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Teen with Shafter roots working on Apple Watch app to prevent heat illness in farmworkers

Calor App.jpeg

The Calor app team, from left to right: Shobhit Agarwal, Juan Andrade, Marko Djuliarso, Faith Florez, Basir Navab, Virag Sahai and Vahagen Sinanian.

A high school senior from La Cañada with roots in Kern County politics and the farmworker community hopes to put Apple Watches in the hands of Central Valley laborers next summer.

The watches, she hopes, will help protect them from heat stroke.

Faith Florez has come up with an idea for an Apple app – called Calor — that would use the watch’s data gathering, notification and communications tools to track heat exhaustion indicators as farmworkers labor in Kern County’s baking summer heat.

She submitted her idea to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering at the end of her sophomore year at La Cañada High School and the university took up the challenge of creating her app using graduate student coders and developers.

Now she is raising funds through to help pay for the watches, further development of the app and other costs to run the pilot program.

Florez said her grandmother, Stella Florez, whose name she carries as her middle name, died from the strain that field work put on her over her career.

She can remember her grandfather’s stories of working in the field, having pesticides sprayed overhead and working long, hard hours in heat and cold.

“The images tend to stick with you,” she said.

Florez, the granddaughter of former Shafter Mayor Fran Florez and the daughter of former State Sen. Dean Florez, has moved around the state from her hometown of Shafter.

But, she said, she’s taken her family’s legacy and concern for the plight of farmworkers with her.

Florez said that “my passion, my background and my interest in technology” triggered the idea in her and drove her to push it toward reality.

“I am very politically and socially active, which inspired me to pick this project,” she said.

Right now, Florez said, the app exists only in an online format.

But she has a goal to raise $60,000 on StartSomeGood to fund a partnership with at least two Shafter-area farms that will put the Apple Watches into the hands of farmworkers in summer 2018.

So far the fundraising campaign has raised $48,515.

Florez said she is working with Pandol Farms and Fabbri Farms and – if the fund-raising effort brings in a stretch goal of $75,000 – will expand the effort to other, larger farms.

She said the application would send notifications to farm workers, update them on local weather data, host educational content on preventing heat-related illness and serve as a hotline to 911 and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

There might even be ways to integrate the Apple Watch’s ability to track heart rate and breathing into the app and put that to the use of farm workers.

“We wanted it to be about the health not the productivity,” Florez said.

So what is the upside for farmers and ranchers to the Calor app?

Florez said she believes having a technological solution to farm worker heat illness would help farmers lower their workers' compensation and liability costs.

Once the app is ready to be downloaded into watches then the pilot project will go live.

And Florez said she’ll be taking a break from preparing for college to be in Kern County with her grandparents and oversee the pilot project.

James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.

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