Wine auction supports York’s Las Nubes Rainforest

On April 2, the seventh Fisher Fund Wine Tasting & Auction was held in support of the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation and York’s Las Nubes Rainforest. York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) Dean Barbara Rahder had good reason to thank donors for their generosity – the event raised approximately $100,000.  

Las Nubes is York’s 124-hectare rainforest in Costa Rica and is part of the largest remaining pristine rainforest ecosystem in Central America. York faculty and students, along with international partners, conduct valuable research at the site toward protecting the biodiversity of Las Nubes, aiding the sustainable development of local communities, and understanding and conserving our global biosphere. Las Nubes, which means “the clouds” in Spanish, is home to countless plants and animals, many yet to be discovered.

Right: From left, FES Dean Barbara Rahder, Prof. Howard Daugherty and Morley Brown

“There are more than 200 York students who will tell you that Las Nubes has been a life-changing experience for them,” said FES Professor and Las Nubes program director Howard Daugherty. Las Nubes field courses in applied tropical ecology and rural sustainability are held each summer in the rainforest.

At the Wine Tasting & Auction, held at the Vaughan Estate, The Estates of Sunnybrook, friends, supporters and fine wine collectors participated in a tasting of the 1989 Bordeaux, led by Toronto wine consultant Michael Vaughan. Subsequently they bid on more than 200 bottles of donated wines representing the best from the world.

Left: From left, FES Professor Martin Bunch, FES PhD candidate Chris Saker and Dr. Woody Fisher

The auction also included an Aeron chair donated by the ecologically sensitive company Herman Miller; a numbered print by Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman; and a photograph by Edward Burtynsky, internationally known for the award-winning documentary film, Manufactured Landscapes.

York student Cassandra Silverio also donated a work of her unique art for auction, which was inspired by her experience in Las Nubes. “I’ve been producing my art for some time, but this is the first piece I’ve sold,” said Silverio. The mixed-media piece was a toucan made completely of recycled materials. “Most of my pieces have an environmental theme,” she said. “The environment is a passion of mine, and I use my art to express that.” Silverio, who is completing her undergraduate biology honours thesis, studies birds and had the chance to observe more than 200 species while on the Las Nubes field course last summer.

Right: From left, friends of York University Esther and Sam Sarick with York University Foundation President & CEO Paul Marcus

“I wish donors could see first-hand the unbelievably positive impact that their support for the Fisher Fund and the Las Nubes program has had,” said York PhD candidate Chris Saker. Saker has received funding from the Fisher Fund and the Kenneth M. Molson Foundation for his research into the community ecology of woodpeckers, particularly their role as determinants of the health of the rainforest. “The Las Nubes program offers an unrivalled interdisciplinary and international approach to sustainable development and conservation education. This action-based learning has led to amazing results, not only for York students, but also for the rural communities and biodiversity conservation in Costa Rica.” Saker recently spent six months living and working in the area. (See YFile, March 31, for more on Saker’s research.)

The Faculty of Environmental Studies, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, named the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation in honour of Dr. Woody Fisher, who donated Las Nubes to York in 1998. Fisher was inspired to purchase the rainforest and preserve its immense biodiversity after visiting the country on a holiday. He was conferred with an honorary doctorate at York’s convocation last June and in his address quoted Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. “The health of the land and the water are the only measures for a civilization’s success. Our civilization is running out of both land and water. Collapse will be global. Now is our last chance to get the future right.” (See YFile, June 17, 2008, for more on Fisher.)

Left: Las Nubes supporter Valerie Grant (left) and Toronto physician Dr. Grant Farrow

Timothy’s Coffees of the World has also continued to support the Las Nubes program; Chief Executive Officer George Michel, director of marketing Robert Huitema and brand manager Anna-Marie Kelly attended the tasting and auction. Timothy’s remains the exclusive importer, roaster and retailer of Las Nubes sustainable and certified fair trade coffee. Las Nubes Coffee is the product of a collaboration between York University, Timothy’s and CoopeAgri, the local farmers’ cooperative in Costa Rica. The coffee is available at Timothy’s outlets across Canada with a portion of sales donated to the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation. “Las Nubes Coffee is illustrative of how public-private partnerships can advance conservation and sustainability,” said Daugherty.

A significant gift from the BMO Financial Group in support of the Las Nubes program was also announced. BMO’s generous gift is the most recent in some exciting support for the Las Nubes program, including the creation of a teaching and research facility in Costa Rica, thanks to the support of the Lillian and Don Wright Foundation, and the establishment of two new awards for graduate students involved in neotropical conservation, created by Woody Fisher and Valerie Grant. The graduate student awards have been named in honour of Daugherty, the creative spirit behind the Las Nubes program. One of the awards will send a York student to Costa Rica, and the other will bring a Costa Rican student to York.

Left: York University Foundation vice-president operations Cathy Yanosik

The development of an endowed Chair in Neotropical Conservation is also underway thanks to the support of Jim Love (LLB ’73, LLM ’86), Barry Cooper, York University Board of Governors member Guy Burry (BA ’82), Woody Fisher (LLD Hon. ’08) and Peter Westaway.

These Las Nubes fundraising activities are part of York to the Power of 50, York’s 50th anniversary fundraising campaign – now at more than $180 million in pledges toward its $200 million goal.