Central Valley teens provide sensors to farms that monitor weather, soil to maximize water use

LEMOORE, Calif. (KABC) -- Smaller farms need technology to track weather conditions to make crop management decisions just as larger farms do, but in many cases, they don't have the resources to pay for it. Thankfully, there are teenagers willing to help.

Hanan Ali, a ninth-grader at Coalinga High School, is a member of nonprofit Olinga Learning ,

"I feel like if they can make stuff for games and everything, then they can make stuff to actually help people that are actually having to come out here in the sun and do all the work," Ali said.

Luck of the Irish Ranch in Lemoore and several nearby farms are now getting customized technology to track chill hours, soil temperature and moisture for free as part of a collaboration between students from Coalinga-Huron Unified School District, Aera Energy and the nonprofit organization Olinga Learning.

"If you grow pistachios vs strawberries vs if you raise cattle, they all had certain needs, so we had to learn what those were and then to see if it was something we could help them with," said Vahid Motazedian, the founder of Olinga Learning.

That help comes in the form of five ninth-grade girls at Coalinga High School who, with the guidance of Olinga Learning, are building sensors to help small farmers in their community.

The sensors allow for weather and soil conditions to be monitored remotely, area-specific technology that isn't cost-effective for smaller farms.

"We play a big part with the farmers, it makes us feel good about ourselves," says 9th grader Samantha Vega.

It takes several days to properly irrigate a field, but the sensors allow you to keep the water on in a row that still needs water, but then turn it off in a row that is saturated and that saves thousands of gallons of water.

"The other consideration is we don't have as many people out here as long or we can cost-share across multiple farming operations because if they can check it by the app, they don't have to be here physically on-site," said Jon Spreng, who owns Luck of the Irish Ranch.

In order to transmit the data received from the sensors, they needed help from Aera Energy, which allowed for a receiver on one of its hills to provide a strong, clear signal to the participating farms across the Central Valley.

"Getting everybody involved and getting different ideas and the ingenuity that different groups of people may have... the students may have a different perspective than an oil company who has a different perspective than an environmental firm, but bringing all those ideas together is what really makes this work," said Ali Zauner of Aera Energy.

Olinga Learning was founded in 2010 to empower youth to improve their rural communities.

For Spreng, who is also the assistant principal at Coalinga High School, these young girls are doing far more than helping the community conserve resources.

"These kids have the opportunity to really be college and career ready by doing a hands-on project, multiple projects, and developing technology that is industry level before they even get into industry."
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