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Susan Gress, Ivy Gress, and Kay Rice in the Vashon Velvet grow room.

Image: Amber Fouts

After her husband passed away, Susan Gress thought it a good time to try something new. Not photography or Spanish classes, mind you. Something unexpected, like cash in her retirement money and learn to cultivate marijuana. “I figured if you can grow tomatoes, you can grow pot,” says the hobby gardener and former chemical engineer, sitting in a Vashon Island barn filled with happy cannabis plants. “We just read a lot of books.”

While the passage of I-502 greenlit million-dollar investments into major production facilities throughout the state, it also opened doors for scrappy upstarts like Vashon Velvet—the company Gress founded in 2013 with her daughter, Ivy, and sister, Kay Rice. Out on the rural back roads of the namesake island, the boutique operation focuses on just four to six strains at a time. The size allows Gress to pay close attention to her babies, doing things seasoned growers might think a waste of time, like handle each plant every day, let them grow wild instead of trim them uniformly, or even play music for them. 

This sort of care results in a family of potent sativas, indicas, and high CBDs at a comparatively higher price point—think an expressive riesling from single-lot vineyard versus a bottle from an uberproducer like Chateau Ste. Michelle. But even at a premium, some of Vashon Velvet’s 10 sellers across the state keep wait lists for strains like Laughing Buddha (“It makes sex better”). These high volumes led to a handover of packaging and shipping duties in late 2016 to distributor Botanica, allowing Gress to focus on growing exclusively.

Friends and family may have thought they were crazy at first, says Ivy, the younger Gress. She did, after all, opt out of law school to join the family marijuana adventure. But when her mom’s life upended after she became a widow, new challenges (and new state laws) presented an opportunity to grow.

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