If you’ve ever passed by the front of Bi-Rite Market and wondered who is behind all of the incredible flowers, bouquets, branches, and seasonal greenery we offer, the answer is Eleanor Gerber-Siff. I sat down with Eleanor to talk about her approach and learn about the producers behind the movement toward local, organic, and sustainable floral.
Eleanor, who are you and what do you do?
I work for Bi-Rite Market as the Head Florist and Floral Buyer for Bi-Rite, covering both our 18th Street and Divisadero Street Markets.
Is that what you’ve always done for Bi-Rite? What is your background in flowers?
I’ve been working in flowers for about six years and I’ve been with Bi-Rite for about a year and a half. Before Bi-Rite, I worked in different flower shops and did some freelance work, including floral arrangements for weddings and events. For about a year and a half before I started at Bi-Rite, I worked with Rebekah Northway, also known as The Petaler, an incredibly talented local floral designer. My work with her was focused on large-scale arrangements for her restaurant accounts.
Before I started working for Bi-Rite, the flowers we sold here were coming in through the Produce Department. There was no full-time staff devoted just to flowers. The Department just wasn’t up to par, and it didn’t make sense, considering how beautifully displayed everything else in the store is. I saw that there was an opportunity for Bi-Rite to make use of a full-time florist, and I convinced our Produce Buyer Simon and Sam Mogannam to let me be that florist. I haven’t looked back since!
How do you source the flowers we sell at Bi-Rite?
I go to the San Francisco Flower Mart every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and order directly from vendors. Going to the market is a huge part of maintaining relationships with those vendors, and it helps me trust that they know their product and that I can rely on them. Because I maintain close relationships with them, I’m often able to get good deals on great flowers.
Plus, seeing the same people three times a week is fun! The Flower Mart is a whole micro-community that operates for the most part before most people are even awake! The market is housed in a big cement building at 6th and Brannan Streets in San Francisco, which takes up almost a whole city block. It doesn’t look good from the outside, but once you get inside, it’s filled with the most beautiful and unusual flowers and greens.
Having a market where I can pick things out personally is important because the good product varies from day to day. I work with what’s available and looks great, rather than sticking to a set list of specific flowers I’m going to buy.
I also work with several farms that grow flowers and also sell us lots of other kinds of produce. That’s a special thing about working for Bi-Rite; I have access to these great local farms and the amazing flowers they grow. The Flower Mart doesn’t source those flowers, so I feel fortunate that I can get them for our guests. These farms are organic and use sustainable growing practices, so their flowers are better across the board – better for the people that grow them, better for me and my flower crew, and better for our guests. They’re creating a new flower economy based on principles of sustainability, and it shows in the flowers! They tend to be happier and more beautiful. An organic flower looks better than one that’s been sprayed with chemicals, and you don’t have to worry about sticking your nose right in there. I get to communicate with our flower farmer vendors several times a week, and that’s a good way to feel connected to something that’s growing – to stay close to the person who’s growing it.
There are three farms from which I get the biggest volume of flowers. Thomas Farm, in Aptos– they’re Certified Organic and grow mostly flowers. Full Belly Farm–also Certified Organic; Bi-Rite gets lots of produce from them and they’re super awesome people. And Oak Hill Farm in Sonoma. They’re not certified organic but they use organic growing practices.
We work with some smaller farms as well – Blue House Farm and Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero and Little City Gardens, which is actually in San Francisco – it’s a two-acre organic farm right here in the city. These farms grow some really unique fresh flowers. Last year, Fifth Crow Farm had some Chinese Forget-Me-Nots that blew my mind.
How do you select the flowers you stock?
I’ve found I have a “Spidey Sense” about flowers. That’s part of what I bring to this job. I follow my intuition and in a room full of flowers, I pick out what I feel our guests will be most excited about.
My job is exciting because I also get to work directly with a bunch of local flower farms – our guests are cool and they respond to that. That’s something I want to educate more people about, because most of us aren’t necessarily thinking about farm-direct or organic flowers. Many Bay Area folks think and care deeply about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. I’d like to increase awareness about the benefits of local, organic flowers to ourselves and our community. Organic, sustainably grown flowers promote the health and well-being of the people that are growing the flowers and of everyone who comes into contact with them. What’s the first thing you do when someone hands you a bouquet of flowers? You stick your nose in it and take a big whiff! You don’t want gross chemicals in your lungs or in your home. Because they are not food, there is far less regulation on the chemicals people use on flowers than on produce, and this is especially true of flowers shipped in from countries outside the U.S.
What kinds of flowers do you personally like, and how do you prefer to arrange them?
My favorite flowers are ones that have a wild look to them. Things that are slightly weird, too…or off, or crooked, or have a weird seed pod – I just like things that are unusual! I love that nature makes strange stuff and I like things that are a little bit ugly as much as I like things that are pretty. Right now I’m really excited about all of the insane Ranunculus we’ve been getting in, especially the ones we get from Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California.
Every day that I work, there’s always one single flower that’s the best of the day. My Instagram is full of those “one best flowers.” I admit I’m a flower nerd…I care about them, so I think about them all the time.
My arranging style is a hodgepodge of ideas and techniques I’ve gathered from different places I’ve worked, but also from just experimenting on my own. I know what I like and let that guide me. I know it when I see it.
What floral services does Bi-Rite offer? Do you have anything special planned for Easter?
We offer custom floral work for any occasion – weddings, parties, events, and gifts. This week I’m doing
flowers for a wedding as well as a dinner for 18 Reasons. We’re looking to do more stuff like that. I love working with a client to create a beautiful event filled with flowers.
For Easter, we’ll have a table out in front of Bi-Rite Market 18th Street all day on Saturday, April 19th from 9am to 9pm. On Easter Sunday, we’ll be out there from 9am to 5pm. We’ll be doing custom floral arrangements in whatever way you need for your Easter celebration, so stop by and say hi to us.
We also make bouquets, pre-made and custom, and we have a wide variety of flowers for sale by the bunch and by the stem. Every single day you can see a beautiful array of flowers out in front of our 18th Street Market, and you can usually find me around there tending to the flowers and making floral arrangements.
I’m always available to work with our guests on anything related to flowers. And you can call either of our Markets to ask questions, place an order or try to track me down. Talking about flowers is what I love to do!