Santa Cruz Tech Beat


In the shadow of Silicon Valley, a new crop of tech-savvy farmers

By Lyndsey Gilpin
High Country News

April 6, 2016 — Watsonville, CA

(Photos above: Jacob Martinez, left/standing, and youth at Digital NEST in Watsonville. Source: High County News)

Jacob Martinez, founder of Digital NEST, is teaching young Latinos the tech skills they’ll need in a new era of agriculture.

The 90-mile drive south from Silicon Valley to Watsonville runs mostly through coastal forest and along Highway 1, with intermittent views of the Pacific Ocean. Then the road turns inland, and the redwoods and briny air give way to the aromatic strawberry fields of the Pajaro Valley.

Though the two communities are geographically close, they feel very far apart. Silicon Valley is an overcrowded center of technological innovation, made up of mostly white, affluent residents, with a median income of over $90,000. The quiet town of Watsonville is 81 percent Hispanic, with a median income of $44,000, and is culturally and economically defined by its strawberry crop.

Jennifer Magana and her older sister grew up watching their parents work the fields for major companies like Driscoll’s, as they came home exhausted every night, only to get up and do it again the next morning. Magana, now a high school senior, has no desire to labor in the fields. But she also doesn’t want to leave her family, friends and the culture she adores. “I want to stay here and work here in my community,” she says.

Many of her classmates are grappling with the same struggle. Here, where the unemployment rate is 9 percent and 20 percent of people live in poverty, career decisions are complicated by a lack of access to resources like wireless Internet, computers and the wealth of informational and educational tools those technologies offer. Too many Watsonville young people drop out of school, get stuck in low-paying jobs, or leave town to find work elsewhere.

Jacob Martinez hopes to change that pattern by connecting Watsonville’s farming industry to Silicon Valley resources.

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