Up Top Acres has successfully convinced building owners to contribute funds to cover operating costs, helping owners beautify unused space and reduce stormwater runoff while producing food.
The company is then able to distribute low-cost products to partner organizations working in DC on food access and economic development issues around the food industry.
Federal programs supporting urban agriculture are largely underdeveloped. In February 2022, however, the USDA announced the selection of 12 individuals to serve on the first Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture. The urban producers’ group should contribute to policy development and help identify barriers to urban agriculture.
Up Top Acres has eight total employees, including co-founder Kathleen O’Keefe and green engineer Nick Berini, who work on the company’s farms.
The farm at the Cushman and Wakefield site, Grina said, features a soilless substrate mix of compost, sand and other aggregates about a foot deep that covers 18,000 to 20,000 square feet. The truss was installed during the construction of the building to design the roof to support approximately 80 pounds per square foot of weight.
Having the truss on the roof, Grina said, allows the building to slow the flow of runoff.
Cities in the Chesapeake Bay area contribute most of their pollution through stormwater runoff from sewers. Buildings with roof trusses, he said, typically have a much longer roof life than other buildings. This is because the crops protect the roofs from the weather.
Rooftops are ideal for growing vegetables, Grina said, because from early spring through fall, crops benefit from direct sunlight from sunrise to sunset.
“So once we hit freezing temperatures, it gets cold and stays cold quickly here,” he said.
“So we put in the warm season crops early, and they last until the first frost. Another unique thing here is that we have the best ventilation you can get. So we plant a crop of basil in the spring, and we harvest it until November, and we don’t have mildew, we don’t have blight.
“It’s more or less kind of a production hub, and because it’s also an event space that we programmed, we kind of tried to grow a variety of things.”
Grina said her business is modeled after a New York-based company called Brooklyn Grange, though the real estate market in DC differs significantly. Buildings in New York are much taller than in DC Many buildings in New York have individual roofs spanning three acres.
Up Top Acres donates food to food banks and nonprofit groups, including Dreaming Out Loud, which is a food hub that runs farmers markets and a culinary incubator program. Grina said his company plans to expand to other East Coast cities, including Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Up Top Acres uses a basic model: grow and distribute produce, host rooftop events, and run educational programs.
“Many new buildings are being installed with green roofs also being installed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification requirements,” Grina said, though Up Top Acres may complete projects. on existing buildings.
LEED is a third-party green building certification program used around the world, focused on creating high-performance green buildings and neighborhoods.
“And so, basically, we’re saying to buildings, ‘You already install this for example, it’s already been installed and you’re paying to maintain it, and it’s been poorly maintained,'” Grina said.
“We can improve it. We can add another layer to it, another function and make it do all the things it used to do. You get really good marketing.”
Todd Neeley can be reached at [email protected]
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