Family brings generations of jam expertise to South Whidbey

Jan Gross and her company 3 Generations Jam are a regular fixture of the Bayview Farmers market. Gross runs the business with her daughter

Families often come to specialize in certain crafts as traditions are handed down through generations, and for Jan Gross’ family that specialty is homemade jam.

Gross and her daughter Becca Hyman are the faces behind 3 Generations Jam, a Greenbank-based mother-daughter team that operates out of a commercial kitchen that was once a laundromat. Gross will share her jam expertise at Slow Food Whidbey Island’s upcoming jam-making workshop on Tuesday, July 26.

The jam workshop will kick off at 6:30 p.m. at the Deer Lagoon Grange in Bayview. The sweet event is part of Slow Food’s quarterly workshops featuring food producers who align with the grassroots organization’s ideology of locally produced seasonal foods that support a local community and environment. Gross will teach attendees how to make their own jam from the summer’s bounty. Those who attend the workshop will walk home with a 4 ounce jar of 3 Generations Jam’s loganberry jam. Tickets cost $15 per person.

Anyone who frequents the Bayview Farmers Market will be familiar with Gross and her jams. Gross started to consider selling jams at the farmers market five years ago after years of bringing her jam to trade with market vendors and receiving positive feedback. When she learned Hyman was moving back to the South End from New Mexico, they decided to go into business together knowing they were both well-versed in the family jam tradition. With Gross a recently retired public health nurse and Hyman raising her daughter Charlotte, they found time to begin a new side project with their skills: 3 Generations Jam.

“We were talked into doing this as a business at the Bayview Farmers Market,” Gross said. “My husband and I always shopped the markets, and I used to trade for cheese and breads. Becca is great at making jam and in the kids we have our own quality control team.”

The dynamic duo make a medley of jams, offering seven “classic jams” that Gross says are always in stock and an array of specialty flavors on a rotating basis. Fig and marionberry are the best-sellers while flavors like cranberry marmalade and peach ginger turn heads with their unique tastes. Gross says their jams are 50 percent fruit, which she says is almost unheard of.

Gross and Hyman started the company with the intention of keeping things small. They’re the only two jam makers, so they aren’t able to sell their product at more than the five markets where they usually set up: Bayview, Anacortes, 3 Sisters in Oak Harbor, Everett and Bellingham. Still, their success has far exceeded expectations.

“We went into it thinking we would sell 20-30 jars a week, but in 2014 we sold 7,000 jars,” Gross said. “We make about 180-200 jars a day, three days a week.”

The 3 Generations business model exemplifies the international Slow Food movement. They strive to buy their fruit locally from farmers they know on a personal basis, keeping proximity as close as possible. Nearly all of the fruit they use is either from Whidbey or the Skagit Valley, while they source stone fruit from Okanogan County.

“When we began planning our next event, our thoughts went immediately to Jan Gross of 3 Generations Jam, who is a local producer of wonderful jams,” Slow Food Whidbey Island Membership Coordinator Kathy Floyd said. “She seemed like a perfect fit for the Slow Food practice of supporting local producers, farmers and farmers markets.”

While the company’s name suggests the family has three generations of expert jam makers, the skill has been a norm for even the three generations before Gross. She made jam as a young girl while watching her mother, whose mother taught her the craft. And while Becca’s children Charlotte and baby Josephine aren’t jam masters yet, they’re the company’s “quality control” and jam makers in the making.

One may assume starting a business with your mother or daughter would be a risky endeavor, but that hasn’t been the case for Gross and Hyman. The two had the regular mother-daughter squabbles when Hyman was a teenager, but nowadays the two are on the same page. Gross says they’re amazed how well it’s worked over the years, especially considering it’s a full family endeavor; Gross’ husband Pete does the bookkeeping and Becca’s kids are the chief tasters.

“When we first started, I was a little worried because you butt heads with your mother, naturally,” Hyman said. “But it’s been really good, and at times I think working as a mother-daughter team works better. We communicate really well.”

The team may be coming to an end, though, as Gross is now 70 years old and is considering stepping down from jam-making duties soon. But that may not be so much of an issue; Gross says she used to be the clear lead and the main decision maker, but those duties are progressively shifting toward Hyman and it’s at the point where she has been making the big decisions. Gross plans to hire a contractor in the near future, while she goes to the farmers markets in her spare time.

“I think things that promote local and people making their own products using local produce is really important, so I always want to be around that.”