Farm Discovery & Cruzio: Bringing Internet Learning to a Farm Setting

A student logs into school outside at the Live Earth Farm

For Farm Discovery–a nonprofit that connects our community’s youth to a deeper understanding of agriculture, food, and the environment–2020 was set to be their biggest season yet. They expected to have 3,000 kids at their Live Earth Farm in Pajaro Valley that year between school field trips and their youth camp programs where kids learn farming skills, nutritional skills, and environmental stewardship and how these are delicately intertwined. Then, COVID hit.

Farm Discovery Executive Director, Jessica Ridgeway brings a crate of produce out of a
cooler at Live Earth Farm in Watsonville.

Farm Discovery Reorganizes During Pandemic
Farm Discovery, who generally hires from their local community and often hires alums of their programs, committed to keeping all of their employees and acquired PPP funding to make sure they could keep everyone on staff. Next, they developed a program with the food bank delivering the excess from their harvests to get food to those most at risk during the pandemic. Later in the pandemic, when we had all learned more about how to stay safe with masks, social distancing and limiting interaction to the outdoors, the Farm turned to helping students again.

Turning the Kitchen into a Schoolhouse
“Kids were getting desperate to be together again. We saw this great need for care – something for kids to do and low-risk their parents could leave them to learn,” says Jessica Ridgeway, Executive Director of Farm Discovery. Jessica and her team remodeled their summer program making it possible for kids to be together and make friends while staying in a small, safe pod.

Farm Discovery connects kids with the environment and agriculture and part of that is learning how
to nourish their bodies with fresh produce and hands-on experience with cooking and
food preparation. They cook with what they harvest and eat what they cook.

When the school year started up again, Farm Discovery began a distance learning support program and their kitchen became a schoolhouse. Three days a week, 14 kids came to school at Live Earth Farm so their parents could go to work. Jessica recounts one parent repeatedly telling them that they had saved her life because she’s a single mom, had to work, and couldn’t help her child school from home.

When they aren’t in the kitchen-turned-schoolhouse, students do some of their schoolwork outdoors.

There was a considerable problem though–a lack of an adequate internet connection at the Farm. Like many rural places in our county, internet access is a persistent issue and one more glaringly pronounced as we had to school and work from home during the pandemic. Jessica herself lives remotely and she worried about the students’ ability to participate in their classes: “It’s so frustrating and it just adds one more barrier to learning to have their teacher pausing, and connection drops can really distract the students. Connection can really impact how to engage kids.”

Bringing Internet Access to Farm Discovery
That’s when Driscoll’s stepped in with funding for infrastructure and connected Farm Discovery with Cruzio Internet and the Equal Access Santa Cruz County program. A significant portion of Driscoll’s charitable giving has been dedicated to fostering a safe, healthy, and stimulating environment for children and young adults in the communities where they live and grow. In 2020 alone, they deployed $4M in COVID-relief funds across their growing communities around the world to help alleviate some of the community’s biggest challenges during the pandemic.

Driscoll’s recognized that the County’s challenges evolved beyond food security to educational equity as seen in the Pajaro Valley. “In addition to reliable internet access, we were seeing that there was an urgent need for kids to have a safe space to convene and receive in-person learning support which is why we partnered with Cruzio and Farm Discovery. We were happy to see that the children who needed in-person distance learning support the most were able to receive that and more at Farm Discovery during one of the most difficult times,” said Nishan Moutafian, Driscoll’s Northern California District Manager.

Driscoll’s has helped fund multiple Equal Access Santa Cruz County projects during the pandemic.
Equal Access Santa Cruz is a local initiative to close the digital divide in Santa Cruz County. The
partnership between Cruzio Internet and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County has connected over
300 families in need in the last year.

“We’re delighted to partner with Driscoll’s to improve internet connectivity at Farm Discovery”, says James Hackett, Cruzio’s Director of Business Development. “As a local internet service provider, Cruzio has a unique perspective on the needs of our community and the ability to build out sustainable internet infrastructure for those who need it most. But partnerships are essential to do the work and that’s why we are so grateful to Driscoll’s for their support.” Equal Access Santa Cruz is a partnership between Cruzio Internet and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County along with many other community partners to bridge the digital divide in Santa Cruz County and bring internet to unconnected residents and better infrastructure in underserved areas. “The internet was really bad out here. The connection never met the need. Once we got funding from Driscoll’s and connected to Cruzio, it only took about 2 months from start to end. It’s amazing it could happen so quickly after being a problem for so long,” said Jessica.

Cruzio field tech, Jay, installs a radio at Farm Discovery.

As soon as we knew about it, making sure Farm Discovery got connected was a priority for us at Cruzio. Not only is our Equal Access Santa Cruz program aimed at helping students and closing the digital divide, we also deeply respected Farm Discovery’s response to the pandemic which mirrored our own. They kept employees in their jobs, turned to our community to provide immediate assistance, and restructured in a time of crisis to be there for the community through the long haul of the pandemic and beyond.

A student enjoys class from the treehouse. Now that there’s a better internet connection
at Farm Discovery, it’s easier for kids to be full participants in their online schooling.

Looking back and what’s next
Reflecting on the pandemic and the things everyone did to come together, Jessica says, “People really dropped everything to get stuff done. We sometimes get so bogged down in the red tape of things, but we made things work to support people.” At Cruzio we agree. The pandemic brought a huge shift in how we work and opened up the possibility of community effort to make necessities–like internet access and programs for students and families–possible. We’re making huge improvements in ways that were never possible before.

It’s still touch and go what the remainder of this year will look like for Farm Discovery while schools figure out how to coordinate students and if field trips will be possible in the new school year. But overall, things are looking up and Farm Discovery has great plans for the next year such as hiring more local teens and staff and making their programs bigger. Jessica thanks a generous community that has been supportive throughout the pandemic for making this possible.

Downtown Deals to Help You Restart

Santa Cruz County is in the yellow tier, the California economy is set to open up June 15th, and the Downtown community is rebuilding itself after over a year of staying home! We’ve been here throughout the pandemic to support however we can and we want to be here for everyone now as Downtown opens back up.



We’re offering a Downtown promotion to help out. If you’re a business opening your doors, we want to help lower your reopening costs so you can focus on welcoming back your customers. Sign up for Santa Cruz Fiber and enjoy the first three months completely free. See if Fiber is available for you here.



If you’re a freelancer, or remote worker ready to ditch the kitchen table and get back out into a more collaborative workspace, we want to make your entry to coworking – or your return to coworking – as easy as possible. Sign up for a Cruzioworks coworking membership and don’t pay anything for the first 3 months. We expect coworking to make a huge comeback post-shutdown so be sure to claim your spot before we fill up!

These promotions will last through September 30th, 2021. Give us call at (831)459-6301×1 or contact us at Cruzio.com/contact and we’ll get you started.

Happy reopening and welcome back!

Emergency Broadband Benefit: Your Questions Answered

What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills for qualifying low-income households.

What discount is available on Cruzio services?
Eligible households can receive up to a $50/month discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals

Who is eligible?
To find out if you’re eligible, go to https://getemergencybroadband.org/ and click ‘Apply Now’.

Can I qualify directly through Cruzio’s Equal Access program?
No, you cannot qualify for EBB simply by being eligible for EASC subsidies, you need to apply separately.

How long does the discount last?
The program is temporary in nature. The program will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.

What happens when it runs out?
Subscribing households will be subject to Cruzio’s undiscounted rates and general terms and conditions at the end of the program if they continue to receive service.

If I sign up with Cruzio, can I only ever apply my EBB to Cruzio services?
No, you may transfer their EBB Program benefit to another provider at any time.

Cruzio Newsletter #207


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Our Local Employees are Creating Equal Access

Cruzio was founded by people from Santa Cruz, and our staff is hired and trained right here, too. That makes Equal Access Santa Cruz a project of neighbors helping neighbors.

We’ve been building where the need is great

Our team just spent several weeks setting up connections for migrant labor housing communities east of Watsonville. Hundreds of children live there, and need internet for school. There’d been no internet at all prior to our arrival, so it was quite a job. Fortunately Cruzio’s fixed wireless technology — when conditions are right — can connect remote locations quickly and economically.

Residents pay just $15/mo, or even pay no fees at all, depending on their situation — thanks to generous donations, all from local sources. (You can help with the next project, see how.)

The homes were within sight of one of our Watsonville points of presence, and luckily had no large groups of trees, tall buildings, or mountain ridges in the way. (We generally love trees and mountains, but they can be trouble when we’re building our network.)

We wanted to have everything set so kids could get online right away. They’d already missed enough school.

This housing is occupied only from spring to fall, and families were gone for the winter. We wanted to have everything set for their return so kids could get online as soon as famillies returned. They’d already missed enough school.

We started work in early January. Families were due back by April 1st. So we had a short time frame to complete all the connections and wire up every one of 143 buildings in Buena Vista and its neighboring camp, Tierra Alta. From day one, it was go-go-go. Our infrastructure and system administration teams laid out the network plans — with networks, that means keeping track of hundreds of numbers and paths, both physical and logical. Then Adia Schamber and her Field Operations crew took over. 

Construction started January 18th. Children would connect to their Zoom classes as soon as they moved in — if we finished in time. The schedule was tight.

And then it rained. 

Remember the epic downpour in January?

We needed to hurry, so this rainstorm was a bummer…

Tony Guizar Orozco, who led construction at the camps, reported:

“A big challenge we faced while working on this project was getting all the physical roof and cable work done while it was pouring rain outside. We can’t do any roof work while it is raining, so when it began to come down, we had to halt the work on the roof and focus our attention on other work that we can do on the ground. Even in full rain gear, It is quite difficult to run exterior cable while it is raining, and especially difficult to terminate it.

Cam Kennedy, a co-worker, came up with the solution to use a rain canopy to shelter us from the rain while we worked. This allowed us to continue the cable work on the ground while waiting for an opportunity for the rain to stop and finish the roof work — a simple solution that allowed us to continue being efficient in less than ideal conditions. “

So we didn’t lose even one day of work to the rainstorm.

Rainbow over Buena Vista

…but when the rain ended we had a rainbow

Rain was just one of the hurdles

Then there were windy days when getting on a roof didn’t seem like a good idea. And the complicated ballet of COVID: to keep chances of infection low, crews aren’t allowed to combine or trade personnel, so one person’s absence can ripple into a day’s lost work for several more people. It also leads to a litany of precautions and procedures causing multiple miniscule delays: “My mask broke, can you bring an extra?” “I left the hand sanitizer in the truck, wait while I go get it.” All that may seem quaint someday, but it’s been a very real part of our work this year.

Our county badly needs rain, but the lack of rain — aside from the one downpour — did help us finish our labor camp installation in record time. We were able to work almost every day. It also helped that the Buena Vista housing is empty for the winter, so our staff was able to move quickly without bothering people. Managers expected to finish about four houses a day; we ended up finishing 10 a day, and on one memorable afternoon, Tony messaged that he and the team had finished fifteen.

But there was one last holdup…

 

Frost with package and Gigacenter at Buena VIsta

Chris Frost brings hardware, but there weren’t enough brackets to keep routers off the floor

In the last half of March, as we were congratulating our team for their neat, efficient work and the fast internet our tests exhibited, it was time to do the last task. The wifi routers.

We like to mount our routers up high on a wall, securely fastened in place away from spills, toddlers, and pets — who can all be death to electronics, as we all know. Adia, our Field Operations Manager, had ordered the brackets with plenty of time — throughout the project she’d been careful to have equipment ready when it was needed.

But right at the end of the project, as we prepared for residents to return on April 1st with their kids, pets, and spills, our wall mounting hardware was delayed by the manufacturer. 

On March 15th we were told the parts wouldn’t arrive until April 5th. That meant residents would find their routers on the floor when they moved in. Not acceptable! Adia called. Emailed. Pleaded. Got stern. The mounting hardware isn’t expensive, it’s not glamorous. It just didn’t, at that moment, exist. We tried to come up with alternative plans. But there was nothing as quick or as neat to install. So Adia kept after the manufacturer.

After weeks of pushing, at the last minute the manufacturer found some supply and shipped it to Cruzio. Tony and the crew rushed down to Buena Vista and buttoned everything up. And there it is today,  about 140 houses nicely kitted out with top-of-the-line equipment.

Luis, Tony, Ignacio, and Thom

Our fine team: Luis, Tony, Ignacio, and Thom

It takes a team to wire a village

With all our experience and training in the past several years, our team works well together. Chris Frost and James Hackett are overseeing the whole program, working with community members to identify and prioritize where we can do the most good. Alison Lowenthal and Mark Hanford architected the network, and Adia planned every installation down to the last detail. Her team — Tony, Ignacio Espindola-Hernandez, Luis Ruelas, and Thom Gilbert— spent weeks wiring every residence in the camp. The farmworkers are returning household by household, and they have high speed, reliable internet for the first time ever.

This isn’t your Grandpa’s internet — it’s fast!

Our network is a permanent installation, so it will outlast the COVID crisis and provide internet service for families for many years to come. And like our other fixed wireless services, we can upgrade gear when technology evolves.

Folks in the farm labor housing — like all our residential customers — don’t have to sign long contracts, so they’ll get the low-cost, high speed connections for just the months they need it. They’ll have fast speeds for uploads as well as downloads, great for Zoom calls and sending videos to friends, families, Instagram, whatever. We don’t collect and sell their data — or anyone’s — to marketing companies and we are net neutral so their viewing choices won’t be throttled. And our customer service is friendly, local, and bilingual. 

There’s so much more to do

No sooner had residents started moving in to Buena Vista than we started getting messages like these: “My friend that lives in buena vista has great internet and lives in the middle of nowhere like me, can I get it too?”

But reaching such remote locations often requires expensive, all-new infrastructure. It’s going to be a challenge to continue finding funding for communities that are low-income, rural, or both. Cruzio continues to look for every way we can to expand, whether by accepting donations to subsidize low-income families or by working with local residents who have tall houses who can serve others in their neighborhood. 

This work is not easy but it is rewarding. We’re already planning our next projects. Be a part of Equal Access Santa Cruz! Here’s how to donate. Everything helps!

Photo credits: Cam Kennedy, Alana Matthews

Join the Cruzio Team

Cruzio Internet is hiring in 2021! Come join the Cruzio team, a local Internet Service Provider in Santa Cruz, and help us build local broadband. We’re growing our team and expect to hire up to 20 new Field Technicians and Technical Service Representatives this year. 

Work with a fun and supportive team local to the Santa Cruz area.

As the Equal Access Santa Cruz project gains more traction across Santa Cruz County we’re growing our team to fill the need and get everyone connected. So far we’ve connected over 200 student families during the pandemic and are aiming to connect many more in 2021. Our project has expanded to more school districts, low-income housing units, UCSC student programs, and senior living facilities.

We train employees on the job and are seeking entry-level applicants who have an interest in gaining installation, technical, and customer service skills. 

We’re scheduling appointments for a Zoom Interview Hiring Fair and we’d love to hear from all interested applicants. Reach out to us at cruzio.com/careers and let us know some times you are available for a Zoom interview.

We can’t wait to hear from you and meet the new members of our team!

-The Folks at Cruzio

Cats on Computers

Many Cruzio staff members have been working from home for over a year now.

Cruzio’s  logo is a kitty, at a computer of course. And it’s based on our real life experience. During the pandemic, our cats often join us at work. So helpful!

 

Cam found that his cat, Fang, almost matched our logo.

Cam's cat does the Cruzio KItty

 

 

Or, another approach:

Kitty asleep on keyboard

 

Other cats— this is Molly — simply fill in where needed. Sorry, James. Seat taken.

cat on office chair

 

When it’s meal time, the cat gets a little closer.
Hello Iasha. Remember a little thing called feed me now?

Nala over the monitor

 

And drawers are not just for pencils. This is Fulton, who is “always sleeping on the job” according to his person, Chris Frost. Thoughtful to devote the whole desk drawer to comfortable cat naps!

Sleeping on the job

 

Checking email in bed? So is Georgie, Carly’s foster kitten

kitten with iphone

 

And we’re going to sneak a pup in here. Ziggy’s watching his shows.

Ziggy with an ipad

 

Sometimes a kitty’s just got to take a bath, gracefully but firmly, right on the keyboard

cat on keyboard

 

Or drift off to sleep, longing for the “return” of her person, and perhaps a nice dinner to boot

Nala presses Return

Dogs in Blankets

Cruzio’s logo is a cat, but we also love dogs. While working from home, Cruzio staff have been uploading pictures of their canine companions and we noticed a trend. What’s with dogs and blankets?

Yes, there is a dog in here:

Murray under blankets

 

It’s Murray!

Murray in a blanket

 

Sometimes, Murray seems to be using the Force.

 

Ziggy also uses the Force, but is not yet achieving the Jedi Master level of calm. It’s been suggested that Ziggy is with the Dark Side, but we don’t buy it. He’s a good boy.

ziggy under a blanket

 

And then there’s Max’s dog Wasabi, who prefers the burrito, or rather the “dogrito,” blanket configuration

 

Ziggy is often ensconced in luxurious comfort but never seems calm

ziggy with 3 blankets

 

Back to Murray. In one of his many blankets. Murray has it down to an art

 

And as Murray’s person,  Jesus, mentions, Murray will completely immerse himself in blankets, exposing only a sniffer to ensure no treats are missed. Extra points for the four-blanket configuration, the current record.

Yes, Murray does this all by himself.

 

Finally, a couple of cats who like blankets too.

Mark's cat Lenny under a blanket

 

Goodnight!

Cat in blankets

Some Older DSL Services Will End in June

spaghetti-ike phone wiring around a window

John, a Cruzio staffer, took this photo of an actual customer site.

First, be assured that if you haven’t been contacted, you are not affected by the end of these services.

If you are a subscriber to the small number of affected connections, we’ve already sent you email and snail mail letting you know there are only a few months of service left. We’re helping people find alternatives. We’re comping free email service. We’re sometimes sharing a few tears!

What’s happened is that we’re in a race. Cruzio needs to build our own infrastructure around the county to provide service to our community before AT&T decommissions the copper phone lines our older services use.

We’ve been part of an effort to force telephone companies to maintain their lines longer than they wish, and we’ve had some success, though we’ve lost money on the services for years. But some of the longest, oldest infrastructure has been failing. And, reluctantly, service on those lines has deteriorated so badly we will have to let a small number of our accounts go.

More details:

When we build our independent network, we build a solid foundation for the future. Our fiber and fixed wireless services are fast, reliable, and scalable. We’re very proud of our work.

In the past, all our customers were on lines leased from AT&T, built back when telephone companies were granted state monopolies in return for universal service and price regulation. We still have a lot of customers on leased lines where the service is reasonably good.

But in some parts of the county, on our oldest services (which we call DSL 1.5, or DSL 3.0, or DSL 6.0) we have seen a decline in line quality that, since we don’t own the wires, we can’t repair. Some customers lose service for weeks or even months before AT&T even sends a technician to look at their lines. We get distressed calls from our customers, and call AT&T in turn again and again, to no avail. It’s AT&T ‘s plan to drop those lines as soon as they’re allowed. We’ve already been warned that end-of-life on the leased network may come as early as this year. And they’re letting the lines deteriorate in the meantime.

We could no longer charge for such crummy service.

And, though we’re building as fast as we can, some of the places where the copper was deteriorating aren’t yet reachable by our newer network.

We emailed a small number of customers, some of them longtime customers, that their service would be discontinued. And it broke our hearts to do it.

Of course, when some parts of our network are discontinued, other people may hear rumors and think, “is that me, too?” Rest assured that if your service was being retired, you would get months of warning (we sent out emails in February for service cancels in June, and are following up with postal mail and phone calls for good measure).

Cruzio lost this race, and it was a tough loss. But we hope someday to reach every part of the county again. We’re building our independent network out rapidly, building 20 new Points of Presence (PoPs) around the county so far this year alone, each node serving up to hundreds of customers. We’re working hard to serve our county.

Equal Access Santa Cruz FAQ

What’s Equal Access Santa Cruz?
Equal Access Santa Cruz (EASC) is a local initiative to try to bridge the digital divide in Santa Cruz County. This project is spearheaded by Cruzio Internet, working with Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, and other local organizations.

How’s it work?
Cruzio is providing high-speed broadband to qualifying individuals and families for $0-$15/mo depending on their need. Need is determined by the school districts and enrollment in a student subsidized lunch program.

How can get this low-cost service?
We started EASC focused on students in need, especially in South County. That’s still our focus but we’ve also expanded eligibility by working with senior services and fire relief organizations.

What’s the Equal Access Challenge?
We’ve committed to providing subsidized connections totaling no fewer than the number of full-price connections we sell in 2021. Makes sense? If we sell 500 super-fast internet services at $75/mo, we’ll provide 500 for $0 or $15/mo. If we sell 1,000, we’ll provide a 1,000. Simple. For every single full-price signup, we’ll add one more free or subsidized connection. See if you’re eligible for Wireless Pro or Santa Cruz Fiber here.

Is this some sort of slowed-down version of the internet?
Heck no. Unlike some of the bigger ISPs, Equal Access service is exactly the same connection that we sell full price. Fast download and upload, low latency, no data caps. Everything anyone would need for home schooling, video conferencing, etc.

Is this just for one year?
We hope not. We’ve committed to provide each low-cost connection for at least 3 years. If we are able to secure more funding, we’ll keep growing the network and adding more families in the years ahead.

This is great, how else can I help?
If you’re already a Cruzio customer or you just want to help bridge the digital divide, you can add a recurring gift to your Cruzio bill or make a one-time donation through the Community Foundation. If you’re not in a position to donate at the moment, you can still help by spreading the word. Share the Equal Access Santa Cruz website or share from Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.