Tarshire Battle is the founder of Roots2Empower, a new Pawtucket, R.I.-based enterprise that provides agriculture training to formerly incarcerated people across Rhode Island.
The company, first dubbed Restoration Urban Farm of New England, uses agriculture as a training tool to educate Rhode Islanders who were formerly incarcerated. Battle previously worked at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans and as a discharge planner for the Department of Corrections. In both positions, she said, she saw the challenges that formerly incarcerated individuals faced when reintegrating into society.
Battle had planned to launch a Democratic primary challenge against state Representative Karen Alzate, a Pawtucket Democrat who is chairwoman of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, last year. But she pulled out of the race.
Q: What is Roots2Empower, and how does it work?
Battle: People from communities of color between the ages of 18 and 19 are nearly 11 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males the same age. About 27 percent of formerly incarcerated people are looking for a job, but are still unemployed. Roots 2Empower is an entrepreneurship program that is using agriculture and food production to teach business skills, as well as serving to inspire formerly justice-involved individuals and youth to consider the agriculture sector.
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
Battle: It really came from my own experience as a contracted mental health discharge planner at the Department of Corrections, where I witnessed recidivism. But also, my brother is a formerly justice-involved individual who served five years in 1990s.
[Even after going through a carpentry vocational program] he was unable to find employment after completing his sentence, so he started his own construction business with my assistance. I co-signed for his first van for the business.
Q: What are you seeing when someone who is formerly incarcerated tries to get back into the workforce in Rhode Island, or attempts to access capital to start their own company?
Battle: The barriers for many Black and brown individuals is access to capital due to a lack of resources, any type of credit history or good credit, and steady employment. But also, in terms of the workforce, many can’t even get an interview for the positions they apply for because public portals allow anyone, including employers, to type in your name and see if you’ve ever been arrested and what the charges were. I believe this is used as a vehicle to exclude people with past criminal histories from finding employment.
Q: Why agriculture training in particular?
Battle: To me, agriculture is two fold: It serves to heal when someone is connected to earth as they see their work evolve from seed to food. But it can also serve as a means to teach business skills by involving them in the process of business planning.
Q: Explain how your program offering micro loans and entrepreneurship training works.
Battle: We are researching best practices to provide this option for our participants, such as the Carrot Project and Ujima Project in Boston. Currently, we have a small amount of funding to provide assistance for startups.
Q: Where are you getting the capital for these loans? And how much have you raised so far?
Battle: We’ve raised $5,000 so far on our own, but also received a outside grants. (Roots2Empower was one of 160 nonprofits that received funds from the Rhode Island Foundation through federal coronavirus relief funds. Her organization received about $32,000.)