosing their habitats and cultures to the encroachment of western civilization and transnational corporations.

Cloud Forest Institute has been conducting research and development in Ecuador since 1995 and in California since 1998.  Since 1999 CFI has been campaigning to purchase wilderness for conservation. In 2004 CFI partenered with ALLPA and the Cambugan Foundation to begin purchasing to protect the Cambugan Watershed. In 2009 CFI director Freeda Burnstad purchased a lot in the town of Mindo to house the central offices of CFI projects and courses.

Cloud Forest Institute is active in the community of Mendocino County, California as a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor for qualifying projects and groups. In 2003 Cloud Forest Institute began its campaign to establish a Self Reliant Educational Community in Mendocino County. In 2011 CFI BOD members entered into a purchase agreement for a 2.8 acre farm in Boonville forming MendoDragon Intentional Community.

Research about on line distance education learning communities began in 1995 when CFI became affiliated with the Globewide Network Academy, an organization that originated in 1993 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Within the following year CFI became one of the founding organizations in the creation of the Internet Biologists. The first course that CFI presented was in 1996, in conjunction with I.B.’s “Doing Biology on the Internet” program and was held in a virtual reality MOO created by Diversity University.