Farmland Preservation Important for Region

Winter Farmland

Friends,

We continually hear people, from CEO’s of the region’s corporations to regular folks, expressing their desire for preserving more open space in the valley.

While good work has been done on this topic in both counties in the past, as we also watch farmland converting to warehouses and other development around the region.  People are concerned about traffic, air and water quality, access to local food, and the very identity of our region.

What is keeping us from being more effective at preserving open space?

The RenewLV board of directors has recently reset our initiatives and one of them is Farmland Preservation. It is for this reason that we encourage you, if you also support open space preservation in the Lehigh Valley, to help preserve open space with two simple actions:

1) Contact your county executives and county commissioners and ask them to FUND the farmland preservation programs that already exist;

2) Attend the upcoming meetings on open space preservation at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and Northampton County are holding public meetings to get your thoughts and ideas for the new open space plan, Livable Landscapes. We encourage everyone to attend and keep up to date as the plan is developed.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, in collaboration with Northampton County, is currently working on this open space plan to guide future conservation and outdoor recreation efforts within Northampton County.  The focus of the plan will be on environmentally sensitive areas, farmland, trails, outdoor recreation, historic and cultural areas, economic benefits, and the overall quality of life within Northampton County.  We think that this sounds great.  If you like all of these amentities, please attend one of these meetings.

They are looking for your thoughts and ideas on the needs of open space.  Please join them at these upcoming meetings to:

  • hear the results of the 2014 open space opinion survey of Northampton County residents;
  • discuss the proposed vision statement and goals;
  • give feedback

Meeting dates and times:

April 10th

8:30 am- 10:30 am

Nazareth Center for the Arts

30 Belvidere Street

Nazareth, PA  18064

April 13th

11:30 am – 1 pm

Hellertown Historical Society

Tavern Room at the Grist Mill

150 W. Walnut Street

Hellertown, PA  18055

April 15th

6:30 pm – 8 pm

Wind Gap Borough Hall

545 East Street

Wind Gap, PA  18091

For questions, contact Theresa Mackey at the LVPC at 610-264-4544 or tmackey@lvpc.org

For more information:  http://www.lvpc.org/livable-landscapes.html

Now, because RenewLV believes in regional approaches, regional cooperation and collaboration, we think that it would also be great if Lehigh County undertook a similar process — and we have shared our thoughts with folks we know there.  Stay tuned on this one, but if you agree, we urge you to mention the need for a similar study, too, when you reach out to your elected and appointed officials.

Warm regards,

Joyce Marin, Executive Director

RenewLV

No Joke: Slate Belt Regional Police On Patrol

We posted about this the other day, but it’s worth mentioning again. As of today, the Slate Belt Regional Police Department has begun operations.

A decade ago11075186_755540254545113_3606783924429358602_n, it might have seemed like an April Fools joke, given the years of on-and-off discussion about the possibility of a joint police force in the Slate Belt.

Thanks to the leadership of three communities — Wind Gap, Pen Argyl and Plainfield Township — that were committed to working towards municipal cooperation, that possibility has become a reality.

We’re fans of all sorts of regional collaboration, so it’s gratifying to see an initiative RenewLV has been backing come to pass.

It’s also a victory for the residents of the three municipalities, as the new force ensures they’ll receive 24-hour police coverage, often from officers they’re familiar with.

A regional force will improve the distribution and deployment of personnel and the effectiveness of police operations, while allowing for more opportunities for advancement and specialization within the department.

“Through collaborations, there are efficiencies and economies of scale, and the money goes further,” said RenewLV Executive Director Joyce Marin. “Additionally, through cooperation, joint efforts of this type can access more outside resources such as grants.”

The 22-member force is led by Chief David Mettin, former chief of the Pennridge Regional police in Bucks County and the consultant who helped the three communities put the force together.

“We are now in a position to have the increased capacity and resources not seen before in the Slate Belt,” Pen Argyl Mayor Mikal Sabatine told the Express-Times last week.

We’ll echo the newspaper’s editorial board’s disappointment that Washington Township and Bangor — who had been part of the planning stages — chose not to join the force.

But we hope that other communities see what’s happening in the Slate Belt — and what’s been happening for several years with the Colonial Regional force in the Bath/Nazareth area –and are inspired to take on collaborative projects of their own.

Job Growth Doesn’t Always Mean Smart Growth

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By Michael Sutherland

Where is job growth happening in the Lehigh Valley? And is it smart growth?

A recent report released by the Brookings Institution looked at peoples’ proximity to jobs in the metropolitan areas of the United States.

When looking at the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metropolitan area we can see that from 2000 to 2012, more people were working closer to where they live. In the map above the darker shades of blue symbolize a higher percentage of nearby jobs gained while the darker orange colors represent a loss of nearby jobs.

The Lehigh Valley has had an overall 12.5 percent increase in the number of jobs nearby. This is great news when considering the national trend of a seven percent when looking at jobs near the nation’s residents.

And as great as this job growth is, most of it is in the periphery of the suburbs. So what does this say about the proximity of jobs to people in poverty?

The map below highlights the areas of the Lehigh Valley where greater than 20% of the population is in poverty.

map2

So even though we are gaining jobs, the people who need them the most still get the short end of the stick when it comes to job growth near their homes.

The Lehigh Valley has been gaining jobs but many of them are not related to smart growth.

For example, truck traffic through the region is expected to double in the next 25 years, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

These trucks will be headed to the warehouses built on our fertile land for businesses that provide a low return on investment with very few jobs for the amount of space they use.

I mention this because although jobs are coming back to Allentown in the NIZ, the majority of the job growth is still in the suburbs, with companies looking mostly for unskilled labor.

Sure, the distance between jobs and residents in the Lehigh Valley is smaller than the national average, but that does not mean those jobs are in areas that follow smart growth principles.

It may be easy to sprawl right now, but in the long-run it will only cost the residents of the Lehigh Valley an ever increasing amount of money.

As the Lehigh Valley continues to grow, we need to plan for jobs in our urban cores – perhaps by using vacant land in our cities — rather than in warehouses that pave over paradise.

Are we willing to fight for this in the Lehigh Valley?

USDA Awards over $100,000 in Grants to Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Partners to Help SNAP Participants Afford Healthy Foods

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Carol Obando-Derstine of U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s office just alerted us to the great news about USDA awards going to Nurture Nature Center, Easton, Pa., ($56,918) and Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa., ($46,442) to help low income people who are “food insecure” access fruits and vegetables.

The Nurture Nature Center will use their funding of $56,918 to increase fruit and vegetable purchases by SNAP participants in Northampton County by holding food forums.  These forums will discuss barriers to fresh food access in Northampton County neighborhoods and use incentives to increase SNAP participation at new and existing programs that deliver fresh, local produce through incentives.

Rodale Institute will use their funding of $46,442 for the SNAP Match For Local, Organic, Healthy Food In Allentown.   This will incentivize the purchase of locally grown, organic vegetables and fruit with a dollar for dollar match at the point of purchase.

“At Rodale Institute, we clearly recognize the value of organic food to the families we feed. Imagine the impact of now being able to provide them with twice as much. These funds will directly support Rodale Institute’s Organic Allentown initiative, allowing us to advance our mission and significantly improve the health and well-being of individuals in the local community,” said ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, Executive Director, Rodale Institute.

This announcement is a part of a larger national effort by the USDA to get healthy food into “food deserts.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA has awarded a total of $31.5 million in funding to local, state, and national organizations to support programs that help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increase their purchase of fruits and vegetables. Recognizing that all Americans fall well short of the servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the grants will test incentive strategies to help SNAP participants better afford fruits and vegetables. These grants were made through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Secretary, who made the announcement at the Freshfields Farm market in Orlando, said, “Encouraging low income families to put more healthy food in their grocery baskets is part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to improving the diet and health of all Americans.” Vilsack continued, “These creative community partnerships also benefit regional food producers and local economies along with SNAP participants.”

We are thrilled that two of our Founders Team members of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, Nurture Nature Center and Rodale Institute are being funded under this initiative.

USDA is funding projects in 26 states for up to 4 years, using funds from FY2014 and FY2015.  Descriptions of the funded projects are available on the NIFA website.

Priority was given to projects that develop innovative or improved benefit redemption systems that can be replicated, use direct-to-consumer marketing, show previous success implementing nutrition incentive programs that connect low-income consumers with agricultural producers, provide locally- or regionally-produced fruits and vegetables, and are located in underserved communities.

All FINI projects must (1) have the support of a state SNAP agency; (2) increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants by providing incentives at the point of purchase; (3) operate through authorized SNAP retailers; (4) agree to participate in the comprehensive FINI program evaluation; (5) ensure that the same terms and conditions apply to purchases made by both SNAP participants and non-participants; and (6) include effective and efficient technologies for benefit redemption systems that may be replicated in other states and communities.

The FINI program is authorized and funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

SNAP — the nation’s first line of defense against hunger — helps put food on the table for millions of families experiencing hardship. The program has never been more critical to the fight against hunger. Over 60 percent of SNAP participants are children, elderly, or individuals with disabilities, and 42 percent of participants live in households in which at least one adult is working but still cannot afford to put sufficient food on the table. SNAP benefits provided help to millions who lost their jobs during the Great Recession. For many, SNAP benefits provide temporary assistance, with the average new applicant remaining on the program 12 months.

Regionalization Victory: Slate Belt PD Goes on Patrol Apr. 1

Good news for fans of municipal cooperation: After years of discussion, the Slate Belt Regional Police Department will begin operating April 1.

According to a press release from the force’s Chief David A. Mettin, the department will cover Plainfield Township and the boroughs of Wind Gap and Pen Argyl. Its headquarters are on Sullivan Trail at the Plainfield building.

“The officers and staff of the department look forward to providing excellence in police service and working with all municipalities throughout our area,” Mettin said.

RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Plans Series of Events

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RenewLV has been working with the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council to organize a series of events on the topic of “Growing the Local Food Economy,” consistent with the recommendations in the Buy Fresh Buy Local’s Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy. On January 29th, 100 local food advocates gathered to explore ten themes from that report and develop action plans.

Local freelance writer, Tom Coombe, attended that lunch/discussion and wrote this following piece. There’s another event scheduled for March 30th, “What’s Cooking?” exploring food and beverage entrepreneurship.  This piece below adequately describes some of the passion for this topic among diverse voices.

“I’m a chef, and I’m angry,” says Jon Middleton.

A chef at Muhlenberg College, Middleton got into the business because he wanted to make good food.

“Now I feel like I need to put on a spandex suit and a cape. It’s ridiculous,” he said at a meeting in Bethlehem on the Lehigh Valley’s food economy. “Why do I have to be an ‘advocate’ to want good food, good land, good water?”

He corrects himself a few moments later; the word he wanted was “activist,” not “advocate,” but the point is the same: Food shouldn’t be a battle, but it is.

But it’s not a battle he’s fighting alone. Middleton made his superhero analogy in a room full of over one hundred Lehigh Valley acvistists/advocates who care about food.

The meeting was organized by RenewLV, hosted by the newly forming Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council and sponsored by Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream. It asked participants for ideas under ten topics on how to boost the region’s food economy.

There are a lot of issues to tackle.

The recent closing of the Bottom Dollar Food grocery chain left a lot of local neighborhoods stuck in “food deserts,” a term used to describe a community without easy access to affordable and nutritious food.

Local farmland is in danger of being swallowed by development.

“We have some of the most fertile farmland in the country, and, increasingly, it’s under warehouses,” said RenewLV’s Executive Director, Joyce Marin.

And there are people who simply don’t have enough to eat. Ross Marcus, of the Community Action Development Corporation of the Lehigh Valley, noted that his organization collects over 7 million pounds of food a year to distribute to people who are “food insecure.”

“The great part is that it’s available,” he said. “The sad part is it’s needed.”

But the meeting was to talk about solutions rather than problems.

There were ideas that worked on a statewide or even national level, like calls for stronger land-use laws, more voter participation in off-year elections — when voters pick new local officials — and a hike in the minium wage.

There were smaller local solutions as well.

One group proposed the $10 idea: If every local family spent $10 more each week on locally-produced food, it would add almost $100 million to the Lehigh Valley economy.

Gary Warren of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op invited people to invest in the community-owned market that is now being organized, saying 350 households will get the group to its goal.

And Todd Nemura, of the Children’s Home of Easton, spoke of plans to turn their facility’s defunct indoor swimming pool into a greenhouse.

The idea of getting younger people involved in gardening and farming was one the group returned to again and again.

The term is “growing farmers,” shorthand for introducing a new generation to farms in the hopes that they’ll grow their own gardens or even start their own farms.

On some level, younger people are already interested in sustainable, local food. As he talked with representatives from other institutions, Moravian College chef Daniel Leiber got a text about a meeting for later in the day from a student who wanted more organic options.

“She’s not uncommon,” he said. “We do get students who request local and organic.”

The trick, he said, is to keep these conversations happening.

“The more we talk about it, the more they get into,” Leiber said. “It just grows and grows and grows.”

Sign up now for “What’s Cooking” an Event to Encourage the Starting up or Scaling up of Food and Beverage Businesses

Come Sit at Our Table

“What’s cooking?”

There are still a few places at our table for a lunch/discussion on Monday, 3/30, that will focus on growing our local food economy through supporting food and beverage entrepreneurs.

The event will start with Risa Sherman, Manager of Philanthropy for Samuel Adams talking about the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program which supports food, beverage and craft brewing entrepreneurs and helping eliminate barriers to their growth.   She will discuss how the company provides access to microloans, coaching and mentoring, and new business networks and markets and explain the concept behind the shared use commercial kitchen incubator the company has supported in the Boston area.  Panelists will discuss:

  • Insights on Food Entrepreneurship and What a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen Incubator Can Do For Early-stage Food and Beverage Business Owners — Risa Sherman, Manager of Philanthropy, Samuel Adams
  • We Did it!  – Robyn Jasko, co-owner Homesweet Homegrown Hot Sauces; Rynn Caputo, Co-owner, Caputo Brothers Creamery, Spring Grove, PA.
  • Where’s the Money? — Chris Hudock, Rising Tide Community Loan Fund
  • Plan your Work and Work Your Plan – The Business of Starting Up – Ellen Larmer, CACLV

Participants who are interested in developing a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen Incubator in the Lehigh Valley will have an opportunity to discuss it in greater detail with Ms. Sherman during the break-out session following the panel discussion.  The nine break out-session small group table discussions will include:

1) Food Entrepreneurship and What a Commercial Kitchen Incubator Can Do For You — Risa Sherman, Samuel Adams; Angela Callie, CED Coordinator, USDA Rural Development representative

2) Planning for Success: How to Develop a Solid Business Plan — Ellen Larmer, CACLV

3)  “Show me the Money,” Financing Your Start-up Business with Micro Loans — Chris Hudock, Rising Tide Community Loan Fund; Jessica Dokachev, Community and Economic Development Specialist, Northampton County

4) Facility Options for Start-Ups — Dr. Jack Felch, Executive Director of the Lehigh Conference of Churches, Mary Ellen Griffin, Executive Director, The Caring Place, Anna’s Kitchen

5) Marketing and Branding Your Product – Joe Iacovella, Account Manager, Lehigh Mining and Navigation

6) How to Make a Living from a Small Farm – Cynthia James, ASC Program Manager, Rodale Institute; Sara Runkel, Great Bend Farm; George DeVault, Pheasant Hill Farm

7) Running a Fully Legal and Licensed Food Business/ServSafe – Gary Ritter, Environmental Field Manager, Allentown Health Bureau; Beth Somishka, Bethlehem Health Bureau

8) On the Road Again:  How to Get Started with a Food Truck Business – Tim and Hala Bonner, Taza Trucks and member of the Lehigh Valley Mobile Food Alliance, USDA representative.

There is no cost to attend this event, but space is limited so pre-registration is required.

There are still a few spots left. To reserve your seat, go to: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5246/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=73226

Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Continues the Conversation on Growing the Local Food Economy with Lunch/Discussion on 3.30

Food Policy Meeting March 30 2015

Renew Lehigh Valley and the newly formed Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council will be hosting a food entrepreneurship event, “What’s Cooking?” on Monday, March 30, from 12:00 to 2:00 PM at the Fowler Center, 511 E. Third St. Bethlehem, PA.   The event is the second of four lunch/discussion events during the first half of 2015 related to growing the local food economy and are all sponsored by Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream.

The event has been organized to help food entrepreneurs start-up and grow, even during these challenging economic times.   It will provide opportunities for farmers, food entrepreneurs, micro brewers and emerging food manufacturers to network, share information, collaborate on improving their products and learn more about branding and marketing in order to start or scale up their businesses.   The event sponsor, Samuel Adams, has a philanthropic mission, Brewing the American Dream, which is focused on supporting food and beverage entrepreneurship and eliminating barriers to businesses growth.   The event will include a combination of panelists and breakout sessions.

With the culmination of the three year EnvisionLV process, RenewLV has  continued to conduct public outreach and organize public engagement events on growing a local food economy consistent with Buy Fresh Buy Local’s  Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy.  RenewLV’s involvement in this event is consistent with its organizational commitment to ‘Move from Ideas to Actions’ post EnvisionLV.   The fourteen founding members of the newly formed Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, all passionate and committed stakeholders, support growing our local food economy and want to see the ideas in the Food Assessment Report implemented.  The Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Founders Team includes United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, CACLV, Second Harvest Food Bank, Northampton and Lehigh Counties, Rodale Institute, Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley, the Nurture Nature Center, St. Luke’s Hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital, RenewLV, Seven Generations Charter School, Lafayette College and Jordan Heights Neighborhood Partnership.

Renew Board member and chair of the events committee, Julie Thomases, stated, “At RenewLV we are concerned with the loss of farmland in the region and are bringing people together to explore creative ways of preserving farmland, keeping farmers farming, and helping people make money through producing local food and value-added products.  We are excited about the momentum that exists right now on the topic of developing a vibrant, strong local food economy in the region.  Entrepreneurs and small businesses have always been the backbone of our economy, and with the current focus on local and organic food, health and farmland preservation, the time is now to build the relationships to move these ideas forward for a better Lehigh Valley.”

According to the Food Assessment Report, “If residents spent just $10/ week on locally grown food, nearly $100 million in economic activity would be generated annually providing jobs, business incubation and expansion, and economic growth for our local farms, business and service providers.”

The lunch/discussion event will open with a panel of experts including entrepreneurs and individuals who have experience in successful regional efforts to support food entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley and other parts of the country.   Panelists will provide valuable information on topics such as funding opportunities and inspiring stories of how they started and grew their businesses.  Risa Sherman, Manager of Philanthropy at Samuel Adams, will discuss the benefits and operations of large scale shared use commercial kitchen incubators, a concept of that Boston Beer, the parent of Samuel Adams, has supported in the Boston area.

There is no cost to attend this event, but online pre-registration is required.  To register for this event:  click here:

http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5246/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=73226

Support for Food and Beverage Entrepreneurs

Philly Speed Coaching Flier 3-3

Samuel Adams is sponsoring a Speed Coaching for Food and Beverage Entrepreneurs in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 11th from 7-9:30 p.m. at the Reading Terminal Market. They are willing to host an event like this in the Lehigh Valley if there is interest. Anyone who wants to go and can fit a trip to Philly into their schedules is welcome to attend this event and let us know if you think that having an event of this nature closer to home in the fall would be helpful to growing our local food economy.

Meet Your Farmer…and Buy Their Food!

MeetYourFarmer1People in the Lehigh Valley are passionate about the “good food movement” (a phrase we learned recently and will add to our lexicon).

So passionate that they braved icy temperatures Monday night to come  to the Nurture Nature Center‘s “Meet Your Farmer” event — organized by Lynn Prior of Buy Fresh By Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley — to talk about the process of getting locally grown foods from farms to farmers’ markets and restaurants.

The standing room only crowd spent an hour listening to a three person  panel discuss the challenges and benefits of the farm-to-table  movement, and then got a chance to sample some locally grown  delicacies.

The panel included Bolete chef Lee Chizmar, Berks County farmer Tim  Stack, and Andrew Puglia, procurement manager of the Common Market food hub in Philadelphia.

The event gave us a lot to digest, but we want to start with community supported agriculture, or CSA.

CSAs, farm shares, and buying clubs are all ways for you to get fresh, locally grown food directly from a farmer. There are 19 of them in and around the Lehigh Valley.

With a CSA, you’re basically subscribing to a farm. You buy a membership in the farm before the season begins, and get a box of seasonal produce each week during the growing season.

The keyword here is seasonal, meaning now is the time to sign up. Most farm shares, CSAs and buying clubs operate from around June through October and November, allowing you to get the produce (or in some cases, meat, eggs and dairy products) you want each week straight from the farm.

The Rodale Institute, one of our partners in the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, has a farm share program that operates on a pay-as-you-go basis. Visit their website to sign up.

Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley has more information on the difference between CSAs, farm shares and buying clubs, as well as a list of local operations.

Some other key points from Monday night:

  • The demand for local food is growing. Stack, who owns Eckerton Hill Farm in Berks County, says he couldn’t have made a living on just selling locally 20 years ago. Now, he grows over 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including 100 kinds of heirloom tomato (The farm’s website bills them as “The Tomato People.”) Not bad for a business that has its roots in a rooftop garden.
  • The supply is there too, and there’s room for even more growth. Even in the dead of winter, Bolete is able to have seasonal produce from seven local farms on its menu, and Chizmar says he could always use more. Puglia said Common Market is looking for everything from kale to strawberries.
  • If you’re a local farmer, Common Market wants to work with you, but that doesn’t mean they take just any farm. Puglia wants to try to sign up as many Lehigh Valley farms as he can to provide healthy, locally grown foods to Sodexo. But there are certain factors he’s looking for: consistency of product, the ability to deliver (literally, as in driving your food in on a truck), and the ability to produce enough for institutional use. He’s also looking at farms that have gotten GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification or are at least considering/on their way to getting it.

It was a satisfying discussion, and there’s still a lot more to talk about. If you want to get involved in the conversation, join us Monday, March 30 for another Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council lunch/discussion on growing our local food economy.

This event will explore starting and scaling up food and beverage businesses as well as a look at the possibilities of commercial kitchen incubators. Join us for a locally sourced lunch and the ongoing  discussion from noon to 2 p.m. at the Fowler Center, 511 E. 3rd St., Bethlehem. Click here to reserve your spot.

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