River Valley Farmers Market

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Visit us at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Elgin – just 20 miles east of central Austin. Open every Saturday from 9am-1pm.

Visit our public Facebook page for the latest updates on what we’re bringing to market and announcements of when we’ll miss the market due to illness or schedule conflicts.

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Fresh, Pastured and Non-GMO

Here is a little more information for you about our farm raised chickens and the tasty eggs they lay for you each week.

We feed our flock 100% organic, non-GMO, local feed from Coyote Creek Farm in Elgin TX. You can read about the difference between GMO and non-GMO feeds on their information page here. Though this special feed costs twice as much as typical feed, we believe it is worth it to know exactly what is going into our eggs. As a result of buying this premium feed, our eggs are priced higher than other eggs at our market, but we hope you will agree that the health benefits are worth the extra dollar or two.

As you can see in these pictures, our chickens also enjoy free ranging and foraging to their hearts content. This means they are much less likely to ever get and pass on diseases, so there is no need for them to be treated with antibiotics or vaccinations.

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Spring on the Farm

This is one of the busiest times of year around the farm! There’s so much to plant and prepare for. We are happy that the weather is finally warming up enough for our plants to really start growing! Here are some pictures of our garden springing into life!

Leek transplants ready to be planted tomorrow

Leek transplants ready to be planted tomorrow

Green Kale - planted in the fall and finally starting to take off

Green Kale – planted in the fall and finally starting to take off

Onions planted last fall - almost ready for harvest

Onions planted last fall – almost ready for harvest

Nine 100 foot rows of delicious nutrition!

Nine 100 foot rows of delicious nutrition!

Lettuce mix - should make a great salad in a couple more weeks!

Lettuce mix – should make a great salad in a couple more weeks!

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Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli - we planted about 500 plants, but unfortunately we are fighting the bugs to keep many of them alive.

Broccoli – we planted about 500 plants, but unfortunately we are fighting the bugs to keep many of them alive.

Chinese cabbage - our fastest crop

Chinese cabbage – our fastest crop

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Red Cabbage

Red Cabbage

Our potatoes are growing rapidly with the warmer weather

Our potatoes are growing rapidly with the warmer weather

Cover crop of oats and peas in the plot reserved for fall

Cover crop of oats and peas in the plot reserved for fall

Tiny blossom on one of our pear trees

Tiny blossom on one of our pear trees

Blackberry bushes starting to put out new growth

Blackberry bushes starting to put out new growth

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Grass Fed Beef For Sale

Update March 2014: We’re out of stew meat, soup bones, and roast but still have a good selection of the other cuts.

Over the last few weeks we’ve prepared several cuts of meat from our grass fed steer. Finding all of them tender and tasty, we can now confidently offer this beef for sale.  We’ll bring a few different cuts to the Elgin Farmers Market, located 20 miles east of Austin Texas, starting this week.  All the cuts are state inspected, vacuum sealed, and frozen to last many months in your freezer.

Porterhouse and Ribeye Steaks

Porterhouse, Ribeye Steaks

Chuck Roast

Chuck Roast

Brisket

Brisket

Click on the photos above to get a close look at the quality of this 100% grass fed beef.  This marbling of the steaks is not often seen in typical grass fed cattle.  We are careful to raise cattle breeds that perform well on grass alone and we make sure they have plenty of natural forage throughout their lifetime, especially during the critical finishing (fattening) process.  This beef is tender, juicy, and has no ‘wild’ or ‘gamey’ taste.  Bad flavor or tough meat can indicate an animal eating unusual forage or living in stressed conditions.  If you’ve been disappointed with other grass fed beef in the past, we urge you to try some of these cuts and taste the difference.

Here’s a list of what we have, along with the price per pound.  Cuts with an asterisk are those we plan to bring to the market.   We’ll only bring a few of each so contact us before Saturday if you want a specific cut and we’ll set it aside until you get to the market. Also, if you want a cut that’s not marked *, let us know and we’ll bring it and reserve it for you.  We can now take your credit card at the market if you prefer.

(all prices per pound)

Ground Steak (1 lb package)                                         $8 *
Ground Beef (1 lb package)                                           $7 *
Stew Meat (1 to 2 lb package)                                       $7
Tenderized Cutlets (1 to 2 lb package)                        $7 *
Soup Bones (with meat intact)                                      $6
Short Ribs (1 to 2 lb package)                                       $6

Sirloin Steak                                                                     $13  *
T-Bone Steak                                                                   $16  *
Ribeye Steak                                                                    $18  *

Chuck Roast (approx. 3 pounds, serves 5-7)               $8
Arm Roast (approx. 3 pounds, serves 5-7)                  $8
Rump Roast (approx. 3 pounds, serves 5-7)               $8

Beef Liver                                                                          $5 *

* we plan to have these available at the Elgin Farmers Market Saturdays starting at 9am.

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How to Fix Collard Greens

Collard greens grow well this time of year and we have a steady supply at the farmers market.   Did you know you can cook and use them in many different ways?  We didn’t, until we read this article:

Collards Are the New Kale, by Whole Foods Market

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Grass Fed Beef Hamburgers in Downtown Austin

Get on down to Svante’s Stuffed Burgers in downtown Austin for one of their delicious all grass fed beef hamburgers. For the next week these are made with our new ground steak. Svante’s normally has beef from their own ranch but the restaurant’s popularity grew faster than planned. So they bought a two week supply from us to hold them until beef from their cattle is available.

One of the owners of Svante’s said the cooks had this response to the Blessing Falls beef:

“They love the meat.  They had filled in with grass-fed from HEB one day last week and yours was much, much better.  Night and day they said.”

Thanks Svante’s!

From Svante's Facebook page - our beef on their grill along with fried eggs

From Svante’s Facebook page – our beef on their grill along with fried eggs

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Turkeys and Chickens

A family we know is moving out of the area so we acquired their flock of mature poultry – 10 turkeys and 7 chickens.  These are heritage turkey breeds of Spanish Black, Royal Palm, and Rio Grande.  Most were born last year and will be breeding and laying this year.  We hope they’ll hatch  several  healthy poults which we’ll raise for the holiday table.  Turkeys are a new experience for the farm so we’re looking forward to learning a lot this year.

We’ve had chickens in the past.  Since the last of our original flock died several months ago, we’re glad to have laying hens back on the farm.  There’s a rooster in the group so we may have some chicks hatched this year.

Currently the turkeys and chickens are together in the coop they’ve stayed in since birth.  We’re working on portable pens we can drag across pasture, giving them access to fresh grass everyday while keeping them safe.  The plan is to separate the turkeys into 2 smaller flocks before breeding season.  The chickens will have their own portable pen also.  Recent cold weather has slowed pen construction, but also gives the flock more time to get accustomed to their new surroundings and caretakers, while staying in the coop they’ve always called home.  The 6 chicken hens are laying 3 or 4 eggs a day.  And the turkey hens are starting to lay.  We’re getting 1 or 2 turkey eggs daily.

Flock arrives, ready for temporary quarters on one of our summer garden plots.

Flock arrives, ready for temporary quarters on one of our summer garden plots.

All coop'ed up and ready to get out!

All coop’ed up and ready to get out!

Out of the coop and enjoying the clover growing in the garden.

Out of the coop and enjoying the clover growing in the garden.

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The dominant tom wastes no time reasserting his presence at the new home.

The little ones welcoming the flock to their new home.

The little ones welcoming the flock to their new home.

Checking out the flock.  He'll have a big role in their daily care.

Checking out the flock. He’ll have a big role in their daily care.

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Seed Starts for 2014

We’ll have a series of seed starts this spring.  Every two weeks starting in mid January we’ll start seeds for transplants.  These will be replanted in the garden about 6 weeks after planting.  The first couple of seed starts will be strictly cold weather crops such as broccoli, cabbages, and leeks.  We’ll transition into warm weather seedlings in mid February – tomato, peppers, eggplant – and move these into the garden starting in late March.  Here’s a look at our first seed starts from about 3 weeks ago.

Organizing the seeds.  We plant only non-GMO seeds and almost all are heritage seeds.

Organizing the seeds. We plant only non-GMO seeds and almost all are heritage seeds.

 

Filling seed trays with our custom starter soil mix

Filling seed trays with our custom starter soil mix

 

Young men filling more trays!  We had 14 total on this first start.

Young men filling more trays! We had 14 total on this first start.

 

14 trays with about 50 cells average per tray - about 700 seedlings expected from this first of many seed starts for 2014.

14 trays with about 50 cells average per tray – about 700 seedlings expected from this first of many seed starts for 2014.

 

Team work in every facet of farming.

Team work in every facet of farming.

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Extending the Harvest

An early cold front brought near freezing temperatures last night and a low of 30 is forecast for tonight.  We’ve covered the tomatoes and some peppers and eggplant, hoping to extend the harvest.  Our average first freeze is early December, so hopefully we’ll have another 3 weeks before we’re forced to abandon these crops for the season.

Picking ripe eggplant and cutting basil, in case the cover strategy doesn't work.

Picking ripe eggplant and cutting basil, in case the cover strategy doesn’t work.

Eggplant and basil

Eggplant and basil

Peppers and eggplant covered.  Some bigger eggplant we are leaving uncovered, as it may survive 30 deg. OK.

Peppers and eggplant covered. Some bigger eggplant we are leaving uncovered, as it may survive 30 deg. OK.

Broccoli under cover with garlic sprouting on the right.

Broccoli under cover with garlic sprouting on the right.

Tomatoes on the covered trellises with covered peppers in front.

Tomatoes on the covered trellises with covered peppers in front.

 

 

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Health Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

IMG_4837A fairly recent article (2010) summarizes the last 30 years of health and nutrition research on grass fed beef. The article is technical and scholarly which can make for slow reading. But it’s a tremendous resource that combines the various health benefits into a single article. I’ve heard many claims over the years and never knew which were verified by research and which were simply anecdotal or ‘folk’ legend. This article shows all the science behind these claims and confirms that grass fed beef is indeed much healthier than typical grain fed beef you’ll find at major grocery stores, and by a wide margin. Here’s a short summary version of this report. Please read the whole article for the details.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Two fatty acids are essential to human health and are not produced by the body – they come only from food. One is an Omega-6 type fatty acid and the other Omega-3. All beef contain both but studies have found it is the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 that is important to overall health. A healthy diet has an overall ratio of one to four times more Omega-6 than Omega-3. In grass fed beef, the average ratio is about 2 to 1 – just what a healthy diet needs. Typical grain fed beef common to grocery stores have much less Omega 3 when compared to grass fed beef. This make the ratio for grain fed beef around 8 to 1 – far above the healthy range. The ratio is 4 times more favorable for grass fed over grain fed beef.

There are several important types of Omega-3 fatty acids. The article states that these:

“play a crucial role in the prevention of atherosclerosis, heart attack, depression and cancer. In addition, omega-3 consumption reduced the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis….Several studies have established a correlation between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and depression. High consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is typically associated with a lower incidence of depression, a decreased prevalence of age-related memory loss and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease”

The article cites studies confirming “cattle fed primarily grass significantly increased the omega-3 content of the meat and also produced a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than grain-fed beef .”

Porterhouse and Ribeye Steaks from Blessing Falls' 100% Grass Fed Cattle

Porterhouse and Ribeye Steaks from Blessing Falls’ 100% Grass Fed Cattle

Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA)

CLA is a group of fatty acids found in the meat and milk of ruminants such as cattle, sheep, etc. They are produced in the normal digestion of grass the animals eat. CLA declines as digestive pH decreases, and grain diets reduce digestive pH. So CLA in an animal raised on grass decreases when the animal begins to eat grain. The decline is significant over time, such that typical grain fed cattle produce less than half the CLA of grass fed animals. As a result, grass fed beef has more than double the CLA of grain-fed beef.

The article cites numerous studies showing significant health benefits attributed to CLA:

“actions to reduce atherosclerosis, and onset of diabetes … reduction of breast cancer in women… prevention of cancer in men and women…”

Vitamin A / Beta-Carotene

Carotenoids are synthesized in plants and pass into the milk and body fat of grass fed cattle. They are natural pigments that may give grass fed meat fat a yellowish color. Though some regard the yellow fat negatively, it is associated with a healthier fatty acid profile and higher antioxidant content. The article states beta-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A which is:

“important for normal vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation … responsible for maintaining the surface lining of the eyes and also the lining of the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts. The overall integrity of skin and mucous membranes is maintained by Vitamin A, creating a barrier to bacterial and viral infection.  In addition, Vitamin A is involved in the regulation of immune function by supporting the production and function of white blood cells”

Grass fed cattle were found to have 7 times more beta-carotene compared to grain-fed cattle.

Cattle enjoy the variety of natural grasses and forages found in the meadows and woodlands of Blessing Falls Farm

Cattle enjoy the variety of natural grasses and forages found in the meadows and woodlands of Blessing Falls Farm

Vitamin E, another fat soluble vitamin, exists in eight different isoforms that have powerful antioxidant activity. The most active isoform is alpha-tocopherol. The article cites several studies showing grass fed cattle having average alpha-tocopherol levels 3 times higher than grain fed cattle.

“Antioxidants such as vitamin E protect cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are potentially damaging by-products of metabolism that may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease…. Preliminary research shows vitamin E supplementation may help prevent or delay coronary heart disease…, block the formation of nitrosamines, which are carcinogens formed in the stomach from nitrates consumed in the diet…, enhance immune function… observational studies found lens clarity (a diagnostic tool for cataracts) was better in patients who regularly used vitamin E.”

The article further cites studies showing that increased Vitamin E extends the shelf-life and improves the red color of grass fed beef compared to grain fed.

Antioxidant Enzymes

Glutathione (GT) is a newly identified food protein.  Within cells,

“GT has the capability of quenching free radicals (like hydrogen peroxide), thus protecting the cell from oxidized lipids or proteins and preventing damage to DNA.”

GT is higher in green forages, so “grass-fed beef is particularly high in GT as compared to grain-fed”.  Grass fed beef is also higher in superoxide dismutase and catalase – coupled enzymes that work together as powerful cancer fighting antioxidants.

Conclusion

The article concludes:

“Research spanning three decades supports the argument that grass-fed beef has a more desirable cholesterol profile as compared to grain-fed beef. Grass-finished beef is also higher in total CLA … and Omega-3…. This results in a better Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio that is preferred by the nutritional community. Grass-fed beef is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E and cancer fighting antioxidants such as GT and SOD activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries.”

We encourage you to read the complete article and stop by the market or contact us with any questions or comments.

Reference: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/10

More on Health Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

EatWild: http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/grass-fed-beef/AN02053
Integrated Fitness: http://if-fit.com/the-benefits-of-grass-fed-beef/

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October Garden

After a dry and hot summer, October’s cooler temperatures and replenishing rains make the garden a much more pleasant place to work or just walk in.  Here’s a quick peek of what’s growing.

Butternut squash getting closer to harvest

Butternut squash getting closer to harvest

Okra still producing abundantly

Okra still producing abundantly

 

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Looking toward the 2014 expansion, now sprouting Austrian Winter Peas as a cover crop.

 

Bell peppers revitalized with cooler weather and rain.  Eggplant in the back, still going strong.

Bell peppers revitalized with cooler weather and rain. Eggplant in the back, still going strong.

 

Young orchard with 1 and 2 year old trees.  Fig, Apricot, Peach shown here.

Young orchard with 1 and 2 year old trees. Fig, Apricot, Peach shown here. Pear, Plum, Persimmon also growing in the orchard. Cattle on pasture in the background.

 

 

 

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Uses for Fresh Basil

This past week we made several delicious recipes with our fresh basil and we will share them with you now!

The first is very common, but so good: Tomato Basil Soup!

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Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:
4 cups fresh tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped
(or 4 cups canned whole tomatoes)
1 cup tomato juice
2 tsp. minced garlic
12-14 fresh basil leaves, washed
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Combine first ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer 30 minutes. Puree, along with basil leaves, in small batches, in blender or food processor (or right in the pan with a hand-held food blender). Return to saucepan and add cream and butter, while stirring over low heat. Salt and pepper to taste, garnish with basil, and serve with your favorite bread.

The second recipe is just as good as the first: Chicken Pesto Pizza! We like to make it with homemade pizza crust, homemade pesto, and we grill our own chicken. It is definitely time consuming, but very much worth it! This particular pizza was also made with our homegrown golden cherry tomatoes! It was so pretty.

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Ingredients:
2 Pizza Crusts
Basil Pesto (recipe follows)
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Tomatoes, sliced
3 Grilled Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
Fresh Basil, cut into strips
2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven according to pizza crust directions. Brush pesto over crust. Arrange tomato slices, chicken, and fresh basil over pesto. Sprinkle cheeses on top. Bake according to pizza crust directions. Enjoy!

Homemade Pesto:

2 cups tightly packed fresh basil
1-2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt

In a food processor, puree all ingredients together. Serve over fresh pasta, spread on toasted bread or serve many other ways! Keep in refrigerator for several weeks or freeze in a tightly covered container.

We hope you enjoy making and eating these wonderful meals!

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Contest Winner Is…

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Born and raised on our farm, this 25 month old steer weighed 1090 pounds just before getting on the trailer to the butcher.

Congratulations to Dwayne, winner of our first ‘Win the Beef’ contest.  Two dozen contestants sent us their guess for the live weight of the farm raised steer that we recently had butchered.  His guess was only 13 pounds off of the actual weight of 1090 pounds. Dwayne takes the prize of 2 pounds of 100% grass fed ground beef from this steer.

We will soon have beef from this same steer available for sale.  We’re working on getting a scale and a portable freezer for our booth at the Elgin Farmers Market  while we continue to sample various cuts ourselves.  So far, everything has tasted great. If you’d like the latest information on purchasing our grass fed beef please subscribe to the newsletter.

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The Beef is Back!

Just got our grass fed beef back from the butcher and grilled steaks tonight. Great flavor and tender – no off flavors or toughness common to some grass fed beef. We grilled these just like we would any steak.  We purposefully did not want to ‘baby’ these with special seasoning or slow cooking as some poorly finished grass fed meat requires.  Very pleased to say they were as good or better than any grain-fed/grocery store/restaurant steak we’ve had.  No hormones, no antibiotics, no grain – just 100% grass as God intended.

Take a look and compare the color, fat content, and marbling to any meat you commonly purchase or cook.  And remember to enter our contest to win beef from this same steer!

SteakCollage

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First Farm Raised Beef

Last week we took our first steer to the butcher.  We started raising cattle on the farm in 2010 with three bred heifers who calved in June of 2011.  This steer was one of those calves.  The other two calves were heifers (female) and are now pregnant themselves.  All our cattle are 100% grass fed, never being fed grain of any type. They’re raised gently and naturally, spending their whole lives on our farm.

We plan to keep some of this beef for the family and sell some.  This will be our only beef animal for a while, but we should have enough for interested folks to sample.  As we grow over the several years, we hope to six to eight beef animals for purchase annually.  For now, we’ll be selling ground beef and selected cuts of this steer at the Elgin Farmers Market.

IMG_4884 We’re excited to get our first taste of farm beef and are celebrating with a little contest. Guess the weight of the steer as pictured here just before we took him to the butcher.  The closest guess wins two pounds of ground beef.  That’s $15 worth of premium 100% grass fed / 100% grass “finished” beef.   When you send in your guess, we hope you’ll also subscribe to the Blessing Falls Newsletter.  It’s free and we’ll send it now and then to keep everyone updated with farm news and harvest schedules.  Take a look at these photos and send us your best guess!  Click any photo for a closer look.

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Raising a pure grass fed animal takes greater time and care.  Pasture quality improves by rotating the animals to fresh grazing areas often.  We’ve had him on top quality forage for several months.  This included irrigated pasture as well as natural wooded areas with a variety of native plants and trees.  Starting several weeks ago, due to dry conditions early this summer, every day we also gave him fresh hay along with a pound of alfalfa. The varied food sources insured access to all nutrients needed for optimum health and kept him continually gaining weight.  Steady weight gain is key to tender meat.  Keeping cattle comfortable and stress free also contributes greatly to the tenderness and quality of the meat.  We gently handle the animals without shouting, prodding, or inflicting pain.

The health benefits of grass fed beef are becoming more widely known as research is compiled.   We’ll be writing more extensively on these health impacts later, but for now here’s an overview of nutritional differences and a comment from the Mayo Clinic on grass fed beef.  100% grass feeding also avoids the problems of genetically-modified (GM) grains fed to livestock in a typical feedlot.  Studies and research increasingly show a variety of health issues related to GM crops.  One very recent study found GM corn and soy as the direct cause of intestinal and uterine disease in grain-fed livestock.

Finally, while the quality of the soil, pasture, and animal are very important, the butcher processing the final product is crucial as well.  We use a well established local processor with a good reputation.  They’re a small scale facility handling only a few dozen animals a week.   Low animal stress just prior to slaughter is another key to tender, great tasting beef.  The experienced staff and smaller facility mean more personal attention for each animal and less stressful crowding and noise for the animals.  To help ensure safety and health, an official state of Texas inspector is onsite throughout the process.   Every animal is aged and custom butchered according to cut orders specified by each customer.  We’re having this steer hung for 14 days of “dry aging” before he’s butchered into the cuts we selected.  This aging process further tenderizes and flavors the meat.  The final cuts are vacuum wrapped so they will taste fresh even after many months in the freezer.

Thanks for your interest in our cattle and naturally raised grass fed beef.  Remember to enter the contest to win some beef!

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