Sara Nett has woven a varied background in theatrical scenery and costume design, freelance art and running an arts collective to launch her new floral shop in St. Peter last year.

Her flair for artistic design, she says, melded with her love of flowers and her past experience working in a floral shop.

She’d run an artist collective in Minot where she sold local artists’ work on commission for a few years but said the business model simply couldn’t cover her rent and other costs.

So when she and her husband moved to this area, they purchased a building on Minnesota Avenue in downtown St. Peter to open Sweet Alice floral. While preparing the building and her business plan, she worked with a close friend who is a third-generation florist and garden center owner in Minot.

While he instilled his knowledge of the industry, the two clashed on Nett’s insistence that her floral shop would focus heavily on being sustainable.

“We had some intense arguments. He took the traditional approach to the business,” Nett said.

Emily Schoper, of Frey Salon & Spa in St. Peter, said they’re a frequent customer of Sweet Alice.

“We’re on the sustainability spectrum ourselves, so it fits right in. Our whole hair and skin care lines are all sustainable. We have the highest rating of product safety a business can get.”

Nett did the winter pots outside the salon and they use her to provide flowers at any of their special events.

“She does a fabulous job and the arrangements really last a long time. And her price points are exactly the same as everyone else.”

Schoper said the floral shop fits in well in St. Peter where businesses such as the salon and the St. Peter Food Co-op strive for sustainability.

Green from the start

The dedication to sustainability started with renovating the building.

“The building is highly energy efficient, super insulated. It uses as much energy and water as a small home.”

They searched until locating the most energy efficient floral cooler available and it doesn’t use Freon. Water barrels outside collect water used to water plants in the summer.

But it’s the day-to-day operations where sustainability rules.

“We don’t use that disgusting floral foam,” she said of the green foam used on the bottom of floral arrangements, foam she said that has harmful ingredients and is bad for the environment when thrown out.

Instead she uses reusable parts that eventually can be recycled after their useful life. And for weddings and other events she handles the setup and take down so she can reuse the pieces and compost other parts of the arrangements.

While other shops she worked at ran flower stems under water while preparing them, she conserves water.

“We watch how we use water. The sink is never running. We wash flowers in a pan.”

She gets many of her flowers from Len Busch Roses, a grower in Plymouth with 15 acres of greenhouses.

“We’re fortunate to have that here in Minnesota. I get several kinds of my flowers there. He grows the best poinsettias I’ve ever seen,” Nett said.

She’s also a member of the Twin Cities Floral Exchange, where independent flower growers, including Gullywash Gardens, Blue Sky Flower Farms, Flower Child Farms and Beezie’s Blooms, sell during the summer months.

“There are 22 local growers who bring flowers.It supports Minnesota growers.”

Nett also grows some of her own flowers.

For those she can’t source locally, Nett buys from environmentally friendly, fair trade growers from California, Oregon, Florida and imports some blooms from Ecuador and Columbia.

The South American growers are rainforest certified, sustainable and fair trade.

She said it’s actually cheaper for florists to import flowers than to buy them in the United States.

“It’s cheaper to import from Holland or South America. Labor is cheap. But you fly them in, truck them, put them on trains. I look at the total carbon costs.”

Nett said she eats the added costs of getting sustainable flowers. “I made that decision. It cuts 5% to 10% from my profits, but it’s worth it to me.”

She said she has customers who seek her out because of her sustainable model.

“But some customers find us and they just like the designs and that’s fine with me.”