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2023 Speaker Profile: SARAH REYES

THE SUSTAINABLE RETAIL FLORIST: Learn about Wildflower & Fern's sustainable business model and hear from Sarah Reyes about how she has developed the tiny flower shop into an important hub for locally-grown flowers for the Bay Area. Sarah will share strategies and tips for creating a flower shop that highlights artisans and local growers, as well as nurturing a community of passionate customers who value Wildflower & Fern's mission of local, seasonal, and sustainable botanicals.

Florist Sarah Reyes has already been up for nine hours when she takes a break to chat with me at noon. The florist and owner of the shop Wildflower & Fern in Oakland, California, was up at three and at the San Francisco flower market by four. It’s something she couldn’t have imagined in her pre-flower life. “My husband was shocked when I first started doing this because I just jump out of bed to go to the market,” says Sarah. But since 2015 or so, Sarah has been captivated by locally grown flowers, and a day of seeing what’s in season, chatting with the growers, and designing with the just-picked blooms and greenery is pretty easy to get up for. On this morning, the foxgloves and geums were particularly beautiful and the first peonies had arrived. “That’s pretty special,” she says, “it’s a short season for us because we don’t buy imported so our customers are happy to see them arrive at the shop.”

Focussing on flowers and foliage that are primarily locally grown is what sets Wildflower & Fern apart from the myriad florists in the Bay Area. Sarah has a hierarchy of purchasing—mostly local flowers; then Washington- or Oregon-grown; then domestic, with only the occasional splurge of a fern or other special flower from Hawai‘i, for instance. “It’s about 95 percent local,” she says. Most weeks, Sarah goes to the wholesale flower market twice, local farmers markets twice—and occasionally three times—and once in a while she hops in the car and drives to farms. “At the height of the season I go to the farms and do pick-ups so that I’m really connecting with the growers,” Sarah says. She’ll usually drive up to Healdsburg in northern Sonoma Country and then zigzags her way home, visiting about six, sometimes even eight, farms. “It brings me joy to connect with them,” she says, and then she shares the stories of the flowers and where they came from with her customers. “It’s not practical or possible for them to meet the farmers, so that’s something I can do,” she says.

Connecting flowers and farmers to florists was at the heart of Sarah’s previous business venture: Unfurled. Sarah was taking floral design classes when, on a field trip, she met Debra Prinzing and learned about the Slow Flowers Movement. This led her to a Slow Flowers Podcast that introduced a flower market in Sonoma where Sarah frequently visits her family cabin. She started to source flowers from the market and hold retail pop-ups in Oakland and Berkeley, but then began to source for other florists looking for local products. Unfurled became like a personal buying service for florists with Sarah as the “botanical liaison” at its helm.

“A lot of people don’t think of sourcing locally when it comes to flowers,” says Sarah, “so I’m super vocal about it.”

Running Unfurled was rewarding, but the margins were slim so Sarah started to work for one her clients: Brian McRonald of The Flower and the B in Oakland’s Rockridge Market Hall. When Brian retired a few years later, Sarah took over the 240-square-foot shop that is now Wildflower & Fern. Although Unfurled is, for the most part, not active at the moment—she still offers boutique wholesale to some florists and designers—the ethos of connecting the story of each flower to her customer is at the heart of every transaction. “A lot of people don’t think of sourcing locally when it comes to flowers,” says Sarah, “so I’m super vocal about it.”

She’s willing to tell the story of each stem if her customers are ready to listen—from the name of the person who grew the flower to their farming methods, such as no till or no spray—and she’s also happy to deliver broader messages about sustainable practices. “Somebody asked for floral foam yesterday for a project she was doing,” says Sarah. “I didn’t just say no, I told her why I didn’t have it.” A person who recently phoned inquiring whether Sarah could include a balloon with an arrangement got a similar response. “It could seem bossy,” she says, “but I want to do my part to educate people so that maybe next time they’ll think twice.”

Wildflower & Fern is primarily a retail shop although Sarah will do small events and weddings, as well as other arrangements for some of her regular customers. One of her favorite components of the business is the flower bar where customers can buy by the stem. It’s a busy shop in a small space, so getting out on the road to sourced flowers is a reprieve for Sarah. “Part of my therapy is doing that farm loop,” she says. She’s upfront with how shifting from stressful clerical work in the medical field to a world of flowers over a decade ago has helped the mental health challenges she sometimes has, but she’s still running a busy business with its inherent worries. Visiting the farms not only takes her through beautiful countryside, but it strengthens ties in the floral world. “These people are my friends,” she says, “we’ve created relationships over the years. I want to keep those connections.”

“Sustainability is not just about our carbon footprint,” she says, “it’s also about sustaining a shop, jobs for the people you employ, and your life while doing it.”

At the Slow Flowers Summit, Sarah will share the story of her journey to flowers, but also about how sustainability goes beyond the environmental footprint to include the sustainability of a business, its employees, and the owner who runs all. “Sustainability is not just about our carbon footprint,” she says, “it’s also about sustaining a shop, jobs for the people you employ, and your life while doing it.”


Slow Flowers Summit welcomes Adrienne Mason as our profile contributor for the 2023 season. Adrienne Mason is a writer and editor based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She specializes in writing about science, nature, and the cultural history of the west coast. She is the author of over 30 books for both adults and children, the most recent of which is Whales to the Rescue. Adrienne also specializes in writing for museums, parks, and interpretive centers, and her work is in dozens of exhibits across Canada. When she’s not at her desk, Adrienne spends as much time as possible outdoors—hiking, camping, beachcombing, and in her garden, to which she recently added two large cut flower beds. Visit Adrienne at


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