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National Farm to School Network

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Policy Advocacy Encourages Farm to School Growth

NFSN Staff Monday, October 06, 2014

Guest post by Deb Bentzel, The Food Trust 
The Food Trust serves as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

Students enjoy local strawberries. (Office of the State Superintendent of Education photo)

In the farm to school movement, policy tends to be a relatively silent partner to the work many stakeholders are doing on the ground. How does policy get put into place, and how can we rally our local and state decision-makers to support farm to school practices in meaningful ways? We can start by telling stories of where policy in action is making a difference for children, school communities, farmers, and locally owned businesses.

The Mid-Atlantic Region—comprised of New Jersey, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia – has many stories of how farm to school policy has changed the face of school meals, the expansion of school gardening and the funding of these and other initiatives to create lasting, meaningful change for schools and their communities. Here, are two stories of farm to school success—from policy, to practice, to results.

D.C.'s Healthy Schools Act and Healthy Tots Act

The Healthy Schools Act and the Healthy Tots Act of Washington DC are shining examples of how farm to school and child nutrition advocates can work together to support the passage of landmark bills that support healthy food and physical activity environments for children. They are also great examples of how a special emphasis on farm to school and farm to preschool practices can be integrated into broader child wellness policies. Passed in 2010, the Healthy Schools Act expands access to breakfast and lunch, encourages farm to school purchasing practices by providing financial incentives for local procurement (5 cents additional reimbursement for meals containing locally grown foods!), provides grants to fund school garden programs and farm field trips, and has a number of health and wellness components. With ample support from the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools (OSSE) and other local partners, kids across DC are eating healthy, locally-grown foods. In the 2012-2013 schools year, up to 89 percent of DC schools served healthy, local foods to students at least once per month! That’s policy in action. 

It has taken the collective and collaborative work of many partners on the ground—including DC Greens, the National Farm to School Netwok’s (NFSN) state lead for the District of Columbia—to support the passage of both acts and to translate their policy into lasting systems change. DC Greens’ Farm to School director Karissa McCarthy reflects, “The legislation has helped elevate the ongoing work of farm to school practitioners in classrooms, cafeterias and school gardens. We are lucky in DC to have a long-standing stakeholder group that not only championed this legislation, but has continued to carry our collective farm to school efforts forward.”  The recently legislated Healthy Tots Act will support farm to preschool practices utilizing strategies similar to the Healthy Schools Act, including financial incentives for local procurement. We look forward to the development of these preschool programs and to celebrating the great work our nation’s capital is doing to support the health of their youngest eaters!

Student at Ethel Jacobsen Elementary School (Surf City, NJ) work in their school garden. (New Jersey Farm to School photo) 

Five new bills support farm to school in New Jersey

Elsewhere in the region, the great Garden State of New Jersey recently signed five farm to school bills into law that will encourage farm to school practices across the state by supporting both schools and the Jersey Fresh growers. Designed to promote, celebrate and help fund farm to school practices, these innovative bills were the result of years of advocacy and support for farm to school. Championed by the New Jersey Farm to School Network, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Farm Bureau, these new bills are exciting in their fresh approach to connecting schools with NJ-grown foods and their focus on celebrating the great work of those making farm to school happen on the ground. New Jersey Farm to School Network executive director and NFSN State Lead, Beth Feehan, thanked all stakeholders “for their willingness to collaborate these past six years and to find the place where grass roots and institutions can meet to affect change.” And New Jersey isn't the only Mid-Atlantic state with farm to school policy success: Virginia, Maryland and Delaware each celebrate their own “Farm to School Week” thanks to legislative support.

Policy success in YOUR state

How can you get involved in affecting policy change to support farm to school practices in your city or state?  Start by reaching out to your farm to school stakeholders (including your NFSN state lead) to hear the latest about what may already be in discussion, on the docket or in committee. From there, you can testify to your state legislature, write letters of support and educate your elected officials about the benefits of farm to school. You can also participate in NFSN informational webinars to learn more about federal policies like the Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Reauthorization and how federal policy can also support our farmers, schools and communities for years to come.   

More information on farm to school policies across the country can be found in this comprehensive State Legislative Survey assembled by NFSN and Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

In celebration of farmers

NFSN Staff Friday, October 03, 2014

Guest post by Kathie Starkweather, Center for Rural Affairs
Center for Rural Affairs and the National Center for Appropriate Technology serve as the Midwest Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Farm to School Month than to honor the reason farm to school exists: Farmers.

Anybody out there who has tried to grow food in a pot, a small garden, vertically, horizontally … you name it, you know what a challenge it can be. Pests gravitate to your lovely plants. Weather conditions are rarely perfect: too much heat, too much rain, not enough rain, not enough heat…. Growing food isn’t easy. 

So what gets you through all of trials and frustrations? Love and enjoyment for what you are doing. The sense of accomplishment you feel as you see your plants grow, flower and produce. The amazing taste and color of the foods you’ve toiled over. Providing for your family. 

Most of us raise food as a hobby. If we have a hailstorm or a drought, we are disappointed and frustrated, but it doesn’t impact our income or our family very much. You might miss out on the pleasure of eating fresh peas right off the vine, but if you have a farmers’ market in your area, you can find a farmer who is selling them.

Take that love of growing things and eating good food and all those challenges and risks, multiply them many times, and you have a farmer. I want to tell you about three farmers I know and why they do what they do: 

Darlin' Reds Farm

I know two young women who started a small vegetable farm called Darlin' Reds. They both have off-farm jobs, as many farmers and farm families do in order to get by. And while they are fortunate to do work they enjoy in their off-farm jobs, their true passion is growing food and providing it to people like you and me. 

They want children, some of whom have never tasted a fresh vegetable, to eat their tasty squash, peppers and carrots. They want kids to know where their food comes from and that the veggies on their lunch tray come with a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears and love. 

So they toil in 110-degree weather, making sure their plants are okay. Since they farm organically, they pull weeds instead of spraying them. They invest in their farm by adding season-extending hoop houses so they can provide schools with a few more months of fresh vegetables.

It’s hard work, but they think it is worth it if just one more child can experience the taste of a fresh green bean or learn that asparagus tastes pretty darned good. 

Prairie Pride Poultry

A young farmer-veteran I know named Dan raises chickens and sells eggs. He first connected to the land through his grandparent’s farm. Prairie Pride Poultry was started about a year and a half ago, and today has over 500 chickens. Visit his farm and you’ll find those 500 chickens clucking through greening grass and clambering for bugs. With over 450 eggs collected every day, he is pleased and expanding his markets. In the fall of 2013, Dan sought out the food service director at York Public Schools, which is close to his farm. As both of them tell the story, a mutually beneficial relationship began.

The food service director recognized that pasture-raised birds produce healthier eggs. Providing the best food to students was important to her. It has become a great partnership, not only for the students and Dan but also for the teachers and office staff who are now buying eggs from Prairie Pride Poultry.

I write this blog post to celebrate farmers and thank them for what they do. Without them we would have no farm to school program, and we would have no access to fresh, healthy food. 

See if you can find a farmer and thank him or her today in honor of National Farm to School Month. And next time there is a 110-degree day or a month-long drought, remember how lucky you are that somebody is out there, growing food for you and making sure our kids have the best possible food on their cafeteria trays. 

Strange Bedfellows: Growing farm to school through unlikely partnerships

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 02, 2014

Guest post by Betsy Rosenbluth, Shelburne Farms
Shelburne Farms and Vermont FEED serve as the Northeast Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

Kelp growers. Hospitals. Chefs. Mental health agencies. Food shelves. What do all of these have in common?

You might not have guessed it, but these strange bedfellows are all important players in the Northeast’s ever-expanding farm to school programs.

Ten years ago, farm to school was just starting to catch on across the country. The idea of schools partnering with farmers and agriculture organizations was cutting edge. We’ve come a long way since then. Today many schools and communities acknowledge the benefits of serving healthy, local foods in cafeterias and in educating students about farms and nutrition.

But our work is far from done. Here in the Northeast, farm to school programs are using increasingly innovative partnerships to continue expanding the impacts and reach of farm to school. Here are the stories of three programs that are setting the pace.

A first grader at Milton Elementary School (VT) learns about kale. 

Making Mental Leaps in Vermont

We know how healthy, local foods help to prevent obesity and build strong bones. But how much can they influence the mind? The Milton Town School District in Vermont aims to find out.

Milton’s farm to school program is cutting-edge in many ways (read why in Mary Stein’s blog post about her recent visit here). But with a multi-year federal grant for enhancing mental health, Milton is now pushing the boundaries even further.

Superintendent John Barone added several new positions, including grant coordinator Kristen Dillon, who is focusing on systemic connections between wellness and mental health. She works closely with farm to school coordinator Brooke Gannon and Food Service Director Steve Marinelli, breaking down walls and drawing connections between classroom, cafeteria and community services.

In the cafeteria, Steve is starting to offer yoga before school, after which students can get breakfast and go on their way—hopefully more relaxed and mentally centered. In the classroom, Brooke finds that cooking demos and activities are engaging far more students than typical classroom activities, helping to reduce behavior and attention problems among some of the most challenging students. Throughout the school, teachers are tracking behavior and attendance problems and looking for connections to nutrition and health. (Could students be acting out because they didn’t eat a healthy breakfast?) And in the community, the Milton school district is partnering with organizations including the Milton Family Community Center, Milton Youth Coalition, Howard Center for Mental Health and the Fletcher Allen hospital and health care center. Milton serves community meals once a month, inviting local mental health & physical wellness organizations to set up booths and reach families with critical information, while those families connect with each other and enjoy the bounty of local foods on their plates. 

Linking Hunger Relief and Local Foods in Massachusetts

In the Bay State, an innovative partnership between Massachusetts Farm to School and Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger, is bringing fresh veggies and local foods to the table with a healthy dose of education. As a hunger relief organization, Project Bread seeks to increase access to healthy, nutritious and sustainable food for all people. The farm to school partnership helps ensure that many of those healthy foods are coming from local farms, and that people are also gaining an appreciation for farmers and fresh local produce.

Chef Nick Speros leads a kale salad cooking demonstration at a Salem, MA summer food service site as part of Healthy Summer Harvest, a Mass. Farm to School/Project Bread partnership.

Massachusetts Farm to School partners with Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools program, bringing chefs into cafeteria kitchens to cook with staff, helping to implement local foods cooking demonstrations and taste tests at Summer Food Service Sites, and implementing Harvest of the Month activities in target school districts. They also partner with Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program to ensure that school breakfast and summer food service programs offer local foods. 

Bringing the Sea to Schools in Maine

Portland, Maine’s Mayor Michael Brennan wants to increase locally sourced foods in city schools from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2016. Maine has a lot of great products to choose from: blueberries, potatoes, fresh veggies, local meats and cheeses. But kelp? Through a new farm to school partnership with the Portland-based company Ocean Approved, that’s on the menu too.

Ocean Approved grows kelp in the chilly waters off the Maine coast. They say kelp is one of the healthiest “super foods” around, with lots of calcium, iodine, magnesium and iron. And while most of us have probably only tried kelp in sushi rolls, it’s great in a wide variety of dishes.

Healthy? Yes. Kid-friendly? You might not think so, but thanks to creative farm to school activities like taste tests (read up on a kelp pizza taste test in the Bangor Daily News, kids are developing a taste for kelp, and it’s appearing on the menus of school cafeterias. 


National Farm to School Month starts now!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Today marks the beginning of National Farm to School Month. For the next 31 days, schools and preschools across the country will celebrate the local food served in their cafeterias, the gardens in their schoolyards and the food and agriculture education happening in their classrooms. Some will engage with farm to school for the first time; others will enjoy the harvest from years of farm to school success. 

At the National Farm to School Network, we consider Farm to School Month itself to be the product of a successful harvest. Our organization was founded in 2007 to connect and strengthen the many facets of the farm to school movement, and advocating for the creation of Farm to School Month was one of our first national campaign successes. The passage of House Resolution 1655 in 2010 demonstrated the growing importance of farm to school as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies and educate children about the origins of food.

But we didn’t stop there. We also successfully advocated for mandatory funding for farm to school grants through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and for the creation of the first-ever USDA Farm to School Census. State policy is equally import to the success of farm to school, which is why we release an annual survey of farm to school policy across the country. According to our survey, in 2012 and 2013 alone, 20 states passed farm to school legislation and 17 others introduced legislation. But there’s more to be done, and we need the support of local food advocates, child health advocates and anyone else who believes in farm to school’s potential to transform lives and communities. 

This Farm to School Month, will you help us spread the word about the importance of farm to school and the impact it is having in your community? Here’s how you can get involved: 
  • Visit our Farm to School Month page to find resources and information. 
  • #F2SMonth - Use this hashtag to share photos and stories about farm to school in your community. 
  • @FarmtoSchool - follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share our messages with your audience.  
  • Download our Farm to School Month Fact Sheet and share it with your community: parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, producers at your local farmers’ market … anyone!
  • Use our Communications Toolkit to spread the word about your farm to school events and successes. 
  • Order promotional materials to wear and share: posters, stickers, aprons and shirts.
  • Become a member of the National Farm to School Network to stay informed about farm to school policy and events. 
  • Tell us your story: Use the Share Form on our website to ell us about farm to school in your community! Stories help us advocate for and raise awareness about farm to school.
  • Donate to support our work. The National Farm to School Network is the leading nonprofit working to connect and strengthen the farm to school movement. 

Here’s one more reason to get involved: Everyone who fills out a membership form and/or a “Share Form” on our website during October will be entered to win a drawing for $1,000 to spend on a farm to school or farm to preschool project in their community! Five additional drawing winners will also be eligible to apply for a free Project Learning Garden™ lesson kit from Captain Planet Foundation that is valued at $1,000; however, winners must have an existing elementary school garden to qualify. Check out the full contest details.

As a special offer during Farm to School Month, Organic Valley is offering a downloadable coupon for NFSN members only, which can be accessed on our members-only page. Become a member today, then sign in to our website to download your coupon!

The farm to school movement has already seen great success: Farm to school practices are in place at more than 40,000 schools in all 50 states and D.C. and in preschools across the country. This Farm to School Month, help sow the seeds for our next big harvest! 

Feedback requested: Offer your perspective on NFSN

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate the connections that are happening all over the country between children and local food! This year, we are also using the approach of Farm to School Month as a time to celebrate our connection with YOU, our National Farm to School Network (NFSN) members, so we can ensure that we are serving you as well as we possibly can.

We hope that you will take a few moments to complete the following survey to provide us with your perspective about NFSN’s existing services and your ideas about future work.

Here is a link to the survey:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NFSNMemberSurvey2014


NFSN serves as an information, advocacy and networking hub for the farm to school/preschoolcommunity. So far, 2014 has been a great year for our work:

  • Updated numbers from the first-ever national farm to school census demonstrating the breadth of activities in more than 40,000 schools, positively impacting more than 23 million children.
  • Launch of a brand new website, with an increased capability to engage with members and a huge searchable resource database.
  • More than 38 states and DC have successfully worked on Farm to school/preschool policies, as we prepare for Child Nutrition Reauthorization at the federal level in 2015.
  • Release of a pioneering new resource “Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross-Sectoral Framework for Farm to School Evaluation.”
  • NFSN hosted the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, TX, with a record 1,100 participants representing schools, preschools, hospitals, colleges, farms, processors and distributors.
  • And we began to engage with a cohort of Native American communities across the country to ensure that farm to school/preschool activities become a reality in tribal nations.

Through this survey, we hope to examine the value that results from our network: our members learning and working together, accessing resources and best practices, and engaging in policy advocacy efforts. We will be using this information to inform our plans for 2015. The survey is anonymous, so please be forthright with your answers and feedback.

We use the abbreviation F2S/F2P to represent both farm to school and farm to preschool activities.

Please contact NFSN Evaluation Consultant Lydia Oberholtzer (lydiaoberholtzer@gmail.com) with any questions, technical issues or problems accessing the survey.

Thank you so much for your input. I look forward to learning about your perspectives on NFSN’s efforts in 2014, and ideas for the future.

 

Kentucky’s Junior Chef Tournament Features Local Food & Team Spirit

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 16, 2014

(Kentucky Department of Agriculture photo)

Looking sharp in maroon and silver football jerseys, and working together as a team, the Owen County High School Rebels won a state championship Friday. But the sport wasn't football.

Owen County's "Cuisine Rebels," sporting aprons made out of old football jerseys, won the second annual Kentucky Farm to School Junior Chef State Tournament during the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. Their winning recipe, potato-crusted bacon cheeseburger quiche, used 13 Kentucky Proud ingredients, which were grown or made in Kentucky. Scroll down for the recipe!

Junior Chef is a program that encourages high school students to learn how to cook by using local ingredients to prepare healthy meals while at the same time teaching students about agriculture, marketing, organization, teamwork and community involvement.

The five members of the winning team - Hailey Chappell, Carley Bennett, Kadee Carter, Cannon Goodrich, and Morgan Woodyard - were each offered $6,000 scholarship from Sullivan University. The team also received $600 from John Wiley & Sons publishing company, along with free textbooks for team members attending Sullivan's culinary program.

In total, 61 teen chefs from 14 Kentucky high schools faced off in this year’s competition. Junior Chef tournament organizer Tina Garland, coordinator of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's Farm to School Program and NFSN's Kentucky state lead, said the number of schools and students who participated in this year’s statewide competition, now in its second year, was up from the previous year.

The Kentucky Farm to School Program connects local farmers to school districts to make fresh Kentucky Proud foods available to Kentucky children. Participating Kentucky school districts spent an estimated $468,000 on local foods during the 2012-13 school year. A total of 84 school districts are members of the Kentucky Proud program, which helps Kentucky farmers market their products to their local communities.

Want to taste the winning dish? The Owen County “Cuisine Rebels” have shared their potato-crusted bacon cheeseburger quiche recipe - see below! 

Hailey Chappell accepts the Most Outstanding Chef award from David H. Dodd, executive director of the National Center for Hospitality Studies at Sullivan University. (Kentucky Department of Agriculture photo)

Potato Crusted Bacon Cheeseburger Quiche
Winning Kentucky Farm to School Junior Chef State Tournament Recipe
“Cuisine Rebels,” Owen County High School

Crust
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp Promise margarine
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Filling
2 slices bacon
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup kale, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup yellow squash, shredded
1/2 cup zucchini, shredded
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
1/3 cup sour cream

Directions
Heat oven to 350°. 

Place diced potato in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil on medium high heat. Boil potatoes until soft. Drain all but 1/4 cup of liquid. Add margarine, salt and pepper. Mash the potatoes to a smooth consistency. Spoon roughly 2 Tbsp. of potatoes into bottom of greased jumbo muffin tin. Press to the bottom and slightly up the sides to form a crust. Bake potato crusts for 20 minutes or until they start to turn a golden brown.

In a medium skillet, prepare the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon and set aside. In the same skillet, brown ground beef, onion, and peppers. Cook until no pink remains. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine remaining vegetables with ground beef mixture. Add bacon and 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Toss to mix well. In a separate small bowl, beat the eggs, salt, pepper, and milk until well combined.

When crusts come out of the oven, fill each evenly with egg mixture, then evenly divide the meat mixture and top with remaining cheddar cheese. Bake 40 minutes or until golden brown. Top with a dollop of sour cream and serve.

Farm to School Project Awarded Value-Added Producer Grant

NFSN Staff Monday, September 08, 2014

Last month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the recipients of the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program for fiscal year 2014. The VAPG program assists agricultural producers with value-added activities related to processing and marketing of products. VAPG generates new products, creates and expands upon marketing opportunities, and increases farm incomes.  

Among the 247 VAPG recipients named this year was This Old Farm, Inc. in Indiana. The farm was awarded $75,000 to add chopped lettuce as a new value-added product to be marketed in a 400-mile radius around Central Indiana. In addition, This Old Farm is participating in farm to school discussions with the intent of supplying fresh cut produce to schools in the state.    

Erick and Jessica Smith, owners of This Old Farm, are collaborating with the Indiana Farm to School Network to foster relationships with stakeholders. They are using the VAPG funds to conduct a feasibility study to explore production of and processing of romaine lettuce for school markets. An integral component of their farm to school goals requires developing strong relationships with schools to garner support and commitments for local procurement of lightly processed produce. This Old Farm currently operates as a food hub with meat processing, and they aim to use their knowledge and experience to expand the scope to produce processing for smaller growers.

To learn more about farm to school in Indiana, visit NFSN’s Indiana farm to school page. To read more about the VAPG awards, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog post



Farm to school highlighted at the F2Ti Symposium, New Orleans

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 04, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

Last month, I attended the 2nd Farm to Table International (F2Ti) Symposium in New Orleans. Farm to school was very well represented at this event and was a topic of great interest among attendees.


Katie Mularz, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) Louisiana State Lead kicked off a Statewide Farm to School Summit of stakeholders to strategize and plan the collaborative work that lies ahead to support robust farm to school activities in Louisiana. The high level of engagement of this group was impressive – they were thinking big about statewide legislative support for farm to school, but planning for baby steps towards it, such as populating a Louisiana Farm to School website to share best practices and promote networking, encouraging state agencies to have a unified voice with regards to farm to school, and perhaps hosting an in-person gathering twice a year to supplement the monthly calls that Katie hosts already. To stay connected with farm to school in Louisiana, contact Katie Mularz.



I had the opportunity to present at a plenary session, during which I highlighted the history, evolution and bright future of farm to school in the US, touching on the importance of local, state and national policy to raise the value placed on school meal programs.  


Through an informational workshop, Katie Mularz and Pam Kingfisher (NFSN’s South Regional Lead Agent ) described efforts at the state and regional levels, including work in tribal nations, and guided participants to resources in the region. Nicole Zammit, USDA Farm to School Southwest Regional Lead, shared the agency’s involvement and commitment to farm to school, with specific resources, grants and guidance on how to overcome challenges. Leesa Carter from the Captain Planet Foundation rounded off the discussion with best practices and lessons from their Learning Gardens program, which offers a curriculum kit, mobile, cooking carts, garden signs and guidance to elementary schools. This local initiative with schools in Atlanta, GA and Ventura, CA is going national this fall: Schools across the country will be able to apply to access these resources from Captain Planet Foundation. Stay tuned for more information on their website.


The local media was supportive of farm to school efforts too – check out this report from the TV show This Week in Louisiana Agriculture.


Also at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Kid Chef Eliana – author, radio show host and a local food personality, sharing her passion for real food. With the younger generation’s leaders like Eliana involved, the future of farm to school in Louisiana is bright.





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