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Beet Hummus Bravery

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 04, 2016
By Zack Silver, FoodCorps Service Member serving at the United Way of Passaic County in Paterson, New Jersey


Photo Credit: FoodCorps
Judah hated food. Well, that isn’t entirely true - he did eat some things. Cheerios in the morning if they didn’t touch any milk and he didn’t have to see nearby bowls of fruit. Plain pasta for lunch with no protein, veggies, or sauce. Snacks, but only crackers. On the days that the Center for Family Resources (CFFR) in Wayne, N.J., offered other meal options like yogurt or stir fry, Judah didn’t complain or bawl like some of his 4-year old classmates, or ask for alternatives. He simply sat in silence and watched his classmates eat. If I tried to put banana on his plate or serve steamed broccoli, that’s when the waterworks would begin.

However, as I started showing up often to CFFR to teach farm to school classes, presenting students with locally grown apples or inviting them to lay fresh compost on our garden’s raised beds, Judah became more trusting of me. When he watched his classmates cook new fruits and vegetables, from school-grown kale to exotic pomegranate and kiwi, he became reluctantly intrigued by these foods. A few months into the year, he progressed to allowing new food on his plate although he assured me he wouldn’t taste it, but would instead prod it with his fork and fingers when I asked him to, so he could feel the mushiness of a raspberry or the hardness of a rainbow chard stalk. These gestures were the first of many small steps Judah would take on his journey towards nutritional enlightenment.

Unfortunately for Judah, the final unraveling of his stubbornness was my blender. I brought it to class to make smoothies, salsa, and dip and its arrival was heralded with cheers from my preschoolers that would make a football stadium shake - it became the harbinger of fun and symbol for tasty produce. During classes, students would go in a circle to measure and add ingredients to blend, then line up for the coveted job of pressing the button and feeling the vibration under their fingers while classmates screamed in joy. Judah loved pressing the blender button. He reveled in his classmates’ yelps and stood triumphant as he made healthy treats.

Although Judah tried to resist, it was impossible to harvest a vegetable from his own garden, clean it tenderly, blend it with other ingredients, and still not want to taste it. And finally, one day in late spring, Judah succumbed. Our homemade beet hummus lay resplendent on his plate made from chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and beets that he had pulled from the soil minutes before and chopped with a plastic knife. Judah gingerly dipped a pita chip into the magenta mass and brought it up to his lips where he stuck out his tongue and dabbed it with what was microscopically the smallest amount of food that could be considered “tasting.” He took another chip and a larger dab. I felt like I was at the top of a roller coaster, climbing inch by inch - I didn’t know when it was going to drop.

Five minutes later, I was spooning second helpings of beet hummus onto Judah’ plate, as he told me that “it tastes like raw candy!” To a preschooler that might be a standard compliment; to me, it was the highest praise I’ve ever received. The techniques that charmed Judah’s palate are helpful for kids at all levels of fruit and vegetable familiarity - they applaud courage, encourage taking just the smallest of steps, and help children find a new “yum” they never thought they could have.


FoodCorps is a national service organization that recruits, trains, and places AmeriCorps members to serve in high-need schools to connect kids to healthy food in school. Serving alongside educators and community leaders in 18 states, corps members focus on delivering hands-on lessons in gardening, cooking, and tasting healthy food; improving school meals; and encouraging a schoolwide culture of health.

From farm to food truck, special needs students take Berry Good Farms “On the Go”

NFSN Staff Wednesday, September 14, 2016
By Ariel Bernstein, Farm to School and Education Fellow

Photo credit: Berry Good Farms, North Florida School of Special Education 
Farm to school's educational opportunities are undeniably important, for the knowledge, skills and experiences that come from learning about local, fresh and healthy food are universally valued. This aspect of farm to school is especially important in specialized learning environments. North Florida School of Special Education (NFSSE) goes above and beyond for the education, growth and empowerment of their students, ranging from 6 years old to adults in their 40s. Berry Good Farms, the school’s farm and horticulture program, offers hands-on learning experiences in growing, harvesting and cooking healthy food, as well as developing unique and useful skillsets in the agricultural and business sectors. Through its many programs, Berry Good Farms empowers students to be self-sufficient and caring individuals against the toughest of odds.
Students at NFSSE face a large variety of intellectual and behavioral challenges, such as autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, down syndrome, and other mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. Berry Good Farms serves as an outlet for these students to be immersed in horticulture education as a means for holistic and applied learning, and thus has a variety of programs for students to participate in. Students learn horticulture on the farm, make and sell dog biscuits as part of the Barkin’ Biscuit program, and learn to cook fresh, healthy food in the culinary arts program. All of these programs utilize produce from the farm and teach students a variety of useful skillsets, enabling them to make connections between their knowledge, their work and their futures. 
The newest program at Berry Good Farms is Berry Good Farms On the Go, a food truck that roams Jacksonville, Fla., procuring, preparing, cooking and selling food from the school farm to the community. After graduating from the culinary arts program, advanced students have the opportunity to work in the food truck as part of a post-grad employment opportunity. Under the helm of Food Truck/Catering Events Manager and Chef Brett Swearingen, three to four students design a seasonal menu, prepare food in a commercial kitchen, and head out into the community for a great lunch hour of selling food in business parks, state agency offices, and wherever else the truck decides to plant itself. Seasonal menu items include a grilled turkey and brie sandwich served with locally made bread, a signature salad with fresh greens from Berry Good Farms, and a refreshing pineapple mojito smoothie.
The truck caters to skills and experiences that specifically pertain to students with special needs and intellectual challenges. Many of these students do well with food prep tasks that require repetitive activities. The students cherish physically applying a specific skill set that they've learned, especially in the context of the food truck business.
The truck, as well as a the farm program as a whole, promotes healthy eating and fresh produce. This is extremely important, considering the high rate of obesity that exists in the special needs community, and provides local, healthy food to the Jacksonville community in the process. In addition, the tasks learned on the truck are useful well beyond the school; these skills and lessons are empowering students to be self-reliant. They can cook healthy meals, interact with the greater community, and utilize their learned business skills in the workforce. Experience on the food truck makes for a great addition to resumes, too!
Berry Good Farms On the Go is much more than a food truck. It is a space that fosters professional, as well as personal, growth for students who have many different intellectual and learning conditions. Students utilize their culinary skills in the context of a commercial kitchen, and they learn to interact with co-workers, as well as customers. It also give students an opportunity to practice managing potentially stressful situations in a positive manner. The kitchen is far from a perfect space, and as Brett says to his students, “It’s okay to mess up. I have been working in a kitchen for 15 years and I still mess up.” Even when the truck is off schedule and customer orders are backed up, Brett teaches his students how to deal with the stress in the moment, and then how to move forward from mistakes, using them as a learning experience and even a silly memory, not a set back.
Berry Good Farms On the Go has not only been a successful addition to NFSSE, but it’s also proven to benefit the entire community. People around Jacksonville see students working in a kitchen and selling food, challenging preconceived notions of people with special needs. The community is extremely supportive of the food truck, creating a positive and inspirational environment for students as they drive through town. As Brett says, “These are incredible young people that can always put you in a happy mood. It is an incredible place.”
Learn more about the North Florida School of Special Education, Berry Good Farms, and Berry Good Farms on the Go by visiting northfloridaschool.org. Contact Ellen Hiser, Director of Berry Good Farms or Brett Swearingen, Food Truck/Catering Events Manager with questions.

Youth teaching youth: spreading a culture of wellness through peer education

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 06, 2015
By Miguel Villarreal, Novato Unified School District
  Photo Credit: Camp Cauliflower
With more than 32 years of experience in school food service, I’ve seen thousands of kids benefit from healthy food experiences in the cafeteria. It’s one of the perks of my job as Novato Unified School District’s (Calif.) food and nutrition director – I have the opportunity to teach kids about healthy eating by encouraging them to try new foods. While we work hard to educate our students about nutrition and wellness, we know that sometimes the best way to learn isn’t from teachers at all – but rather, from one’s own peers.  
In 2014, 16 year-old Elena Dennis approached me with a proposal along these lines. Inspired by a passion for cooking and interest in healthy eating, Elena had a vision to lead a free cooking camp during the summer to teach elementary students about the basics of healthy meal preparation. I didn’t hesitate in telling her that I would be glad to support her efforts. After all, her goal of inspiring kids to enjoy nutritious eating was my goal. With her passion for education and our schools’ commitment to healthy, local food in cafeterias, our combined efforts could be a winning combination for creating a culture of health and wellness in our schools. 

With our district’s Food and Nutritional Services kitchen secured as the camp location and a name selected, Camp Cauliflower took root. Elena began planning recipes, placing food orders, and arranging field trips to local farms. To keep the cost of participation free, Elena secured food donations from local grocery stores and organized a fundraising event. She also recruited two of her high school friends – Michala and Dani Cohen – to assist her as volunteers.

Once the tentative schedule was in place, Elena worked with three Novato elementary schools principles to recruit participants. While only five students – all 8 year-old girls – signed up that first year, Camp Cauliflower was a big hit. The campers spent the week exercising their culinary skills in a professional kitchen, cooking delicious meals from scratch and learning about the importance of a healthy, balanced diet. Elena sourced local, organic products for the campers to make homemade ravioli, salads, pizza, tostadas, guacamole, salsa, agua fresca and many more delicious recipes. 
The campers harvested some of the ingredients to make these tasty meals when they visited the College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus organic farm and garden. When they weren’t cooking or harvesting vegetables, the campers learned about nutrition through activities like blind taste tests and by learning to read food package labels. Every day, the campers widened their knowledge of healthful eating and expanded their appetites for delicious, nutritious food.     

As I watched over the first year of Camp Cauliflower, my excitement and belief in a future generation of passionate, healthy eaters was strengthened. Elena and her fellow high school volunteers were an inspiration to watch as they interacted with younger students. This experience of peer education not only provided these high school students an opportunity to exercise their leadership skills, but a vehicle through which they were able to become active, motivated stakeholders in our work to create a healthier environment in our schools and community. They’ve shown us that adults aren’t the only ones shaping the food movement – students are also providing vision, ideas, and leading the way.  

This past summer, Camp Cauliflower was in full swing again – this time with 2 sessions and 30 participants – where Elena continued to educate and inspire even more of her younger schoolmates. If the campers’ excitement was any indication, we have many budding peer educators in our community who will be passing on their food knowledge to their classmates. Youth to youth, our students are inspiring each other, and cultivating a community of healthy habits and wellness throughout our schools.    

DC chefs help kids bring farm to plate

NFSN Staff Friday, September 25, 2015

By Lea Howe, Farm to School Director, DC Greens

 (All photos courtesy of DC Greens)

A few months ago, summer school 6th graders at Walker Jones Education Campus excitedly shuffled through the gates of the K Street Farm in Washington, D.C. It was a special day, as two local chefs – Jeremiah and Chris – would be joining the students in the garden. It may seem odd that this encounter did not take place in the school's new state-of-the-art food lab. After all, what were these chefs doing on an urban farm and not in the kitchen?

But farms like K Street are exactly where you'll find Jeremiah Langhorne, executive chef and owner of The Dabney, most afternoons. As he prepares to open his first restaurant this fall, Jeremiah has visited dozens of local farms and urban gardens from which he will source almost 100% of the ingredients needed for his seasonal menus. From heritage breed animals to West Virginia salt, he's taking farm to table to the next level and giving his diners an authentic taste of the Mid-Atlantic.

Today his line cooks were 6th graders. The students led Jeremiah and his sous chef, Chris, around the farm, where together they harvested armfuls of herbs and veggies: basil, mint, swiss chard, collard greens, shiso, garlic, onions, squash, tomatoes and peppers. They hauled their bounty up one block to the Walker Jones Education Campus where in the food lab, students watched with awe as the chefs finely minced the freshly harvested produce. But the chefs weren’t the only ones cooking. The 6th graders helped pluck, chop, peel, mix, and – of course – sample along the way. Their final dish: a Johnnycake with smokey pimento cheese sauce and K Street Farm relish. 

This was the first time most of theses students had experienced the full cycle of farm to plate – harvesting raw ingredients in the garden, preparing a meal from scratch and eating it together with friends. Yet, the power of gardens and food education to teach life skills, share culture and bring people together was obvious from the start of the day’s activities. 

Our mission at DC Greens is to use the power of partnerships to support food education, food access, and food policy so that all students can have these kinds of experiences. As part of our effort to build an equitable, sustainable food system, we believe in putting food education on the menu in every District classroom. That’s why we deploy our Cooking Corps of healthy eating instructors to DC schools with mobile cooking carts and hands-on lesson plans. To expand our reach, we train DC teachers how to incorporate school gardens and food system knowledge into their curricula year-round. And, we help District youth develop entrepreneurial skills by running School Garden Markets that sell affordable local produce to nearby households. We also operate three thriving urban agriculture sites across DC - including the K Street Farm – and work to unite food-focused organizations in our community to promote smart food policy, identify solutions, and make the most of our shared resources. 

We know that the more opportunities young people have to positively engage with fresh fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to adopt healthy habits that will last a lifetime. That's why programs that connect students with chefs can be so important: it provides an opportunity to introduce students to knowledge, skills and desire to become healthier eaters. We look forward to expanding upon and deepening these opportunities with ongoing chef visits, cooking demonstrations and taste tests throughout the school year, because it’s experiences like these that can spark a child's appreciation of good food and healthy eating for a lifetime.



Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner: Student-raised chickens on school lunch trays

NFSN Staff Friday, March 06, 2015

By Sarah Elliott, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Wisconsin state lead for the National Farm to School Network

On January 30, students across the Holmen School District in northwestern Wisconsin had a special farm to school lunch, aptly named “Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner.”  Over the past year, students in Roger King’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) classes raised over 450 meat chickens to be served to more than 3,000 Holmen students during this special lunch. The fantastic partnership between the FFA program; the Holmen’s nutrition services director, Mike Gasper; and the Coulee Regional Farm to School Program, made this extraordinarily unique project a farm to school success!

Last month I interviewed Holmen Mike Gasper, to learn more about this project and other farm to school activities in the district.

What prompted you to undertake this chicken project?
About a year ago, 25 of our FFA students came to me to ask if we would be interested in serving chickens they raised. We said yes, and so began the adventure that culminated in our Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner event.

The school helped pay for the equipment that was needed—feeders, waterers and chicken feed, and in May, the students got their first chicks. When they reached maturity, the birds were processed at a USDA licensed facility and then picked up by our distributor partner, Reinhardt Foods, who froze the chickens and stored them until enough birds had been raised to feed the whole district. The last batch of chickens went to the processor in the beginning of November.

What were some of the lessons you learned during the course of this project?
Well, we learned a lot about raising chickens. And we worked hard to put a system in place to ensure proper protocols and insurance while transporting the chicken between locations. To accomplish this, we actually became a processing member of Fifth Season Cooperative – a multi-stakeholder organization that includes six member classes that span the entire supply chain at the local level. Producers, producer groups, processors, distributors, buyers and workers all contribute. We sold the chicken to Fifth Season, they sold it to Reinhardt and then we bought it back. Now that the system is in place, we anticipate that next year will be even less expensive.  

Was the event a success?
Most definitely! “[This is the] best school meal I’ve ever gotten!” was a comment echoing throughout the cafeterias. In addition to the chicken, we served hydroponic lettuce grown at our high school, locally-grown potatoes sourced from Fifth Season and local milk, plus a non-local fruit. The FFA students helped serve the meal, and everyone had a great time. The cafeteria atmosphere was very celebratory – I even saw some kids doing the “chicken dance!” Our staff did an outstanding job. We are definitely planning on doing it again next year—and have even been talking to the FFA about the possibility of four-legged animals!

What is the history of farm to school activities in Holmen?
We started farm to school in 2008, which was my first year with the district. We started with apples and still partner with the same orchard today. Our county program started the following year, with the introduction of a Harvest of the Month Program and cooking classes with Chef Thomas Sacksteder. This past year we also partnered with the FFA to grow three fields of sweet corn. The chickens were our first meat project, and the first time we served so many local products on one day!  

Farm to Preschool with Pumpkins

NFSN Staff Friday, October 31, 2014

Guest post by Brittany Wager, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project 

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project serves as the Southeast 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. 


One by one, preschool students at Fairview Head Start in Jackson County, North Carolina removed handfuls of pumpkin seeds and examined them carefully before washing them in bowls of water and preparing them to roast.

Christina Shupe, the leader for the activity, answered their inquiries about the different varieties of local pumpkins she had brought to their school that day. “It looks like a spider web in there,” one student commented when she looked down into the pumpkin. “Where’s the spider?”

Christina is a junior at Western Carolina University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program, and is in her second year of involvement with ASAP’s Growing Minds @ University project. The experiences at the "learning lab" sites and the training offered by ASAP builds the capacity of future nutrition professionals like Christina, as well as future teachers and health professionals, to incorporate local food and farm based experiences in their work.

The lesson began with students passing around a "mystery bag" containing miniature winter squash. They reached inside the bag, felt the items inside, and offered up guesses as to what it contained. “I think it’s a bird,” one student guessed. Christina opened the bag and explained to the students what was inside, and they had an additional opportunity to smell and touch the squash.

“After that we looked at the different varieties of local pumpkins I had brought with me,” said Christina. “The students voted as to which one they wanted to open up and look inside.”

After inspecting the inside of the pumpkin, they each reached in and got a handful of seeds, rinsed off the goo in water, and put them on wax paper to bake. “The kids seemed to really enjoy washing off the goo, they were very careful and deliberate about it and were really engaged in the activity,” Christina said. “And of course they wanted to know when they could eat the seeds!”

Experiences like these are having a positive impact on Head Start and elementary students, their families and the university students. In recent family surveys, 74 percent of respondents indicated that their child’s experiences with the project have had a positive impact on how their family eats and thinks about food. The teachers of the project’s elementary and Head Start schools report a substantial change in children’s willingness to try new foods and to eat healthy snacks and lunches. The teachers also report that the multi-faceted approach of farm to school benefits the children academically, nutritionally and socially.

Christina sees the value in the way the project is preparing her to be a leader in her career. “As a future dietitian I hope to continually work to educate all people on healthy and sustainable foods, as well as to provide people of all ages positive experiences with local and healthy produce.”

If you’d like to lead a pumpkin exploration activity with young children, check out the lesson plan Christina used on ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program website.

Kids Find a Chef in their Garden, Learn to Pickle Beets – And Love It!

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Guest post by Dean Zatkowsky, Orfalea Foundation

Outdoor learning, fresh produce, and happy kids.

This past school year, Orfalea Foundation Chef Instructor Janet Stevenson and Explore Ecology Environmental Educator Maggie Iba offered a Chef in the Garden session at Aliso Elementary School in Carpinteria, California. The Orfalea Foundation’s School Food Initiative installed or enhanced 35 school gardens throughout Santa Barbara County in an effort to connect children with how food is grown and encourage them to accept healthy food choices. The same Chef Instructors who empower food service personnel at Culinary Boot Camp visit each garden twice per school year to share their knowledge of seasonality, cooking tips and their conviction that healthy food can taste great.

In this Chef in the Garden session, children learned about food systems and the way food is grown, processed, transported, retailed and consumed. They also harvested beets from their school garden and watched with fascination as Janet and Maggie showed them how to pickle the beets they had just pulled out of the ground.

Students harvest beets under the supervision of Environmental Educator Maggie Iba.

Here’s what most impressed this visitor at the event: When the children were allowed to sample pickled beets, they jumped at the chance and even asked for seconds. Now, I don’t know about you, but I was a picky eater as a kid, and even the words “pickled beets” would have grossed me out. But, Janet and Maggie did such a great job showing the kids how to make a delicious snack from a plant growing in their own garden that the kids were enthralled and enthusiastic.

Participation – and the example set by adults around them – makes a big difference in a child’s receptivity to new foods. The Chef in the Garden program involves the kids and demystifies where real food comes from, opening their minds – and palates – to new food experiences. There are many good reasons to build gardens in schools and yards, but helping children make healthier food choices throughout their lives is at the top of my list. And if any of you are picky-eater adults, remember to set a good example by trying new foods with your kids.

The Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative Chef in the Garden curriculum is available here.

Students investigate the pickling ingredients.


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.

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