A new farm is springing up on a rooftop in downtown Bethesda.
On Friday morning, a crane hauled massive bags of soil up to the Equinox rooftop on Woodmont Avenue, where young workers waited with wheelbarrows.
The Bethesda Row farm will be the second from Up Top Acres, a new company founded by three 25-year-old graduates of the District’s Woodrow Wilson High School, and much more ambitious than its first that opened in May in the District.
The massive garden takes up about 6,400 square feet on the rooftop of the four-story building. It’s expected to produce “tens of thousands of pounds” of produce per year, according to Up Top’s co-founder and farm director Kristof Grina.
Grina, who studied agriculture at the University of Vermont, said the company will grow salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and beets. It’s also planning to install a perennial flower garden that will double as a home for insects and butterflies.
Grina founded the business a year and a half ago with friends Jeff Prost-Greene and Kathleen O’Keefe after working in the personal garden of Washington, D.C., celebrity chef Jose Andrés. Andrés helped Grina connect with the landlord at his restaurant Oyamel in D.C., where Up Top built its first 800-square-foot rooftop farm.
Up Top now has a deal in place to sell its produce to Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup restaurants, which will include Jaleo in Bethesda. He said the company also hopes to sell produce to other Bethesda restaurants.
“We want the food from this roof to go as close as possible, and there’s going to be a lot of it,” Grina said.
The farm also represents a major experiment for developer Federal Realty Investment Trust. The Rockville-based developer is known for its local projects including Bethesda Row, Rockville Town Square and Pike & Rose in North Bethesda, which have buildings that feature environmentally friendly green roofs. However, none of the developer’s buildings and shopping centers across the country have a rooftop farm, according to Federal Realty’s sustainability manager Chris Brown.
He said green roofs are often built with inedible vegetation as a way to manage stormwater and reduce the heat rooftops generate while baking in the sun. Brown said it was a natural step for the company to try growing food on a roof.
He said the farm has the ability to benefit tenants and the community “at very little cost.” He described the Equinox farm as a test program that could result in more rooftop gardens at buildings the company owns.
“This is an idea we’re supporting because we think it makes sense,” Brown said.
Brown said part of the reason the company chose the Equinox roof as its test subject is because the building already had a green roof. Green roofs, with inches of soil in place, are typically more heavy than a traditional tar or shingle roof and require additional structural support. He also said he thinks the community will like the idea of “roof to table” food.
The developer also worked with the local environmental company incubator Bethesda Green to make the new rooftop farm a reality.
Grina said his crew was expected to finish distributing the 20 cubic yards of soil on the roof Friday and then hoped to have the garden planted this weekend. Up Top will maintain the farm and distribute the food, Grina said. The plan is to have petite greens ready for harvest in about two weeks and then other produce later in the season, he said.
A crane was used Friday morning at the intersection of Woodmont and Hampden Lane in Bethesda to lift massive soil bags to the rooftop.