Monday, November 27, 2017
Teenager Develops App to Keep Farmworkers Safe in Heat
By Emily Brill
Growing up in a multi-generational family of farmworkers in California’s Central Valley, 17-year-old Faith Florez knows the toll it takes to bring strawberries, almonds and grapes to the table.
Images stick in her mind: Of her grandfather Raymond, his fingers bloody from handling the thorned stems of roses. Of her great-grandmother Stella, a politically minded woman who liked her coffee black, dying at 72 after years of farm labor wore her body down. And of the summer heat — constant, sweltering, alive in her grandfather’s memory as he told stories of working the fields in July and August.
When Florez was a sophomore in high school, she had an idea: What if she developed an app that alerted farmworkers when the temperature grew too hot?
“It’s a common-sense solution to a problem we still have,” Florez said. “Farmworkers still faint and die on the job, even with the amount of regulations out there.”
The only trouble was, she didn’t know how to code. So she wrote up a proposal and sent it to the University of Southern California’s engineering school, where it was selected for development by a group of seven students.
The result is Calor App, an Apple Watch application designed to give farmworkers the tools to stay safe in the heat. After more than a year of development, the app is almost ready to enter the pilot phase. Three farms in Florez’s home town of Shafter, California, have signed on to test the app next summer.
Calor App sends workers a notification when the temperature rises above 95 degrees, alerting them to take a 10-minute break in the shade and drink water. California occupational safety regulations require employers to give field workers a 10-minute break every hour when the heat tops 95 degrees. The app also tells workers how much water they need to drink based on their body weight and includes a stopwatch to time the breaks.
It also sends notifications containing tips on what to wear, eat and drink in order to prepare for work, based on weather data and workers’ individual medical needs. And when the app is finished, it will include short educational videos in English and Spanish informing workers of their legal rights, and providing work-safety tips based on California Division of Occupational Safety and Health regulations. Finally, it will include a widget allowing workers to direct-dial 911 or Cal/OSHA from the app.
When Jeff Fabbri got a call from Florez last spring explaining the idea for the app, the second-generation farm owner said the idea struck a chord with him.
“It makes a lot of sense,” said Fabbri, who says the heat on Fabbri Farms can rise to 110 degrees in the summer. “You can have a tailgate in the morning and remind everybody, ‘Hey, it’s getting really hot out there, guys,’ but during the day, getting a reminder from your watch saying, ‘It’s 95 degrees — take a rest, drink some water’ — I think that’s better.”
Fabbri met with Florez and the development team at USC last spring to hash out ideas for the app. He’s set to participate in the pilot program when the app enters that phase next summer.
“It’s a cool idea to take technology down to the workers,” Fabbri said. “I have my iPhone; I can walk out in the field and look at satellite data and real-time information from the weather stations. Moving that data system out there to the individuals doing field work was a logical step.”
Florez is currently fundraising to take the app, named after the Spanish word for “heat,” to the next phase of its rollout. If she raises $60,000 through the Start Some Good fundraiser page she set up, the money will go toward paying developers to convert the app to an Apple Watch-friendly format, creating educational videos for the app and purchasing 50 Apple Watches for the farms participating in the pilot program.
If she raises $75,000, she will purchase an additional 25 watches and add two more farms to the pilot program. As of last week, the fundraising page had raised roughly $30,000.
Juan Andrade, one of the members of the USC app development team, remembers when he first saw the Calor App proposal in his Software Engineering 1 class.
“It was one of the most detailed proposals that we got,” he said. “It was mostly about the goals it was looking to achieve, and we had a lot of flexibility on how we would accomplish that goal.”
Andrade and six other students — five on the USC campus, one working remotely — first created a web-based application that farmworkers could access through the Internet on their smartphones.
The team began meeting with Florez every Friday, brainstorming ways to make the app better. Andrade remembers the meetings fondly.
“Faith was awesome — she’s really way ahead for being a high school senior,” Andrade said. “She brought out the best in us because of how passionate she was about this. I thought she was much older than she was because she was really practiced, really smart. This was her idea at the end, and we just tried to bring it to life.”
A first-year grad student from Venezuela, Andrade was particularly excited about the project because he has a history of working for social justice.
“Usually when I work on this kind of project, my favorite part is seeing how grateful the people are who you’re providing these services to,” Andrade said.
He got the chance when the team traveled to Shafter to visit a farm with Florez and her father, former California state senator Dean Florez. They walked through fields of almonds, grapes, tangerines and carrots, pulling some from the ground. They talked to farmworkers and the farm owner.
Andrade remembers learning about a farming technique that trains plants’ vines to grow over a stake that elevates the crops to eye level so workers don’t have to bend over to pick them.
“That was a breakthrough thing to see. I thought about how hard they worked on the crops and how it’s improved over time,” Andrade said. “Picking out crops, bending over, must not be easy at all.”
If the project is part of the long sweep of innovations that have helped make farmworkers’ lives a little easier, it also fits nicely into the long sweep of Florez family history. Florez’s family has been working in Central Valley fields since the 1900s. The family also has a history of political involvement, dating back to Stella Florez reading up on every local and state election, telling the other members of her community which candidates had their best interests at heart.
“She was kind of like the wise woman of the town,” Florez said. “She was very politically active, which is where my dad probably gets it from.”
Florez hopes to continue that tradition, whatever she ends up doing.
“I definitely see in myself, in whatever I’m doing, trying to help the Latino community,” she said. “That’s a part of me that remains very constant.”
Founder’s Interview with Univision (Spanish): Una hispana adolescente crea una app para proteger a los trabajadores del campo
StartSomeGood Medium: Interview with Faith Florez: Calor App- Preventing Heat Stroke in Farm Workers
The Outlook: LCHS Senior Develops App to Alert Farmworkers
Bakersfield Californian: Teen with Shafter roots working on Apple Watch app to prevent heat illness in farmworkers