Raise the Roof — Why This DC Entrepreneur Grows Produce on Rooftops

Raise the Roof — Why This DC Entrepreneur Grows Produce on Rooftops

Up Top Acres co-founder, Kristof Grina, is a lifelong urban dweller. He was born and raised in Washington, DC, and has almost no family history in agriculture. “Two generations back, my family got off the farm because they wanted a higher quality of life,” said Grina.

Kristof Grina, Co-Founder of Up Top Acres  

Kristof Grina, Co-Founder of Up Top Acres

Why then, does he spend a large percentage of his time farming fruits and vegetables? Well, when you can catch a Washington Nationals game while you tend to your crops, one can start to understand why.

Up Top Acres is a commercial rooftop farming company based in DC. They grow fruits and vegetables on rooftops, and they sell their produce to local restaurants, directly to consumers at farmers’ markets, and through their farm membership program. Their mission is to change the local food production system, and to reinvent the way we build our cities so that we can “feed ourselves in an honest, responsible way.”

“When you live in a city, it’s easy to just go to a grocery store. Food production is something that affects all of us. We all need to eat. It’s something that affects our planet, and it affects everything that surrounds us as well as things thousands of miles away. It’s so easy to take that for granted,” Grina told me.

Kristof started Up Top Acres three years ago with two long-time friends from DC’s Wilson High School — Kathleen O’Keefe, and Jeff Prost-Greene. Their story began when Kathleen found inspiration from a company in New York City. “Kathleen went up to New York to visit a company called Brooklyn Grange, which is a rooftop farming company up there. She was really inspired by it, so she tagged me in a post on Instagram and wrote, ‘Kristof! We should do this in DC!’”

The trio started a conversation about launching a rooftop farming company in DC, but they all had full-time jobs, and it took a while for them to decide to go all in. “Kathleen was working in urban planning, Jeff was focused on social entrepreneurship, and I was working for a green roofing company,” Grina said. “After a while, we decided to just go for it. It sort of came together organically.” (No pun intended).

They got their first big break in 2015 when they connected with Think Food Group, the company behind Jose Andres’ restaurant empire. Think Food Group helped them secure their first growing space in Chinatown on top of the building that houses Andres’ Spanish restaurant, Oyamel. “Think Food Group has been awesome. They believed in our vision, and they helped us to launch our pilot growing space. It wasn’t going to be financially viable in the long-term, but it was a proof-of-concept that we could show people as we got started.”

Since then, they’ve opened up four more growing spaces: two in Southeast, in the Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront neighborhood (yes, you can see directly into Nationals Park from one), and two just north of the city in Bethesda, Maryland.

Up Top Acres growing space at 55 M St SE

Up Top Acres growing space at 55 M St SE

How can a hungry, fresh produce-loving Washingtonian get their hands on some Up Top Acres fruits and veggies? You can sign up to get “a weekly share of the bounty” through their farm membership program, grab some at FRESHFARM Capitol Riverfront Market starting in May, or find them on the menu in restaurants around the city, including Blue Jacket, Jaleo, and A Baked Joint.

If you really want to show the Up Top team some love, though, you can support their Kickstarter campaign, which launched just a couple of weeks ago and runs through March 27th. They will use the funds to train new farmers, upgrade their infrastructure, and give themselves plenty of runway for the upcoming growing season.

Kristof explained that they decided to crowdfund because of their focus on engaging the DC community. “Our whole ethos is to connect urban dwellers with their natural world through food production. So, instead of raising money in a traditional fashion, we wanted to open it up so the local community could invest in us and get some really cool rewards in the process.”

Even if you don’t buy their fruits and veggies, you’ve got to check out one of their events, which they host on their rooftop spaces. You can expect a full slate of yoga sessions, happy hours, farm-to-table dinners, and even comedy specials on top of an Up Top Acres roof this year. “We hosted over 100 events last year, and had 3,000 people visit our roofs. It’s a great place to meet people, take in amazing views of the city, and change your perspective on what it means to live in an urban environment,” said Grina.

Next time you go to the grocery store here in DC, think about where your food came from, and how it got there. With Up Top Acres, you can measure the distance your produce traveled to your table “in flights of stairs, rather than miles.”

Washingtonian on a mission to help people get the most out of life in the nation’s capital.