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246. Celebrating the success of the co-operative cuppa

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Coop Name: Essential Trading Ltd N° of Employees: 80
City: Bristol N° of Members: 80
Country: United Kingdom Year of formation: 1971
Website: http://www.essential-trading.coop
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About this coop:

Essential Trading is a Bristol-based wholefood producer and wholesaler that is one of the largest successful worker co-operatives in the UK. The company has a turnover of approximately £12 million and employs around 85 people. 2012 sees Essential Trading celebrate its 40th Anniversary year.

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Tea is enjoyed by many people many times a day. So it’’s refreshing to know that thanks to Essential Trading you can choose a cuppa that will make a real difference to the livelihoods of thousands of people involved in co-operative, biodynamic tea production.

Egypt is not the first country that springs to mind when thinking of tea production but it is, in fact, the home of a thriving co-operative established in the 1970s to regenerate and revive a tragically poor community.

It all began back In 1977, when an Egyptian pharmacologist and social entrepreneur Dr Ibrahim Abouleish was dismayed to see the state of his home country and its poor communities. He set out to restore and maintain a flourishing environment of sustainable, organic agriculture that, in turn, would support social and cultural development in the region. He called the project SEKEM – which means vitality – and this is exactly what it brought to the farmers and wider community.

Today, there is a network of more than 2,000 farmers following biodynamic principles that aim to restore and maintain the vitality of the soil and food as well as the biodiversity of nature.

SEKEM is an enlightened programme that shows how co-operative practices can create and sustain whole communities and not just the farmers and their families. Junior, senior and adult education and medical centres are high on the list of priorities. With these firmly established, the health and welfare of the local population is assured. The constant investment in local, cultural and community projects gives the Egyptian farm workers and their families’ continuous access to development, education and training. Thus the combination of biodynamic and co-operative principles ensures that both the eco-system and the culture are truly sustainable.

The farms which produce the herbal teas use the biodynamic farming method. As far as possible the farm relies on home produced composts, manures and animal feeds and the balance of nature is neither disrupted nor compromised. The success of this method is shown by the farm having grown 28-fold, from 70 acres to over 2,000: proving its sustainability.

While organic teas are fairly commonplace, fairtrade teas are trickier to find. To have an organic, fairtrade biodynamic tea is quite an accomplishment and to have a whole range  sourced from one purpose-built ecosystem on reclaimed land is really something special. Five of these SEKEM teas (Camomile, Camomile & Spearmint, Hibiscus, Peppermint & Spearmint, or Peppermint) are available in the UK thanks to the Essential Trading co-operative, which is distributing and selling the teas through independent health food stores and online under its Essential brand (www.essential-trading.coop www.ethicallyessential.coop).

Author of this story
Katherine Selby
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