Urban Farming Using Wood Chips to Create the Best Organic Fertilizer

Alright! This is John Kohler with
through another exciting episode for you! I’m here on a field trip in Houston, Texas,
actually—probably like in one of the ghettos of the city… Not maybe the nicest neighborhood,
kinda near downtown, kinda near I-10 and 59. And they closed down I-10, so it was like
an extra half hour to get here today… But I’m here and I want to show you guys actually
what they’re doing here. We’re actually at an organic farm, and it
might not look like a farm to you cause behind me, what you’re seeing is piles of woodchips.
And this is about a two-acre property that was formerly a parking lot. So this is all
over concrete slap or asphalt and they basically built is up using the majority of free local
resources that I know many of you guys may have in course city that I do want you to
pay attention to and what that is simply behind me. Piles and piles of woodchips. I’m a
big believer in the power of woodchips and using organic matter to create soil so that
you can grow in because the problem in this day and age is that we are losing top soil,
we are losing soil fertility. And the answer to this is not putting on some chemical fertilizer
from the big box stores, some Miracle crap, some whatever stuff you’re buying. But it’s
creating your own fertility on site like they’re doing here with an available free local resource
that’s coming from the city or tree trimmers or, you know, people that are trimming the
trees under the power lines. They chip it up and instead of going to the landfill which
I believe is a waste of resources, the woodchips are coming here. They’re using it to basically—as
a foundation of their garden to grow in, to line the earth below it, the concrete slab
you couldn’t grow on. But when you build soil up…you can think of concrete slab as
hardpan or rock. And I know some of you guys might live over hardpan or rock where you
just don’t have any soil you can grow in. But it you start piling up organic matter
on top, you can have some of the most nutritious soil.
So anyways, without further ado, let’s go over to the farm and share with you guys what
they’re growing and, more importantly, how they’re growing it.
So where I’m at today is Last Organic Outpost community farm and this is where the community
is coming together through basically the leadership of Joe, who’s actually been on this property
for the last seven years farming it and has been involved with growing foods for the last
fifteen years on various projects throughout the city. Now, Joe’s a really cool guy,
right. We walked around—he doesn’t know a lot about the science and I don’t know
a lot of the science of gardening, but I know a lot because I’ve read and experienced
a lot. But he’s a cool guy because he’s learned by doing. And I know most of you guys
watching me don’t have any kind of degrees in biology or plants and all this kind of
stuff…and to be a good gardener, actually, I would recommend you guys don’t get that
stuff! They’re not gonna be helpful… But I just learned by doing and that’s what
Joe’s doing over all these years and I was talking to him about the fungus and the bacterial
dominated compost and how he’s making both of them here and he didn’t really know about
all this stuff and he was really excited, so I really wanna share that for you guys
in this episode. So I guess without further ado, let’s go ahead and go into the farm
and share with you guys how Joe and the community here has been growing food on this farm here
for the last seven years and successfully, primarily using a lot of the woodchips.
Alright so what we’re looking at now is just part of the farm and this is pretty much
how they set it up. I mean, this was an empty parking lot when they got the property. They
started up by bringing in the woodchips and making a nice, deep base of the woodchips
and then bringing on some of the more finished compost, adding it on top, and then literally
planting in it. That’s what was done here. And as you guys can see, just some of the
greenery things growing, it’s doing really well. Now that’s the overall basics, but
it’s a little more complex than just bringing in the woodchips and making some soil, so
I want to go ahead and show you guys specifically how it’s done. Because it’s a really good
example because they’re just starting to set up brand new beds now that’re just getting
planted out, so I have the opportunity to show you guys the specifics. Seriously, this
stuff started out as woodchips and the woodchips overtime break down into a rich, black fungal-dominated
soil when done without heat. I talked about that a little bit earlier,
there’s two kinds of compost that is being primarily—actually three kinds that’s
primarily being using here. Number one, the fungal dominated compost which is sourced
primarily out of a hundred percent woodchips. Number two, the thermal based compost, which
I’ll also show you guys in a little bit, made under standard heat. And that’s the
compost most people think of when they think of compost. They don’t think about the fungal-dominated
compost, which in my opinion is super critical. The other kind of compost they’re using,
actually, and creating here is actually they have many different bins with red wiggler
worms. So they’re making worm casting, or vermicompost, which is a really another important
source of compost for your soil. So let’s go ahead and show you guys the demonstration
on how they put one of these beds together. So here’s an example of how they’re putting
the beds together. Look, I mean, right here, I’m just literally sitting on all these
woodchips here and I kind of think this looks really cool. They got all the woodchips here
and it’s basically about eighteen inches high off the ground. Now, if this is your
front yard, I don’t know that I’d want to do this in your front yard, cause for most
people walking by this, it would look kind of weird and most people aren’t gonna like
how it looks. I personally like how this looks. I don’t know that I’d still put it in
my front yard because I don’t want to draw attention to my place. I’d maybe have a
nice garden in the front and in the backyard, yeah, I’d do this. Wow!—and it’s actually
quite warm just on here. But yeah, they got the woodchips piled up like a little hill,
then on top of the woodchips, they’ve put some finished compost that actually just started
to seed out some kind of beets and whatnot in there that are already popping up. And
this is probably a good eight to ten inches tall.
So—oh and in the top compost, they also add the worm castings as well. These are the
two main resources, and these are two very important resources, that I want you guys
to use in your garden. Once again, if you’re a gardener, if you’re a farmer, you know
your job is not growing vegetables, your job is really about growing soil, and that’s
literally what they’re doing here. So I want to go ahead and show you—I mean the
woodchips are self-explanatory. They get dumped there, these basically move them over, line
them up, but I do want to show you guys how they make that soil real quick and it’s
a really quick and easy hands off approach for you guys that are lazy to make some compost
with minimal effort. So what we’re looking at behind me is their
compost pile here and this compost pile is probably about twenty feet long, maybe about—I
don’t know—almost ten feet…eight to ten feet tall, in a nice pile. And they basically
just mixed up the woodchips with food scraps from a local grocery store that when they
got old produce that’s going bad, or all the clippings, they send it here and they
basically mix those two together and then they aerate the pile. This is very important
for compost to have—I know many of you guys may have compost piles in your backyard. You’re
like “Yeah, John, I bought that compost piler which don’t I just dump all my food
waste in there!” well besides the food waste, which is the nitrogen source, you need a carbon
source, which is the woodchips or shredded up paper or sawdust or leaves, something like
that. And you need a good ratio. You need to mix those two together which is one aspect.
You also need the right moisture level, so they’re in there check the moisture, making
sure it’s the right moisture level. And then you also need another thing, very
important for compost that most people miss. It’s the air. It’s the aeration. This
is why, like a tumbling compost, when you tumble it, it aerates it. Some people like
the fork, the pitchfork and fork over their compost—I don’t like forking compost…
So I just tumble it. But even easier than that is what they’re doing here. They’re
aerating it. Aerating, I’ve seen this at other commercial establishment, and most people
at the home may not be aerating their compost but they do it here because they don’t want
to sit here and turn the compost. Takes a lot of time. So what they got is they got
all these PVC tubes, you can see it on the ground there. They’ve got a big distribution
system where the pipe comes in and distributes up into four different pipes and runs all
the way through the bottom of this big huge pile—once again about twenty feet long—and
they got all these holes perforated in there and they basically turn on a blower every
twenty minutes to blow air through there, which then puts the oxygen in there and that
helps aerate the pile and create the right microbe balance that the microbes start breaking
down and work on breaking down all the organic matter and turning it into the most nutritious
soil. If you look closely, I don’t know if you
guys can see that, but the pile way in the back there and this pile even to some extent,
there’s like steam coming off! This is another excellent way to have—like if you want to
have a garden inside, where it’s cold. You could have an aerated pile with good organic
matter breaking down inside like a hoop house and that’ll keep it that much warmer so
your plants can grow without you having to heat them in the winter. And I’ve been to
several places that do do that successfully. Any case, besides this kind of soil, which
once again was on the top layer to actually grow, cause they’re not growing directly
into the woodchips—don’t recommend that. Recommend growing in compost that’s on top
of the woodchips. They’re adding something else very important, and that’s the vermicompost.
So let’s go ahead and check out their set up here where they make their vermicompost.
So besides making the standard soil, another very important aspect of gardening, in my
opinion, is making the vermicompost or basically the worm castings or worm manure. I mean,
this is often overlooking in gardening and how important the worm castings are. I mean,
one of the things that I like to do in my gardening style is model nature. And in a
natural system, there would naturally be worms in the ground to basically help break down
some of that organic matter and make it into nutrients for your plants. Now whether you
want to distribute worms in the different raised beds in your growing areas so they
could so that there, I think that’s actually excellent, another way to do it is to basically
have a worm bin like this make out of some wood, very simple, and they basically put
the food scraps in here and they turn it into the rich, dark worm castings. Once the worms
eat the organic matter, they turn into castings and the benefit of the castings is it’s
basically predigested organic matter, but the main addition that the worms are adding
that you really can’t get from anywhere else is special microbes, the bacteria, the
fungi, you could get kitinase digesters, silase digesters in there that are gonna help your
garden be even more productive without them. Now if you really want to supercharge your
worm castings, most people will feed worms cow manure or chicken manure and different
things, which I don’t think worms show be eating that as the majority of their diet.
I believe the worms should be eating what they would eat naturally in nature, which
is mostly decayed plant matter, so feeding them like…even a finished compost or plant
scraps, garden clippings, you know, broken down. Even things that are really important
to feed your worms that I learned from some worm experts are things like cardboard or
shredded cardboard or cardboard slurry that you make up in the blender with some cardboard
and some water. And then another thing that’s very important is kitin rich source of nutrients
for the worms, such as nail clippings, hair clippings, if you get shrimp sells or crab
shells from a seafood restaurant, that’d be excellent to feed to your worms to make
a very high quality worm casting. Now, if you don’t want to keep your own worms like
they’re doing here, that’s alright. You can buy your worm castings like I like to
because I don’t want to take the time to make all my worm castings. I buy this stuff
called Worm Gold Plus worm castings, but in addition, of course I have plenty of worms
in my raised beds despite me not having a worm home like this.
Now the other thing they just started doing here, which is really cool, is they’re gonna
be starting to use BSF. That stands for black soldier flies. And black soldier flies are
basically a little creature that digest organic matter to make basically a concentrated nutrience
for your garden. So they just build one of those black soldier fly houses today and they’re
gonna get that up and running real soon to add nutrition to their garden.
What I want to do next is take you guys around and show you guys some of the crops that’s
growing here, some of my favorite things just before it gets too dark and maybe share with
you guys actually a cool phenomenon that’s happening while growing in their woodchips.
Alright, now I’m walking through the Maringa forest here in Houston and this is basically
all these trees they planted. Maringa for those of you guys that don’t know if basically
a tree. Now this is a tropical tree, if you live where it frosts and if they get a rare
frost here, this tree will not make it, and these guys, you can literally just pick the
leaves like I just picked there and eat them. Mm. Now this is definitely a flavor you’re
gonna have to get used to. I prefer kale over Maringa, kale to me tastes better. But there
are certain varieties of Maringa that tastes a little bit better than others. But that
being said, Maringa’s probably the most nutritious leafy greens that you could eat
in life. You go to health food stores for example, they take the Maringa leaves, they
dry it, they powder it up, and they’ll sell it to you for like fifty dollars like a pound
of dried Maringa leaves, but better than dried, better than buying things in packages, bottles,
and jars, is growing your own. If you live here in Houston, you definitely want to have
Maringa tree. If you get that frost, or frost warning, you will want to protect your trees
so that they don’t succumb to the frost—and the amazing thing is, this section here was
planted in July, that was about five months ago, and in five months these guys are already
taller than me, they’re probably pushing ten feet tall. They have another tree over
there that’s been planted since last January so that’s about eleven months old, and man
that thing’s like twenty feet tall now. It’s amazing. The cool thing about the Maringa
is once they get tall, you have just chop it off, and you can take the part you chopped
off, stick it in the ground, and it’ll actually re-root into a new plant as well the part
you cut will actually re-chute and grow anew. I’ve heard when they harvest Maringa commercially,
they’ll just let them grow so tall, they’ll whack them back, use all the leaves and they’ll
just basically keep letting them grow up and keep whacking them back to continually have
a continual harvest. In addition, these also make what Indians called drumsticks, which
are also edible, and they also—the seeds can be used to purify water from what I hear.
So this is one of the most beneficial and nutritious crops that you might want to grow.
Now of course, besides the Maringa, they grow a full spectrum of other crops including lettuces,
kale, collards, turnips, chards, herbs… I don’t have a lot of time to go over all
the different areas with you. Maybe I’ll share a different cool crops and unique things
they’re doing. And then I want to share with you some cool stuff about what’s happening
with their soil here to maybe encourage you guys and motivate you guys about how you can
literally take a parking lot, which is what this was, and grow all kinds of food for the
community as well as yourself. Alright, so I got this sifting table, and
this is where they sift the soil in, the guy Joe was giving me a tour here and he said
“John, you know, I was like sifting soil from like three days to put in these new raised
beds that we’re building…” He’s like “The weirdest thing happened, after three
days of just sifting soil and smelling dirt, smelling the soil”—wow that smells like
some good stuff—“I felt real good, like almost euphoric!” And yes, you don’t need
any kind of drugs to feel euphoric. All you really need to do is be out in nature and
more importantly, smell the compost. There are actually studies, believe it or not, that
say there’s components in the compost that after we smell it, we feel good. Maybe that’s
why I like going out to my compost tumblers and digging my hands in there and sniffing
the stuff, cause you just feel good. I think in this day and age, we all need to get back
to nature and have natural smells in our world. I mean, so many times people go in and use
all these chemical air fresheners, which I think are really not too healthy, when all
we need really, is some nature. And being downwind of all the woodchip piles, it’s
just real nice and pleasant to smell them as the smells waft over, as the compost waft
over. I just feel a lot better in nature, and I think you might too.
So this has to be one of my favorite areas of the whole garden. They have a whole section
of just herbs. They have like an herb spiral and a place with mint growing, and all different
kinds of herbs growing, but my favorite herb that they’re growing here is right in here.
Alright, which one of use guys know what it is? Alright, if you guys look closely—go
ahead and pick a sprig here—look at that. Yes! This is cilantro! Mm. Cilantro’s really
delicious, I love using sometimes just salads of only cilantro, maybe with some mashed up
avocados, some sprouted buckwheat groats, some crushed garlic in there. One of my favorite
recipes ever. And this whole big bed of cilantro, it was planted literally two months ago! And
I mean, I know many of you guys out there may not have gardened before, and some of
you guys have, but it’s just amazing to me how you can literally just start out with
seeds and have—while yeah, you could eat cilantro seeds, which are known as coriander—in
literally two months of just some proper care, having some good soil, you could have more
cilantro than you could eat in a month. And so I would encourage you guys, like they’re
doing here, is to have different sections. So this section, they got cilantro. That raised
bed, they got broccoli. That raised bed, they got beets. That raised bed, they got carrots.
And you can do this in your back yard. Have different sections with different food crops
so you could start eliminating having to buy certain produce items from the store. Like
I never have to buy any collard greens or kale, cause they’re just constantly growing
year round in my garden. And if I had this much cilantro, we wouldn’t have to buy cilantro
either. For me, cilantro is one of those crops you
do not want to grow in the middle of summer. They grew it, sewing about two months ago
in October, and that’s definitely a good time when it starts to cool down, because
cilantro, if you’re growing it in the superhot heat, it bolts really fast and you’re not
gonna have it. So some hot whether cilantro substitutes that you can use that I’d definitely
be growing here, one is called popolo, which I love. I started growing it this year, does
amazing, and I like the flavor even better than cilantro. And number two, is another
you can grow for hot weather, cilantro substitute that actually tastes really like cilantro,
is actually called kulantro. I want to encourage you all to eat a good quantity of cilantro
in your diet. From the research I have seen, it’s actually good for cleansing and detoxification,
especially with some of the heavy metals, which is what I’ve read before.
So another thing you guys should definitely grow if you live here in Houston or places
where you don’t get a frost, or very rarely get a frost, are these guys right here. Look
at this. This thing is loaded up with probably over a dozen papayas on this tree. Now papayas,
they’re not really trees cause they don’t have the rings like a real tree would, but
for a practical purposes, we’ll call it an honorary tree. It’s really kind of a
herbatious plant, but papaya’s definitely one of my favorite fruits to be eating. Plus
they grow and make fruits relatively fast as compared to other trees. Plus they’re
so delicious and it’s quite unfortunate that most papayas that are being imported
are picked far too early and never fully flavor and ripen up properly. So to have the best
papayas, you got to grow them yourself. In addition, I want to encourage you guys to
buy organic papaya seeds, or GMO tested papaya seeds, because papayas are one of the crops
that are being genetically modified in this day and age, so I want to ensure that you
guys are not growing any papayas that may have some genetic contamination.
So the last shot of this video that I want to share with you guys today is just this
raised bed area that was put in. Once again, it was sitting on top of the woodchips here,
and if we dig where these woodchips were, because they were thick, if we just dig down
like a foot, we hit dark rich black soil. Now, once again, Joe’s aware that he’s
not growing vegetables, he’s growing soil. And he told me that what he’s doing, he’s
not putting money in his bank, he’s basically creating soil because the soil that you make
is like money in your bank. If you have good soil, you will have good fertility and be
able to produce healthy, abundant crops that are gonna be more pest and disease resistant,
yield higher, and also taste best. So that’s where he’s putting his—investing his time
to make good soil. And I want you guys to do that as well.
Now, when you garden, you’re always gonna see and learn new things, and this is something
that I’ve had to learn over the years, because we’re taught in our society… We want things
neat, clean, orderly. When things aren’t looking good, just pull it out and discard
it. And I try to remind them in nature there’s always checks and balances. Nature’s the
ultimate check and balance. When in a natural system, if there’s too much rats in a place
then the cats will come and eat all the rats to take care of that problem and likewise,
in nature’s system there’s always checks and balances. If one thing is too high in
the soil, bacteria, creatures, microbes, fungi will come to eat that stuff to basically create
homeostasis or balance, and that’s what’s happening here. I don’t know if you guys
can see that, but here we’ve got some baby beet green that’s coming up. If you look
right here, it’s like—I’ll do a close up for you guys…and it looks like we’ve
got the blob attacking the beets and the little baby beet greens. And you might think “John,
man! What’s that, man! It’s got some kind of disease or something, let’s pull that
out, let’s not eat it.” Ok, so number one, I don’t necessarily recommend
eating the beets that are growing in the blob stuff, but I wouldn’t know that I’d necessarily
want to remove the blob because basically what the blob is is some kind of fungus that’s
basically living there because it wants to. Because it’s been raining a lot recently
and with the rain and the woodchips, it’s giving it a good home. The fungus is basically
what breaks down the woodchips or the salos in the woodchips and that creates good healthy
soil. So that’s just nature at work and if you get mushrooms, or this kind of stuff
on your woodchip pile that’s to be encouraged actually. What you might want to do is take
this and spread it to other woodchip piles to inoculate that with these spores and help
that further break down. And that’s what I recommended here, they take some of this
stuff and maybe they have a section of the garden where you just put the woodchips down,
put a bunch of fungi on there and if you want to buy the right mushroom to compost down
your woodchips, it’s called King Stropharia. That’s the right kind of mushroom that may
appear natural, but you can actually seed it in there yourself to break that stuff down.
So yeah they’ve got that kind of mushroom, they’ve got that kinda weird stuff here.
Look at that. This mushroom is literally on this piece of wood. We want to embrace nature
and if it’s in a place like this where it’s not the most good for you cause it’s next
to your beets, that’s alright. Scoop it out, put it somewhere else or let it grow.
This is what we want to do. We want to get back to natural farming. This is part of nature.
Spraying chemicals and pesticides, that’s not a part of nature and we don’t want to
be doing those things. So I’m glad that he’s basically go through
the whole learning process of learning how to grow in this environment, and he’s able
to share that with the community, so if you do live here in the Houston area, they will—they
give workshops if you come down here. You know, volunteer, you can learn about gardening,
you can work for a day, you can get on the job experience because for me there’s no
substitute for on the job training or having experienced getting your hands dirty in the
dirt. You could read as much as you want about gardening in books, watch my videos online,
but until you start getting your hands dirty, until you start sniffing up—mm—this delicious
smelling compost, you’re just not gonna get the full benefits of knowing or learning
how to do it. So yeah, you can come out and volunteer. They also need financial support
to keep this going. They have been done this on literally a shoestring budget. They get
a lot of things donated, like the woodchips and all this kind of stuff, the food waste.
But there’s always some need for things like wheelbarrows and other things on the
farm. So if you are in a position to help donate, I’ll go ahead and put a link down
below to the Facebook page so you can contact Joe and offer support in terms of volunteer
help onsite or donation. In addition, if you do live in the Houston
area and are looking for a good, local source of clean food, I can definitely recommend
that you come to the Last Outpost Community Farm here, drop by any day of the week during
normal hours, and they’ll be able to sell you some fresh, naturally grown food here.
And that’s really cool because they always got some growing. And make sure you get some
of that Maringa if you’ve never tried it. One of the most nutritious leafy greens in
the whole wide world. Probably my last few tips I’d like to give
to the farm here, because they’re doing a lot of good stuff and—me, you know, my
gardening style, my gardening practice, I’ve visited a lot of different farms, seen a lot
of different things. I have my own gardens and grow my own food, and I’ve seen how
to do it and they’ve got a big part of the puzzle solved here and I’m glad they’re
doing it. They’ve got the woodchips. They’ve got the fungal-dominated compost. They’ve
of the thermal-dominated compost. They’ve got the worm castings, or vermiculture going
on, very important. But the one thing that is missing to some extent, in my opinion,
at the farm are the trace minerals. Trace minerals are critical to gardening, even more
important than what is commonly believed. There’s not a lot of research on trace minerals
in the garden, but I have experienced a difference using the trace minerals in my garden so my
biggest recommendation for here would be get some rock dust, almost known as gravel dust,
you can visit the local rock and stone quarry, hopefully ones that get rocks out of a river
bed, like basalt style rocks, or volcanic rocks, and you want to get the finest particle
size, as must as they’re broken down as almost a dust power or flour consistency.
And the best thing to do would be to take some cheap inexpensive rock—they sometimes
can be bought for like twenty, thirty dollars, a load. Some places are just trying to get
rid of it. And mix that in to the woodchips as they’re breaking down and also mix that
into the thermally aerated compost piles that I showed you and that’ll just from the level
from here on up to here and really improve production, improve crops’ resistance to
the weather, to the heat, and to other external stresses.
Another very important, inexpensive thing that I would do if this was my farm is, you
know, they are collecting rainwater off the roof, which I didn’t get a chance to show
you guys that. They also got an auqaponics system going in. They also got chickens. I
mean there’s so much, so many more things I could have showed up in this video with
so little time because the sun’s going down. But the other component that really is critical
is when they’re overhead watering, it’s very important to do two things. Number one,
I would do a compost tea on a weekly basis. Basically an aerated, brewed compost tea from
the worm castings. Aerate the worm castings with a bubbler and spray that on foliar their
feed and soil, drench that in. This’ll multiply the beneficial effect of the worm castings
and the other foliar spray that I highly recommend is some kind of trace mineral supplementation.
So the easiest way to do with would be to get a product such as the OceanSolution OceanGrown
or a product called the SEA-90 which you will dilute in the proper ratio according to the
label and this will add ninety trace minerals to the plants, to the leaves, because the
leaves can absorb nutrients as well as the soil, to really step the level up here.
Now if you don’t want to get the agricultural SEA-90 salt, basically, you want to do it
the cheap and dirty inexpensive way, you go to a local health foods store and you want
to get a real unprocessed gray sea salt. You want to get the gray one, don’t get the
white crystalline one. You can you take that gray seas salt that’s nice and dirty color.
You might have to go to a couple of health food stores to get the good quality salt,
and just buy a pound of that stuff. Then you’re gonna take one teaspoon of that good quality,
high end sea salt that has trace minerals in it—you’re gonna dilute one teaspoon
to one gallon of water and the foliar feed that on your plants, whether that’s with
a spray bottle, whether that’s’ with the pump spray, and I’d probably see that in
like once every two weeks and just foliar spray everything.
Andin my opinion, if they do those two ways to bring the trace minerals back in through
the rock dust and the sea mineral spray on, they’re only gonna ramp up their production.
The plants are gonna be healthier, and more importantly, they’re gonna be putting more
money into the back and that’s not into the Bank of America or the Chase Manhattan
bank, that’s into the soil bank. And that’s what they are truly growing here, the soil,
and there’s easy ways and inexpensive ways to build your soil up so that it’ll keep
feed you, your family and the community for many years to come.
I hope you guys enjoyed this quick episode today at the Last Organic Outpost community
farm. Once again, my name is John Kohler with We’ll see you next
time and until then, keep on growing.

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