Kristof Grina ’12 Converts Unused Rooftops into Thriving Spaces

By Dorothy Neagle
Good Food Jobs

Up Top Acres operates rooftop organic, soil-based farms throughout the Washington, D.C metro region. As co-founder and farm director, UVM alumnus Kristof Grina ’12 oversees all aspects of the operation, from initial installation to the harvest and distribution of produce. Kristof talked to the team at Good Food Jobs about his work.


When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

My work in food started with an interest in plants and was further nurtured as I studied plant and soil science at the University of Vermont. I was drawn to issues surrounding industrial agriculture and found a solution worth working towards in small-scale organic agriculture. Further inspired by working farmers, I realized that research wasn’t the path for me. I enjoy the daily motions of a working farm, interacting with customers at market, and the sense of self-worth a season of growing brings.

How did you get your current good food job?

The genesis of my current good food job began in a bar with friends. I was with friends from high school and one of them, Kathleen, who was in urban planning in D.C., mentioned that she had recently visited a rooftop farm Brooklyn. She expressed interest in bringing that to DC and three years later, here we are. We started the company in Kathleen’s apartment in January 2014 and gave ourselves job titles that do a poor job of capturing the wide-ranging responsibilities that we take on.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job? 

From a farming standpoint, my experience working on and managing organic farms outside of Washington, D.C., has prepared me to grow food. Growing up in a city prepared me for everything else that goes into making rooftop farming a reality; knowing how institutions interact, or how to speak to a real estate developer as opposed to a city council member. These are things that I witnessed family friends and community members doing throughout my childhood.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream? 

Taking our idea from an idea, to a well thought out business plan, to a signed agreement, to a functioning rooftop farm. We spent nearly two years with full-time jobs, working nights, grinding to make this a reality. The thought of quitting creeps into my mind every once in a while but it quickly is pushed away by the passion I feel for the work I am doing.

Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?

The best thing I’ve learned from a former employer is how not to run a business. From management structure to treatment of employees – nearly everything was being done wrong. I learned twice as many things NOT to do in a business than things I wanted to emulate.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now? 

Coupling local production with cooperative distribution. As the number of local urban growers continues to rise, whether they are growing in soil, on rooftops, hydroponically in shipping containers, there is tremendous opportunity to band together and market cooperatively.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

A piece of land in southern Vermont.

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