The alarm went off at 4:45am and excitement took over almost immediately. We were our way to catch the 7:30 ferry to Orcas Island to go visit one of our favorite Washington State producers, Northwest Connoisseurs.
The magic started right as we boarded the ferry. The winter sun rose over the mountains to the East as we set out on our journey. A rare clear morning in Western Washington boasted fluorescent, pink skies, snow capped mountains and icy blue water, leaving us in complete awe of the nature and beauty we are so lucky to be surrounded by in this part of the country.
We landed on the island around 9 and headed into town to find coffee and and breakfast at Island Skillet, a quaint little diner nestled in Eastsound. The feeling of community was apparent right when we stepped foot onto the island- friendly faces, handmade street signs and country cottages on sprawling acres of land made us feel like we had traveled right into the nostalgia that our non-stop, fast paced world has us longing for.
After breakfast, we made the quick drive up to the garden to visit the N.W.C. crew and tour the facility. Before we made it out of the car, Aarikka was already walking out to greet us. Aarikka Tuss, a Bellevue native turned Island resident beamed like a ray of sunshine as we approached, welcoming us with warm hugs and a carefree smile, one that you could only achieve from living on island time. She ushered us into the facility, gave us the required visitor badges and we began the tour.
Inside we met Hilary and Jacob, two N.W.C. employees who were diligently measuring and packing large, perfect buds of flower into their bright and vibrant packaging.
“We’re more like a family than anything.” Hilary said as we were visiting. “We don’t have just one job here, we all do what needs to be done.”
Aarikka laughed, “We tried to come up with titles but gave up because they were constantly changing.”
She is proud of her lean and dynamic team. “I’m obsessed with compliance,” Aarikka stated. “I’m like the Wizard of Oz” or as I have dubbed her, The Wizard of Ops. “I’m in the background keeping everything moving so that my employees and Master Grower, Max, can do what they do best.”
Aarikka ensures that they are not only following the rules, but setting the standard for natural, sustainable practices in craft cannabis. “Quality is everything here. We use the same bud that goes into our packaged flower in our pre-roll joints,” a rarity among many producer/processors in the legal cannabis industry. Hillary held a perfectly rolled joint to the light to show the quality -they break up the flower and roll the bud all by hand. Through the paper the flower shown deep and bright greens, oranges and reds, emulating the superiority of the bud that they work so hard for.
“Ready to see the grow?” Aarikka asked as she handed us headlamps. “The plants are sleeping, so we have to use these when we walk through.” We nodded, put our headlamps on and entered the grow room.
You know that feeling when you’re surrounded by all the people you love and your heart is full? Or you the way you feel when you’re driving alone and your favorite song comes on? Or the feeling of falling in love with someone new? You get the picture, right? That’s the feeling that you get when you walk into Max’s grow room. An energy so positive that you literally become engulfed by it. Not smiling was not an option. We traveled through rows of Blackberry Kush, Pineapple Express, Tangie, Blackcherry Soda, 9lb Hammer and more as the plants slept sweetly in the dark, brushing softly against us as if they were cuddling up intentionally. It was absolute magic.
“I’m so overwhelmed with happiness right now.” I said as I squeezed a fresh bud of blackberry kush, rubbing the sticky residue between my thumb and forefinger. The deep, sugary smell hung in the air.
“These plants don’t ever get bad vibes. If someone is having a bad day, they’re not allowed to be in the room.” Aarikka said as we made our way over to the next strain. “Max spends an equal amount of time with each plant every day and hand waters them every night.”
“It’s amazing how they respond to your energy,” Hilary chimed. “I was in charge of taking care of them while Aarikka and Max were out of town and I played Beyonce for them. I swear when I came back the next day they were 3 inches taller.” We laughed- if anything is going to help you stand up a little taller, it’s listening to Beyonce. “They respond to energy just like we do.” Aarikka says, “which is why you feel it when you walk into the room.”
NW Connoisseurs not only keeps their plants from negative vibes, but also keeps their plants from dangerous chemicals like pesticides. “We do it right. We don’t take shortcuts and we don’t sell anything that we wouldn’t consume ourselves.” Aarikka said as she was taking us through the process.
“My process is my recipe. You can give our recipe out to someone but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to create the exact same product that you have.” Says Master Gardener, Max Brand.
Max uses a soilless medium made of organic coconut husk and perlite, and waters with filtered rain water that they collect. Then he flushes the crop 10-14 days before harvest with honey or molasses to prevent laden nutrient build up.
Flushing is a process that is essential to consuming clean cannabis.In addition to properly flushing, all plants are served tailor made nutrients, hand trimmed and stored in canna vaults which keeps air and light from oxidizing or deteriorating product and allows for a longer shelf life.
Find out why flushing is so important in this video.
After the tour, we took off to grab food and explore the island a bit more. The glorious topography, friendly community and breathtaking views are probably other contributing factors to Northwest Connoisseurs’ happy island plants. Does sparing them exposure to the stress and worries of the mainland make for better cannabis? We could argue yes.
When we were finished exploring we had an opportunity to meet up with both Max and Aarikka later on for happy hour at the White Horse Pub. Max had just finished his deliveries for the day and notes that he personally delivers their product and makes it a point to talk with and educate budtenders and customers about their products.
“Transparency is really important to us, our customers and our community,” he said taking a sip of his frosty beer looking over the sound. A refreshing perspective to hear from an industry that’s still quite murky despite legalization. “The law passing has also helped with acceptance in town, we’re actually a pretty progressive little island,” chimed Aarikka.
We are grateful to have the opportunity to meet with businesses like N.W.C. and highlight the amazing products that those 21+ in Washington State can now legally purchase and consume. Northwest Connoisseurs embodies what Cannabis Culture has always been – a culture of love, inclusion, wellness and community! We are excited to watch them grow…no pun intended.
You can purchase N.W.C. products at the following locations:
Herb(n) Elements, Seattle
221 Inc., Conway
172nd Cannabis , Arlington
Token Herb, Orcas Island
Kaleafa, Oak Harbor
High Society, Anacortes