Food Justice Warrior, Locally-Grown
The corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and First Street, near the Rochester Public Market, is a lively location. First Market Farm, an urban homestead that is working to increase access to locally grown food, community growing spaces, and educational programs, occupies close to 4,500 square feet in this corner of the city. The farm uses raised gardens and a greenhouse to grow food for emergency pantries and for people living in the surrounding area. A part of the Taproot Collective, this nonprofit organization focuses on access to sustainable urban farms, dignified housing options, and educational opportunities. The farm has partnered with multiple local organizations to reclaim the land and reconnect with the way food is grown.
By Karen Saludo
October 7, 2021
October 7, 2021
By Karen Saludo

Food insecurity affects nearly 30 percent of people in eight of Rochester’s highest-poverty ZIP codes. Urban agriculture and community gardens are a great way to provide sustainable food production and supply those in need. They can help address issues of limited accessibility to healthy supplies of food, while also confronting other public health concerns, promoting positive social well-being, and generating green environments.

Leslie Knox ’97 has served at Taproot in several roles, including volunteer/people coordinator, board member, and director of farm operations. During her time there, Taproot, supported by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation’s Community Health Grant, created the Community Food Program, a family-based series of seed-to-table classes held in collaboration with the Rochester Public Market’s new instructional kitchen. The classes have covered community gardening and cooking and food preservation.

Leslie Knox '97
Leslie Knox ’07
“One of the big reasons that I continue to work with Taproot Collective is that, fundamentally, I’m a helper. With my background in social work and the different ways I work to help the community, I’ve found being creative and wanting to make the world a better place through my own action is something that fundamentally balances and motivates me,” Leslie said.

She added: “Taproot’s efforts to make sure people know they have options while empowering them to make better choices has been an emphasis for most of my working career.

“I’ve learned the importance of walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. When my daughter and I go to First Market Farm to work or give tours or just see what’s going on, we are both happy and excited. It’s a safe educational space to build positive memories and really good friendships, too.

“This has, somewhat unexpectedly, helped me be a more thoughtful person in what I do, why I do it, and in what kinds of connections and networks I form—as well as how and what I teach my daughter, empowering her to teach herself and ask questions and learn in a more independent manner.

Taproot collective is a registered non-profit organization providing education and employment through urban agriculture in Rochester.

Leslie is currently facilitating a class at the University of Rochester called “Food Justice, Urban Farming, Social Practice,” while acting as the community contact through Taproot Collective. The class is a combination of environmental humanities and advanced video art.

Students have been utilizing First Market Farm as an additional learning space while putting ideas into action around topics that are central to the class, such as fighting food insecurity and redlining. Among the final projects is a documentary about the organization, with interviews from the Taproot Collective board.

“Students come to Taproot to learn about concepts such as redlining, poverty, and the lack of economic opportunity. Sometimes, the line between the haves and have-nots is very physical and real,” said Leslie. “It’s about being able to see concepts and consequences in action, as well as discovering possibilities, or seeing part of a solution literally under their feet and growing around them. Taproot is something they can be a part of, and this helps the students become more well-grounded in the actual functionality of society and how it isand isn’tworking in these ways.

“I also like to point out that Taproot has been a site for the City of Rochester Summer of Opportunity program and the Summer Youth Employment program for two summers, pre-COVID, and we thoroughly enjoyed working with these students. I’ve been a supervisor for these two programs at Taproot as well as at another site, and being able to have one-on-one contact is something I’ve grown to enjoy. It’s a gift to be  comfortable enough with someone where there is a casual and comfortable exchange of thoughts, ideas, motivations, and questions.”

Harvesting honey from their on-site hive.

“I appreciate youth who may not know everything but are confidently looking for answers and information. They are learning humility, because not knowing everything doesn’t make you less of a personbut striving to know more and know better does make you a better individual.”