Gus Santos & Santa Elena Farm

Learn more about your farmer -- his farm, history and workers --
and then become part of their story (and part of making it better.)

Gus’s Story

Gustavo Santos (Gus) is a coffee farmer presently running his family farm Santa Elena, in the Jinotega region of Nicaragua. Running Santa Elena, for Gus, is his calling - passed down to him by his grandfather and mother, Maria Elena.

Gus’ farm Santa Elena was founded in 1942 by his grandfather Ricardo Chaves, an immigrant to Nicaragua from Germany. In the early days of their coffee farming enterprise they travelled by mule for two weeks at a time, transporting the small coffee plants to be planted at the farm.  At that time, no trucks or automobiles existed in Jinotega.

For decades Ricardo Chaves and his children fought to keep the farm afloat in the face of political unrest, natural disasters, and fluctuating coffee prices.

Map of Jinotega, Nicaragua

Gus was raised by his mother Maria Elena to love the farm, the people, the animals and the coffee. After finishing high school in Nicaragua he came to Canada to study at the University of Guelph. Due to political unrest in Nicaragua Gus’s family lost one of their farms and were unable to sell coffee to afford his university tuition in Canada. As a result for the next 7 years Gus worked in a dairy farm near Oshawa, Ontario to pay his way through school.

Gus lived in Canada for 11 years. He completed his B.Sc in animal sciences and his M.Sc. in agri-business in Ontario and Quebec.

Gus lives in Jinotega with his wife and his four year old daughter Marta Maria.

Gus returned to Nicaragua to take over Santa Elena in 1996. From that moment on he faced many crises that he has overcome, one by one, to keep his family farm afloat: a Cholera crisis that he addressed by having his workers wash their hands and eliminating the outbreak; drought caused by El Nino; and Hurricane Mitch

Why Gus?

Adam King and Yoani Kuiper, co-founders of ECC, met Gus on an independent research trip to learn more about the coffee industry in Nicaragua and were inspired by his story. At the time in 2006, low coffee prices on the world market were forcing farms to collapse including Gus’s farm, Santa Elena. Gus used to sell his coffee to Starbucks up until four years ago. As Starbucks shares fell in 2007, the coffee retail superstar began bargaining for a better price on his coffee eventually just cutting him loose at the last minute after years of buying his coffee. This forced Gus to sell his coffee on the open market for a much lower price than what it cost him to produce it.

We were inspired by Gus’s struggle to keep his family farm afloat and maintain the livelihood of his workers. We have partnered with him because we believe that by guaranteeing him fairer prices, regardless of market fluctuations, ECC will help Santa Elena, and the workers that depend on it!

ECC has partnered with Gus and Santa Elena because of the shared goals and values between both:

“I believe consumers should know where their coffee comes from, and knowing that Santa Elena produces the coffee they drink provides a guarantee of quality at every level from our end.  We, as farmers, will benefit from a more direct contact with our consumers, to process the coffee to obtain the quality they like and need.  Buying from environmentally and socially responsible farmers, dry mills, roasters and traders will help us to provide better condition to poor but honorable workers in Nicaragua, at the same time that the consumers receive great tasting and healthy specialty coffee.”

If farmers like Gus could sell their coffee to consumers for a fairer price regardless of the market, they could guarantee both the long-term sustainability of their business, as well the work and living conditions of their workers. At ECC, we believe that we can successfully tackle these issues together and make a difference for the hundreds of people behind our favourite beverage.

Highlights of Santa Elena

  • Santa Elena is in the premium coffee growing region of Jinotega. Gus employs approx 400 labourers annually.
  • Santa Elena produces 150,000 lbs of coffee per year.
  • It is produced at 1000 metres over sea level in a unique environmental niche where it is only dry for three months per year.
  • Santa Elena produces five varieties of coffee: caturra, mondo novo, catimor, maragogipe, and parainema from which a unique mixture of specialty coffee is created.
  • At Santa Elena, many efforts are made to preserve the environment. Presently they are executing a plan for the reforestation and protection of the existing forests at the farm. They also protect the vegetation and wildlife of 4km of lakeshore. Gus plans to turn Santa Elena into a private natural reserve under Nicaraguan Law.
  • Santa Elena has a baseball field that serves as base for the baseball campesino league in the area.
  • for the last 15 years Santa Elena has operated the first cattle and poultry feed mill in Jinotega, Concentrados para el Desarrollo de la Industria Lechera (CODIL) working with Nicaraguan farmers to create a milk cooling facility. In two years we plan to have the first mini-UHT dairy processing plant owned by farmers in Nicaragua. Their objective is for farmers to obtain a better price for their milk and improve their knowledge and productivity, so that their families will improve their quality of life.  have made an alliance with DHI Canada, formed by VALACTA and WESTCAN-DHI, to bring the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) program to Jinotega, Nicaragua.
  • At Santa Elena Gus treats the labourers differently by providing the following:

  • School uniforms, shoes and school supplies for the children of the workers.

  • Medicine and medical care to its workers by assisting them to travel to health centres nearby, and paying for medicine and medical exams as required.
  • Scholarships and one paid day a week for workers to complete high school or university-level studies.
  • Food, Housing, Water and Garbage Collection for all the workers.

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