Our Roots

Founded in 2017, Taproot Collective is a nonprofit organization with the mission to design and build holistic systems for healthy local food, dignified housing, and educational opportunities with youth and families.

We envision a city filled with thriving neighborhoods where all people have equitable access to critical resources. We operate with the guiding values of stewardship, integrity, justice, cultural humility, equity, excellence. These principles are central to everything we do.


Taproot is a collection of teachers, community leaders, volunteers, and social advocates, all of whom found themselves united in the common goal of employing the vast resources here in Rochester to implement accessible, sustainable and regenerative food systems. We are currently looking to expand our nonprofit board. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact us at info@taprootcollective.org.

Individual board members are expected to:

  • know the organization’s mission, policies, programs, and needs
  • follow the organization’s bylaws, policies, and board resolutions
  • prepare for, attend, and conscientiously participate in monthly board meetings
  • faithfully read and understand the organization’s financial statements
  • serve as active advocates and ambassadors for the organization
  • give a meaningful personal donation (money or time)
  • maintain confidentiality about all internal matters of the organization

As the highest leadership body of the organization and to satisfy its fiduciary duties, the board is responsible for:

  • determining the mission and purposes of the organization
  • strategic and organizational planning
  • ensuring strong fiduciary oversight and financial management
  • fundraising and resource development
  • approving and monitoring the organization’s programs and services
  • enhancing the organization’s public image
  • assessing its own performance as the governing body of the organization
  • selecting and evaluating the performance of the chief executive (if applicable)
  • participate fully in one or more programs or committees

Stephanie Benway

Board Member

Stephanie is an ecological landscape designer, and educator. She earned a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from SUNY Geneseo in 2008 and developed her passion for the environment while doing archaeology fieldwork from 2007-2014. After completing a Permaculture Design Certification in 2014 she returned to Rochester, NY where she began farming and teaching in urban settings. She now works as the Environmental Program Coordinator for the City of Rochester’s Department of Recreation and Youth Services.


Rani Gupta

Board Member

Rani Gupta, CPA, is a forensic accountant with nearly 30 years as a revenue agent with the IRS specializing in audits of large corporations. Now retired from the IRS, Rani is a small business owner of RG Compliance Services specializing in the investigation of embezzlement, and financial abuse. Rani is married with two daughters and three grandchildren and was born, raised, and educated in India as well as in the United States. Rani has bachelor degrees in biology and accounting from RIT and a law degree from Lucknow University in India.


Amber Powers

Board Member

Amber is a passionate supporter of the environmental justice movement in Rochester, NY. She holds degrees in Urban Planning from the University at Buffalo and Teaching English as a New Language (ENL) from Nazareth and received a Fulbright Scholarship to work in Nepal from 2011-2012. She works as an ENL teacher and registrar for the Rochester City School District. At home, she is an avid gardener and composter.


Lauren Caruso

Board Chair

Lauren is an educator, community activist, and urban homesteader in the 19th Ward neighborhood. She facilitates community-engaged teaching and learning with faculty, students, and partners at the University of Rochester. She holds degrees in sociology, organizational management, and public policy. Lauren enjoys making things and giving thanks with friends, neighbors, and family.


Jocelyn Kopfman

Board Member

Jocie is the civic engagement coordinator at The Harley School. She earned her bachelor’s in Africana Studies at the College of Wooster and she recently received her MS in Human Development at the University of Rochester. There she focused on teaching qualitative research skills to youth to encourage critical civic engagement now and in their future.


Lisa Zeller

Board Secretary

Lisa is a Rochester City School District middle school science teacher who co-facilitates a student-run community school garden in the Marketview Heights neighborhood. An advocate for young people, she works on our team as an educational consultant in multiple settings. She is also currently working towards her doctoral degree in education at the University of Rochester and hopes to conduct research and program evaluation work for various urban agriculture projects in the Rochester community in the future.


Christina Cretelle

Board Treasurer

Chris, a champion of nonprofit business development, leverages fiscal policy to maximize impact. She has a process approach to her work that leaves a lasting impact on organizations she gets involved with. Her passion is to compel the next generation to make meaningful changes in their community through responsible, effective fiscal . She has an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Rochester Institute of Technology. In addition to Taproot, she serves on the Board of Directors at the Flower City Arts Center.


Leslie Knox

Board Member

Leslie strives to be the change she wants to see in the world. She has 15 years of experience in community outreach and social service, and mental health and guardianship for the elderly. She has a Master in Business Administration from the Simon Business School with a concentration in medical management. She now focuses her time on urban farming and community outreach. She also serves on several other community boards, including Friends of the Public Market.

Programs & Services

Taproot Collective offers expertise in a variety of areas related to urban agriculture, youth leadership, and neighborhood development. Our consulting services are available on a sliding scale to community groups, educational and religious institutions, individuals, and socially-conscious businesses

  • Urban ecological landscape design
  • Curriculum development (youth and adult)
  • Fundraising, grant writing, and grant management
  • Facilitation of community-led comprehensive planning
  • Youth and adult leadership development

First Market Farm

Taproot Collective has partnered with multiple local organizations to create a unique urban homestead, First Market Farm. Located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and First Street, a stone's throw from the Rochester public market, First Market Farm is a collaborative project that increases long-term access to locally-grown food, provides safe community growing spaces, and offers seed to table educational programs for families facing food insecurity. The farm, now under construction, will include more than 4,500 square feet of garden space designed to maximize food production and community educational opportunities.

Get Involed

Job Opportunities

Taproot Collective just finished selecting our 2019 Community Food Team for First Market Farm. The Community Food Program is a 7-month youth development program where youth interns design and deliver community garden and cooking classes with a focus on community engagement, intergenerational education, and cultural identities. The Community Food Program will train youth to be social change leaders by exploring issues of social justice, food sovereignty, and community engagement while sharing knowledge and experiences with their communities.

Volunteer Opportunities

Our volunteers make magic happen! We are so grateful for the many volunteers with diverse skill sets and unique experiences who allow our programs and mission to work every day.

If you are interested in volunteering with us or just learning more about Taproot, check out our community work day opportunities on our Facebook events page and sign up to volunteer.

Volunteer Sign Up

News & Events


Build Day with RIT's Engineers for a Sustainable World

April 13th 10:00am - 4:00pm at First Market Farm
Engineers for a Sustainable World at RIT is collaborating with the Taproot to construct a rainwater collection and watering system for the garden and greenhouse at First Farm Market. Taproot will also be installing new fencing at First Market Farm on build day thanks to a generous grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation. Lunch will be provided if you sign up to volunteer in advance.

A Farm Grows

City Newspaper

A farm grows near the Public Market

By Jeremy Moule
Photos: Ryan Williamson
"But ultimately, Taproot hopes to demonstrate what residential-scale gardens can accomplish, to encourage people to grow food and ornamental plants in their neighborhoods, and to help their neighbors reap the community-building benefits of urban agriculture, Powers and Knox say."

D&C Worms

Democrat and Chronicle:

Simple Compost System Turns Food Scraps into Rich Soil

By Patti Singer
Photos: Shawn Dowd
A simple step-by-step introduction to setting up an at-home vermicomposting system.

UAWG Conference Flyer

Urban Agriculture Working Group's Annual Conference

May 4th 9:30am - 4:00pm at RCSD World of Inquiry School #58
Join the Taproot at the Urban Agriculture Working Group's 4th Annual Urban Ag Conference! This a day for community and home gardeners, educators, and leaders in Rochester to connect and celebrate urban agriculture! There will be workshops, garden tours, discussions, tabling sessions, a seed swap, and lunch! Register now!

Harvest Party

Open Mic Rochester

Taproot Collective: One year Later

By Vanessa J. Cheeks
"Taproot Collective is on track to provide the Marketview Heights Neighborhood with access to local, fresh foods and housing options. But, as they enter their second year, and increase projects they need more helping hands. “We are always looking for more volunteers,” said Caruso, who wants more people in the community to roll up their sleeves and help with this large community initiative."

First Market Farm This Way

Open Mic Rochester

Taproot Collective Gears Up for Busy Summer Months

By Alyssa Pressler
Photos: Tianna Mañón
"With a Foodlink grant and a lot of passion, Taproot Collective is getting ready for a busy summer developing the First Market Farm in Rochester..."


13 WHAM: Many Voices, Many Visions

Interview with Taproot Collecitve

By Norma Holland
Watch Norma Holland's interview with Stephanie Benway, who leads site design, installation, and management at our sites, and Leslie Knox, who coordinate volunteer outreach for Taproot.


City Newspaper

Planting the Seed: Urban Farms are Providing Food and Hope in Rochester

By Jeremy Moule
Photos: Kevin Fuller
"...Urban agriculture, it turns out, is also a powerful tool for strengthening neighborhoods. Community gardens can develop into neighborhood anchors, places where people can gather, says Powers, who worked in urban planning before becoming a teacher. The gardens stitch communities together, she says, which in turn helps people better advocate for their neighborhoods..."


Garlic Planting Volunteer Day

Saturday, 11/3/18 from 12:00 – 3:00 at
First Market Farm

It's time! The garlic seed is ready to be tucked away for its winter rest, gathering the soil's nutrients and warmth under a thick blanket of mulch. These cloves won't plant themselves, so we need many hands to make light work! We will have other seasonal gardening tasks and projects for volunteer help, including painting, construction, clearing out beds, etc. Bring your favorite friend and favorite tool and join us Saturday, November 3 at 12 PM – 3 PM at 20 First Street, Rochester 14605


We want to hear from you! Email us at info@taprootcollective.org.