If you’re looking for farmland in Metro Washington, D.C., try looking up. Way up.
In the nation’s capitol, Up Top Acres is transforming rooftops that would otherwise go unused into thriving organic farms. That work has landed Kristof Grina ’12, a Plant and Soil Science graduate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a coveted spot as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs of 2017. Grina is featured on the list with Up Top Acres co-founders Kathleen O’Keefe and Jeff Prost-Greene.
The trio, who are all D.C. natives, returned to the area after college and were “inspired by the idea of bringing rooftop farming at scale to our hometown,” says Grina. Since their founding in 2014, Up Top Acres has harvested more than 60,000 pounds of produce for nearby residents and neighboring restaurants, including several owned by acclaimed chef José Andrés.
Grina credits UVM with being the spark and driving force behind his work. “It was at UVM that my deep passion for sustainable agriculture and food systems was born and cultivated,” he says. At UVM, Grina focused on ecological agriculture, studied food systems abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico and got his hands in the dirt with the UVM Horticulture Club and the Common Ground Student-Run Educational Farm.
The pivotal point came in an urban agriculture class. “I was able to connect the dots between my experience as a city kid and all of the knowledge around plant and soil science that I was accumulating at UVM. After that class, I started to look at everything I learned with an eye towards adapting it to the built environment,” says Grina.
Today, Grina acts as Up Top Acres’ farm director and oversees a network of five rooftop farms that promises to continue expanding. On a day-to-day basis, he’s doing everything from crop planning and nutrient management to running distribution and business development efforts. “It’s hectic and busy, but no two days are alike, and the excitement keeps me energized,” says Grina.
Grina is in good company; in 2015, UVM alumna Sasha Fisher ’10 was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for her non-profit organization, Spark Microgrants.