the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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how does change happen on the land?

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The Edmund Hillary Fellowship just published this great article about Severine! 

There is a question we need to ask when talking about food production. The question is, “Who is telling what story, and on whose behalf?” Is it a story that goes with dinner? Or does it perhaps focus on the “We feed the world” narrative so dominant in the agricultural and general press these days? That story goes something like this: We (Read: developed world) need to grow food as quickly, cheaply, and efficiently as possible in order to be able to feed a growing (Read under-developed world) population that is growing at a rate of change faster than we can keep up with. Crops are necessarily bred for maximum size, yield, speed to harvest, and disease-resistance, while taste, diversity and nutritional value considered somewhat irrelevant. We are told this is the only way to keep up with our growing population.

If we are to believe the predominant narrative, there is no other way to feed a rapidly growing global population.

Simultaneously, there is a crisis looming across much of the developed world. Bluntly put, farmers are becoming a dying breed. The older generation is retiring, while their children and grandchildren now have alternative options available to them — they’re moving to the cities, they’re chasing a multitude of new career opportunities, they are no longer opting for a hard day’s labour in the dirt. They’re not taking on the family farm, the way that generations before have done since the dawn of the agricultural age.

I wrote about the future of farming a couple of years ago, and New Zealand’s golden opportunity to leverage our natural advantages to become a premium producer of sustainably-produced agricultural products, that regenerate the land. Now, we can look to the far northeast at a number of growing movements that can offer a potential pathway for New Zealand’s agricultural transformation. Across the Pacific, there is a seed of hoping springing forth. There are radical new green shoots breaking through the endless monocultures that sprawl across the midwestern United States. There is a new movement of young farmers, who recognise that short term thinking and the ecological damage inherent in the industrial food system, is leading us rapidly towards the edge of the proverbial cliff.

At the coal face of this movement is Severine von Tscharner Fleming, based in Champlain Valley, New York.

In the past few years, members of Edmund Hillary Fellowship team have been connecting with communities who are leading global work around building a robust, sustainable and healthy food system. In conversation with diverse groups from Bioneers to the Near Future Summit and EAT Forum, people everywhere have told us “You’ve got to connect with Severine”. It seems that within both new and ancient holistic farming circles, all roads lead to Severine.

Speaking in the video below at New Frontiers festival in New Zealand earlier this year, Severine describes farming in America today as both a privilege and a service. She has co-founded, led and been involved in a number of different initiatives to bring young people back to the land, and stands as a dedicated voice for regenerative agriculture and land reform. And there is a growing chorus of voices behind her, walking the talk and providing the collective roadmap to feed the planet in a healthy, sustainable way.

Her talk at New Frontiers was entitled “The Project is Land Repair”. This title alone provides an insight into how a generation of young farmers are thinking about what they do. Natural ecosystems are very good at repairing themselves. Plants and trees provide organic matter to the soil below, which composts alongside waste matter from passing animals and birds. This provides the land with the right nutrients that it needs to thrive. The protective canopy of plants drip feeds water to the land, while providing a root system that keeps the soil in place, and shade that keeps moisture in and provides a home for countless helpful bugs and microorganisms. Dozens of other symbiotic exchanges occur to keep the ecosystem in balance.

Monoculture farming strips all of this away. We have placed value on only some parts of the ecological system, devaluing others, removing some crucial parts altogether, and resulting in degraded land. Decades of abuse at the hands of the “produce-as-much-as-you-can-at-all-costs-with-as-little-land-as-possible” mentality, has left millions of acres of agricultural land in dire need of repair.

The young farmers at the spearhead of this land repair movement have a name — the Greenhorns — and they are bringing the “human” back into farming. Greenhorns is a grassroots organisation founded by Severine, with the mission to recruit, promote and support the rising generation of new farmers in America. Or as Severine put it, “it’s about the recruitment of bodies back onto the land.” An identity as well as an organisation, the people who call themselves Greenhorns are those that are embracing farming as a calling and a way of life.

It started with a film project of the same name in 2011, after Severine spent three years travelling across America interviewing young farmers. Originally a platform to broadcast the voices and visions of young farmers, it has now grown to a thriving nationwide community that produces literary journals, almanacs, a popular blog, a weekly radio show, a short film series, and a national OPEN GIS farmer database, while also hosting a variety of social and political events. On a broad level, the work of the Greenhorns is to provide the cultural infrastructure required to inspire an agrarian revolution.

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why rural farming matters to the city

The following article was submitted to the Greenhorns by Freya Yost. Freya is Director of Operations at Cloudburst Foundation, an Italian-based non-profit working closely with the Commonwealth to address climate change and meet the UN SDGs. Her background is in information science, specializing in areas of government information and policy, open source technologies, and digital rights tensions. After receiving an M.S. in Information Science from Pratt Institute, she started facilitating knowledge exchange between indigenous farmers in East Africa as Vice President of the organization A Growing Culture. 

She is a contributing writer at Global Voices, and has published with outlets including the Association for Progressive Communications, Peer-to-Peer Foundation, Truth-Out, and Shareable. She has articles in several peer-review journals including the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Journal and Indigenous Knowledge: Other Ways of Knowing.


 

Cities currently hold more than half of the world’s population, and that number is increasing with rural to urban migrations. Decline of subsistence agriculture, a changing climate, and lack of opportunity are some of the main reasons for migration—all consequences relating to industrial agriculture, the predominant agricultural model in the world.

We know how devastating the industrial model of agriculture is to the planet (draining natural resources and contributing of greenhouse gas emissions) and to rural farming communities (destroying livelihoods and dominating markets with cash crops to be sent away to other countries) but we haven’t heard enough about how “big ag” erodes the resilience of cities. Rural areas are still the main producers of food and smallholder farmers account for 94% of the farms worldwide: there is more space to grow, raise livestock, process food, ecosystem diversity, and richer soils. In fact, the wellbeing of rural farming communities has incredible influence on the food security of urban populations—making the rural-urban relationship inextricably linked. If we allow industrial agriculture to continue to devastate rural farming communities it will only perpetuate hunger in cities. Rooftop gardens and urban agriculture are helping some inner-city communities get access to fresh food, but they are not feeding the world and certainly not the 8 million residents of New York City. When we evaluate alternative models to sustain growing cities we must support the potentially symbiotic relationship between urban and rural. This means that rural issues are urban issues, and vice versa.

Family farmers already produce enough food to feed 10 billion people yet over 1.2 million New York City residents are food insecure and hunger is a grave, global reality. In this context our fixation with increasing crop yields seems rudimentary. The true challenge lies in improving access to food, social and economic disparity, excessive waste, and a centralized food-production system that prioritizes profit above the health and wellbeing of people. As an industrialised, wealthy and leading food producing nation, the US continues to have both hunger and health problems in all 50 states. In New York City alone, the income gap between rich and poor is the greatest in the country. New York City’s food insecurity rate is 11% higher than the national rate. These facts alone tell us how central inequality is to the food system and how, despite growing city populations, we need to continue to invest in rural, peri-urban environments around cities that can ultimately feed urban communities. Well functioning peri-urban areas act as a buffer that benefit both rural and urban areas, disrupting concentrated centers of inequality, and providing opportunities for communities.

There are some powerful examples of cities that prioritized rural-urban food dynamics and established greatly-improved food security. Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state and Brazil’s sixth largest city, implemented a comprehensive set of programs aimed at providing access to food and support to small-scale family farming in surrounding rural areas. The Bolsa Família, a Brazilian national initiative based on the same objectives, reduced the number of food insecure people from 50 to 30 million. These initiatives adopted a policy based on the inalienable right of all citizens to sufficient, good quality food, not unsimilar to the values proposed by the food sovereignty movement.

Food sovereignty, that declares the rights of all people to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food and to control the mechanisms that govern the food system, is a movement pioneered by peasant groups like La Via Campesina—and its relevance is as urban as it is rural. It grew in part out of a fundamental flaw with the food-security approach; that is, that food security falls short of addressing the complexities of the entire system and all the socio-economic and cultural dimensions of the current food-production model. Food sovereignty is far reaching: from the family farmer to the World Bank, the inequalities of power that accompany gender, race, and social class, and violence against women.

The values of food sovereignty have a lot to teach us. The movement moves beyond the overly emphasized “yield problem” to an array of deep-rooted, systemic issues—importantly inequality—that play an integral part of the food system. As we work to improve urban food systems we need to include rural, family farmers in the discussions and strategies. This is how we replace an unjust food system with a democratic one.

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rich people farming

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credit: NRA Show/Vimeo

The NY Times published an interesting article recently about Kimbal Musk’s (brother of Elon) foray into farming.

Mr. Musk is promoting a philosophy he calls “real food,” which nourishes the body, the farmer and the planet. It doesn’t sound much different than what writers like Michael Pollan and everyone who has ever helped start a farmers’ market or community garden have preached for years.

Musk having spent years working in the tech industry has set his sights on ‘innovating’ the food world motivated by his passion for healthy food and what he sees as the ceremony of food. He has effectively dedicated himself to changing the way Americans eat. He is keen to promote soilless farming a controversial, disruptive opinion within the organic farming world.

For all his business and tech acumen, Mr. Musk can sometimes seem tone-deaf. At a conference on food waste in New York last month, he declared from the stage that “food is one of the final frontiers that technology hasn’t tackled yet. If we do it well, it will mean good food for all.”

When the comment was posted on Twitter, Lawrence McLachlan, a farmer in Ontario, Canada, shot back: “You might want to visit a Farm Progress show. Or even a farm. I think you might have missed 70 years of Ag history. It’s Hi-Tech stuff bud.”

To read the full article click HERE


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lessons from a culinary workforce development program

credit: Berkely Food Institute

Berkeley Food Institute Community Engagement and Leadership Fellow and Sociology PhD student Carmen Brick, writes about her experience with workforce development programs for the BFI blog. From the outset, Carmen was aware of the perceived issues with workforce development programmes which are often criticized on the basis that they teach soft rather than hard skills and that they take financial advantage of those without access to other options. Yet Carmen observed another side of the situation from her work with those in the Kitchen of Champions program.

what I observed was that soft skills “training”—ranging from employment services such as crafting a resume to discussing short- and long-term goals and strategies to overcome barriers—was welcomed by many program participants who wanted more support in remaking their lives.

Carmen’s perspective on these programs is interesting and considered but most significantly she recognises that they are not perfect and that there is much room for improvement, but also potential for transforming these programs into resource that can encourage local community empowerment and food justice saying:

Given this potential, advocates and researchers focus upon food justice must learn more about the outcomes of these programs and their ability to contribute to fair employment in the food system.

To read the full article, click HERE


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SAFN award deadlines extended until july 28th 2017

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credit: SAFN

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition has just announced that the deadlines for both the Christine Wilson Award and the Thomas Marchione Award have been extended until July 28th. Eligible candidates do not need to be either an anthropologist or a member of SAFN to apply.

The Thomas Marchione award is presented to MA, MS or PhD students who are and continue to be actively engaged in food security and food sovereignty issues in a way that builds on Dr. Marchione’s work towards food justice, access and food as a human right. The ideal candidate will be working towards “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfil the right to food”.

Outstanding undergraduate or graduate research papers  in the field of nutrition, food studies or anthropology are contenders for the Wilson award.

For more information about the Marchione award and the application process click HERE

For more information about the Wilson award and the application process and requirements click HERE


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letter from keep the soil in organics!

Our friend Dave Chapman has been keeping us abreast of the movement to Keep the Soil in Organic.  As more consumers are becoming interested in locally sourced produce it is integral for us to continue to advocate for organic standards to require soil in certification. Dave recently returned from the Spring National Organic Standards Board meeting in Denver and below he outlines his thoughts on the history and future struggle to maintain the soil in organic. 

“Finally, the soul of organics is at stake. This process will institutionalize the word “organic” within the U.S. government. And if this process proves to be too onerous or false, the soul of organics will be lost. Then, those who love organics will have two choices: to reclaim the word and concept, or find new words and concepts. The future will determine this.”

Michael Sligh in the article “Toward Organic Integrity”  in 1997.

I start this letter with Michael Sligh, a widely respected voice in the organic community. He was the first chairperson of the NOSB many years ago, and he continues to this day to work for strong organic standards and social justice for all in the farming world. Eliot Coleman recently sent me these prophetic words Michael wrote twenty years ago. They were not written about any specific issue, but rather about whether the USDA would prove worthy of being our partner in the organic movement. That question looms large these days as we debate CAFO animals, dubious grain imports, and hydroponic fruits and vegetables all under the aegis of the National Organic Program.
I returned last week from the Spring National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Denver. Many spoke up there to defend the healthy soil movement, including farmers Tom and Anais Beddard, Gerry Davis, Linley Dixon, and Jim Gerritsen. Also, the many voices from the rest of the organic community included Jay Feldman, Sam Welsch, Abby Youngblood, Nicole Dehne, Max Goldberg, Alan Lewis, Mark Kastel, and Maddie Monty.  As I flew home, I was encouraged by the events of the meeting. Just to be clear, there was no expectation of a vote at this meeting on a new hydroponics proposal. Rather there was a proposal offered for discussion. It is the hope of the Crops Subcommittee that they will have a final proposal on hydroponics and soil ready for a vote by the fall meeting in Jacksonville. There will be considerable pressure from the hydro lobby to delay that vote, because public opinion is against them, and a vote could well lead to yet another recommendation to ban hydro.

It should be understood that a call to further delay another NOSB recommendation is really a call to permit hydroponics. It is also a call to continue ignoring the previous 2010 recommendation, the Federal law (the Organic Food Production Act), and world standards. It looks bad to say outright that hydroponics are permitted. After all, who really wants to come out in public and say that soil is not necessary to organic growing? It is a much safer strategy to say, “Further study is required for this complicated issue”.

When I first began discussing this flaw in the standards with the Organic Trade Association a year and a half ago, they told me they supported a quick resolution to exclude hydroponics. That was before they realized that one of their biggest clients, Driscoll’s, was also the biggest hydro “organic” producer in the world. Driscoll’s involvement in hydroponics was such a secret that even their biggest lobbyist didn’t know about it. Once they learned about Driscoll’s involvement, OTA quickly became the leaders of the “Delay Forever” movement. But this issue has already been debated on and off in the National Organic Program for the last 9 years. There has also been a fifteen person USDA task force that studied the issue for half a year. The question is actually straightforward: Is organic agriculture fundamentally based on healthy soil? In the EU, the simple answer has been yes.

Even before the meeting, many people submitted written testimony in support of soil to the NOSB, including Dru Rivers, Amigo Bob Cantisano, Eliot Coleman, Lisa Bunin, Roger Savory, Davey Miskell, Skip Paul, Theresa Lam (former USDA Task Force), Leo Verbeek, Peter Bane, Jack Kittredge, Colehour Bondera (former NOSB), Thea Carlson, Gabe Cox, Frank Morton, Dan Pullman, Tim O’Dell, Judith Schwartz, Tom Willey, Alan Schofield, John Bierenbaum (Former USDA Task Force), Jake Guest, Nick Maravell (former NOSB), Rob van Paassen, Joan Gussow (former NOSB), Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, Montana Organic Association, NOFA VT, NOFA NY, Center For Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Organic Advocacy, PCC Natural Foods, IFOAM EU, NOFA Interstate Council, Cornucopia, and National Organic Coalition. There were many, many more, far too many to mention, with over 650 people and organizations sending in testimony in opposition to hydro in organic. My thanks to all of you who took the time to write a letter to the USDA. It makes a difference. And the movement is actually much bigger than that. Over 56,000 people have viewed a video of the Farmers Rally in the Valley protesting the dissolution of organic standards last fall in Vermont.

One of the strongest comments to the NOSB came from longtime organic champion Jim Riddle. Jim spoke from his enormous experience as a former NOSB chair, former OTA member, inspector, and farmer. He addressed the clear legal requirement that hydroponic cannot be certified as organic. His position is in complete alignment with the Soil Subcommittee of the USDA Hydroponic Task Force.  In a recent interview, Jim said, “It’s right in the law that the term organic means it enhances the health of the soil. If there’s no soil, how can you apply the term? It’s misleading to the consumer. It’s fine if they want to label the products as pesticide-free, but hydroponic growers shouldn’t be cashing in on the organic market.”

To read his comments to the NOSB, click here:
http://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org/jim-riddle-nosb-testmony

Public opposition to the inclusion of hydro in organic certification is rapidly building. Some people are only now finding out that hydroponic is being allowed on a massive scale in organic certification. Most customers (and many farmers!) still have no idea. At the Denver meeting, there were many people and organizations testifying to keep healthy soil as the basis for organic certification. News stories and farmer/community awareness continue to slowly spread. There is a storm building, and the outcome is likely to be a train wreck causing terrible damage to the USDA organic label. It seems unlikely that the USDA will throw out hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of pseudo-organic, and it is impossible that the growing opposition will just go away. This is a battle for the soul of organic. The outcome seems to be a divorce or a civil war.

The organic movement has always been about integrity.  It has always been about seeking wisdom over just being smart. There are a lot of smart people who don’t believe in organic. Organic is an exploration of something important to our health and to our survival. Our progress has been a long history of (often painful) experiments. As Samuel Becket said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.” But above all, we must make sure that we continue a serious discussion about WHY soil is important. If there is one great opportunity in this disturbing debate, it is to seriously reconsider and examine that critical question.

The growing vocal support and excitement for real organic at the meeting was tremendously heartening. But I also found myself very sad as I flew home. I always knew we would face a battle with the large hydro industry and their many hired “supporters.” Who says you can’t buy love?  The biggest hydro lobbyist is OTA, but there were many others supporting their efforts as well, from the Coalition for Sustainable (meaning “Hydroponic”) Organic to MiracleGro, from Driscoll’s to Wholesum Harvest. MiracleGro testifying on what organic means? Greenhouse companies that have never sold a single organic vegetable testifying in a debate on the meaning of organic? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

But what I found particularly depressing at the meeting was the testimony of the two representatives from CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). CCOF is one of the oldest organic farming organizations in the US. When I started farming so many years ago, they were always seen as one of the good guys. In Vermont, we held them in high esteem. As I understand it, CCOF has developed into two organizations since then; one is farmers and one is certifiers. As recently as a year ago, CCOF took an official position of neutrality on this issue, since their farmer members were divided. But that was before the news about Driscoll’s hit the street. Driscoll’s is one of the biggest clients of CCOF for certification, and they are also one of the largest contributors. Somehow in the last 8 months CCOF has abandoned neutrality, and come outstrongly in support of certifying hydro. Their verbal testimony seemed to support no limitations on hydro beyond requiring that producers use “allowed” fertilizers and pesticides. It would seem that CCOF is calling for the certification of even pure water based hydroponics, as practiced by some of their farmer clients and even one of their own board members. Their biggest justification for allowing hydroponics was that over a hundred of their certified farms are hydroponic! This position is clearly opposing the 2010 recommendation and is even opposing the unanimous non-binding resolution to prohibit hydroponics passed by the NOSB last fall. CCOF has gone a long way past neutrality!

So how could this happen? How could CCOF abandon soil health as the basis of organic agriculture? At the same time that millions of dollars are being spent on a Soil Health movement by the USDA, as many farmers and citizens around the world struggle to create a Regenerative Agriculture movement, and even as General Mills is promising to spend millions to promote soil health, how can one of the oldest organic farming organizations in the country decide to abandon soil health as their central foundation?

I have no good answer for this. I guess we are seeing a growing split between the organic farming movement on one side, and the new “branding” of organic by the USDA and large companies on the other. As people are seeking food with real health benefits and organic has succeeded in the marketplace, the standards and their enforcement have become twisted by economic forces. Now we have CAFO “organic” animals on a large scale being fed questionable “organic” grain from Eastern Europe. Why is this familiar? We have been here before. It reminds me of the early battles with the USDA as we created a real alternative to “conventional” agriculture. The organic movement has always been about the struggle between sanity and commerce.
I talked last year with one young board member of CCOF, and after a long conversation, he said he envied the idealism of the organic farmers of the Northeast. He said that in California, organic is now more of a business than a movement. Perhaps his observation helps to make sense of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s comment that, “Organic is getting stale.”  USDA organic IS getting stale. But if we are talking about real organic instead of corporate organic, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is an ongoing revolution of learning and innovation in real organic. Everything that we have learned about soil science and human nutrition in the last 70 years supports the beliefs of the organic pioneers of the mid-twentieth century. Amazingly, science says that Howard, Balfour, Rodale, and Steiner got it right. What is exciting is that every day we are learning more about how to steward the soil community. There is an exciting new energy coming into our movement as efforts to keep our climate livable build.

It has been said that our efforts are destroying the National Organic Program.This is not true. The USDA needs no help from anyone in destroying the organic label. They are doing a fine job of that all by themselves. Our effort is tosave the NOP from itself. We need to keep the NOP connected to the real organic movement that it claims to serve.  The organic movement will continue with or without USDA involvement. We will keep trying. The choice is theirs.

If you agree with this letter, please share it! The only way we can win this is with many people learning what is happening.

To read my blessedly short testimony, click here: Dave Chapman verbal testimony at Denver

Check out the facebook group for more updates.


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the shortage of livestock veterinarians is reaching “crisis levels”

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Even after the lamb comes, the ewe continues to strain. Sticky with afterbirth, the ram lamb calls to his mother in quavering tenor, but though she lifts her head in his direction and lets out a low moan of response, her heaving sides won’t let her rise and go to him.

In the compounded darkness of the manger—it’s well after sunset—it’s hard to see what’s happening. The ewe stretches a hind leg in effort, and then again, and again, pushing. She stops her rhythmic movement, breath ragged. Someone shines a light: there is something there, behind her hind legs, on the straw. A second lamb? The thing is dark, darker than the first lamb. A black lamb? But no, it glistens too strangely in the odd glare/shadow contrast of the flashlight.

“I—I think that’s part of her body.” What? “I think those are her organs.” 

The stillness breaks. The livestock manager is called. “Prolapse,” “iodine,” “warm water,” “towels.” There is a flurry of activity in service to these words. The rumble of a truck announces the arrival of Josh, the livestock manager, from down the road. He clicks his headlamp on to peer at the lumpen tangle between the prostrate ewe’s legs. “That’s her uterus,” he says, and walks away to call the vet.

He returns shaking his head. The vet can’t come for two hours—there’s another emergency, over the border in Vermont. “I guess I’ll try to put it back, but I’ve never had much luck.”

Josh instructs someone to fetch sugar, someone to fetch a better light, someone to prepare a bottle of colostrum for the new lamb (“He’s huge, look how huge he is! That must be what did it”). He sloshes iodine up to his elbows while two people hold the ewe still. Gingerly, he lifts the uterus from ground, pulling off bits of straw and hay. He pours sugar over it. “The vet says this will make it shrink, so that it will fit,” he tells us. Then in a low mutter, to himself, “This was my favorite sheep.”

After a few moments, he begins trying to push the uterus back into the ewe. But even gritty with sugar, reverse-osmosis starting to drain the fluid, it’s slippery and swollen, bulging any place where Josh’s hands can’t stretch, the task like trying to fit a water ballon into the tap from which it was filled. “She’s pushing against me,” he says. “Her body thinks she’s having a lamb.”

He keeps trying: adding more sugar, repositioning, applying prolonged pressure, but it won’t go. Josh sits back on his heels. There’s nothing to do but wait for the vet.
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