Forming a nonprofit organization is not the easiest task, and sustaining it is even harder. Alex Epstein has managed to do both while in college.
Epstein, a junior sociology major, created Philadelphia Urban Creators in 2010. PUC is an environmental nonprofit that aims to empower youth to create “self-sustaining, blossoming urban landscapes,” as stated on its website.
In Spring 2010, Epstein and several others went to New Orleans for a week-long service trip. It was after this trip that Epstein and a few friends founded PUC.
“We realized that the issues of systemic segregation, isolation, inequality, food injustice, land abandonment, obesity, diabetes and chronic poverty in the Lower 9th Ward were so parallel to those issues facing North Philadelphia, so we decided that we had to do something about that in our own communities,” Epstein said.
“The main focus of PUC’s mission is to inspire and energize young people to become pioneers of social and environmental innovation and transformation in their communities, and being a student myself makes it much easier to connect with those that we are working with because we are all around the same age and are all students,” Epstein said.
Epstein now has a team that helps him run PUC, including students Emily Kinsel, a senior environmental studies and French major, and Tiye Jones, a senior criminal justice and African-American studies major and Jeaninne Kayembe, a full-time artist.
Kinsel is the main farm manager. She plans the planting schedule, orders seeds and connects with other urban farmers. Kinsel said she uses the lessons learned from the previous year’s growing season to help make the farm more successful in 2012.
Kayembe serves as marketing manager for PUC. She works to build partnerships in the city and create events for the farm. The first year was spent organizing and connecting with others. Kayembe said they gave out cards to “let the community know we existed.”
Jones works at the farm with local high school students on a regular basis. Students from Randolph Technical High School, located on Henry Avenue, have contributed immensely to the sustainment of the farm, Jones said.
In 2011, the farm “Life Do Grow,” located at York and 11th streets was formed. Every Sunday, PUC members work on the farm with community members, and meet afterward to plan for the week ahead.
“We try to educate people through hands-on work,” Kayembe said.
Members of PUC said their heavy involvement in the organization while still in school is challenging, but a worthwhile cause.
“Sometimes it is stressful, but I love what I do,” Kinsel said. “I always feel better after going to the land.”
Epstein agreed that the balance of being a full-time student and a full-time organizer is difficult. However, he said he believes his role as a student is essential to the mission of PUC.
“While many see my youth as a hindrance to my ability to create the change that I believe in, in the world, I see it as an advantage,” Epstein said.
Jones said PUC’s primary goal for 2012 is to sell food.
“We’re getting more involved with local restaurants and farmer’s markets,” Jones said.
Kinsel said that last year PUC gave away food to neighbors around the farm, which they hope to continue doing this year, as well.
Epstein hopes that by selling food to restaurants, PUC will be able to use some of the money to employ several area teens as part-time farm managers.
In less than two years, Epstein has started an organization that is inspiring students across the city to create gardens in their communities.
“A number of the schools that we are working with have expressed how the experiences that their students have had with us on the farm have deeply moved and motivated them, and would like to start gardens on their school grounds,” Epstein said.
Maura Filoromo can be reached at