Meet Erika Our Washington GM with a Taste for Adventure

Erika Smith isn’t afraid of a challenge. She once hiked eight miles to find someone to help her fish her car out of a stream and another time got paid a hundred bucks to embark on a daring midnight rescue mission to save a patch of prime cannabis trapped in the path of a tropical storm. So back in 2014, after helping her brother, Adam, plan Avitas’ path from the beginning, she was more than ready to hop on board with the company. Armed with meticulous attention to detail and a passion for making things work, she started off as Avitas’ Director of Human Resources and now has moved into the management of day-to-day operations at Avitas’ Washington farm as the state’s General Manager.

Making the Leap

From the beginning, Erika was in conversation with Adam as he worked to get Avitas off the ground, but her job was in a wildly different industry. She began her career in the public sector, eventually becoming a Program Director for the Employment Security Department, a worker re-education and job training program in Bellingham, WA. She didn’t realize it at the time, but sixteen years in the public sector set her up quite well for her role as General Manager.

Where others may have been overwhelmed, soon after starting her role, Erika found herself completely at home in the complex regulatory environment of I-502. She laughs looking back on it, “I came from a background that was very strict in terms of compliance, and we got audited every year. We had to dot the i’s and cross every t. So I-502 made a bizarre sort of sense to me. I immediately knew I could help.” There’s always a new mystery or puzzle to overcome every week and Erika wouldn’t have it any other way. “Everyone who works at Avitas is super passionate about our product. It’s the perfect environment to do great work because we’re all so invested.”

Keeping the Oil Flowing

That’s not to say that those first few months were easy. Avitas, like so many other producer/processors in Washington, was breaking new ground in the industry in 2014. “We were pioneers. No one knew exactly what we were doing or how the industry was going to change. We just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get things done.”

Today, Erika and the Avitas Washington team are facing new challenges as Avitas grows and changes. However even though her work now spans two states as she works closely with the Oregon operation, Erika is determined to keep her focus on the day-to-day aspects of her role. “It’s both exciting and daunting to see where the future is taking us. But, we’re focusing on keeping our heads down and bringing a high-quality product to Washington state customers. As we continue to grow, we need to keep doing what we’re doing just more and better.”

Why We Take Pesticide Testing So Seriously

At Avitas, we cultivate a lot of our own flower and take great care to grow it using organic methods, but our grow is small, and we make a lot of oil, so we also work with local farms to source terrific starting material. Every so often we get a shipment of gorgeous flower that looks and smells great, but we have to send it back because it tests positive for pesticide. This breaks our hearts. However, we’re committed to bringing you the cleanest, most extraordinary extract possible and sometimes that means making some tough choices.

The Process

Before we place an order for a new shipment, we have farms sign an affidavit stating that they don’t use banned pesticides and if their crop tests positive, we return the flower and get refunded. Once we receive a shipment, we immediately send a sample out for testing, and nothing goes in our equipment until we get a clean result back. We’ve returned many shipments, and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but we still check every lot.

It’s Complicated

Sometimes a farm’s flower fails the test even after they’ve used every possible precaution and grown their flower using only the best of organic methods. This is where it gets complicated. Sometimes when growing outdoors, farmers are affected by what’s been planted in their fields in prior years. Pesticide doesn’t just go away once a harvest comes in. They can stay in the soil and can continue to affect what’s grown for many years to come. Sometimes, even when a farm is on clean soil, a nearby farm might spray their crops with conventional pesticides.  In agricultural regions like Washington and Oregon, crops like hops, apples, and wheat have much looser rules about what pesticides can be used, and natural factors like wind could mean that even with the best intentions, sometimes they fail the tests.

Why It Matters

One reason even a tiny amount of pesticide on the plant might be a more significant problem in finished oil is that the extraction process concentrates all the good stuff AND the bad stuff too. But a bigger worry is the complete lack of any scientific knowledge regarding the safety of inhaling smoked or vaped pesticides. Toxicity tests for pesticides only look at what might happen if you eat trace amounts in your food, and sometimes they look at skin contact or inhalation of vapors for worker safety. Many pesticides are by their very nature highly toxic and can convert to new molecules when heated at high temperatures. One particularly problematic pesticide that is used illegally on cannabis is myclobutanil. This molecule degrades into cyanide gas when it’s heated, so we want to make very sure that doesn’t end up in our oil!

Sure, our process is rigorous, but we care about what we put into our bodies, and we think you do too. We always test for pesticide, and never add any flavors, additives, or fillers to our pure golden goodness. After all, that’s the Avitas promise.