Spencer Burton and Rahsaan Muhammad have a vision for building a new local economy – and it's taking root on a vacant lot on North Fremont between Vancouver and Williams Avenues.
Fresh produce, clothing, music and art are blossoming like a vine at the Boise Eliot Outdoor Market, open for business every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
Local institutions including Betty Jean Couture – which provides the electricity for the stage -- and Mother Dear's Tasty Pastries, are joining up with area farmers and residents looking to re-sell clothing and useful items, all in the heart of Albina.
"It's potentially a model for a new economy, a restructuring of the country," Mohammed says. "Bringing people out of their homes, bringing people out of their houses, to meet, to talk to one another, which is something that's been gone in our everyday activity -- making money together, sharing together, eating together, sharing what we grow out of our homes -- that's kind of the idea behind our market."
"We opened it up to the community to make some money, because one of the things I campaigned on was to have local markets for local people," said Burton, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year.
"Right now you don't have a lot of jobs, and people can't afford a storefront, but collectively we can create a market.
"So with our vision and with all our sweat equity getting out there, bringing all the other people with that similar mindset to go out there and sell directly to the public, people have a way of earning a supplemental income," Burton said.
Local farmers are setting up at the Boise Eliot Outdoor Market
Burton had already been meeting with the lot's owner, Ben Kaiser, on the idea of setting up an outdoor market. But when he met Mohammad – who had already started a small crafts market on North Skidmore – the whole idea took off within weeks.
The two have had significant help from the Boise Elliot Neighborhood Association, Page Coleman at the NE Coalition of Neighborhoods, and Kenneth Doswell at Betty Jean Couture – who with his family is set up to sell their original clothes, art, coffee beans and eggs.
Mohammed, who is also well-known in the community for his 16 years of organizing projects, including most recently events and rallies on police accountability, said he has always had a focus on art, specifically stained glass and graphic design.
"I've always been on the streets and activist, but I picked up this craft when I was 16 of stained glass and it's led me into other things like designing and whatnot," he says.
"Meeting Spencer, and him sharing the idea of a market right on this vacant space -- with what I already had on my mind I saw how we could very quickly put something together that the whole community could latch on to."
Mohammad and Spencer have paid out of their own pockets for the flyers and signs up on the lot, and now they've taken their community organizing vision onto an even more artistic direction.
With contributions of giant plywood sheets from the Rebuilding Center, Burton and Mohammad are recruiting local artists to paint colorful panels that will be placed around the lot.
Eventually the panels will be auctioned, Burton said, with half the money going to the artists and half going back to the market to produce a neighborhood mural.
"This is a business model that I believe in," Burton said. The fact that we're starting with nothing and it's starting to happen organically says – it can happen."
For more information on how you can participate with the market, call Burton at 503-803-2699, or email [email protected].