Young women changing the face of California farming – from the Sacramento Bee


Andrew Seng /

Katie Fyhrie, 25, begins her day recently by harvesting nectarines with Cloverleaf farm owner Emma Torbert, left, on a stone fruit orchard at the Collins Farm in Davis. The two women are among a wave of young people who are breaking into agriculture, an industry typically viewed as male-dominated.

By Edward Ortiz

On most mornings, Katie Fyhrie, 25 and Emma Torbert, 35 meet at dawn at their Davis fruit farm.

As they scramble up ladders to pluck fruit and later sort it into delivery bins, they embody a demographic shift underway in agriculture: young, beginning farmers, many of them women, are entering the field at an increasing rate.

So far, the influx hasn’t been enough to offset the demographics of existing farmers, who are mostly older men. The median age of American farmers is 59, according to the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census in 2012.

But times are changing. The 2012 USDA census found that the number of new farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 had grown 11 percent since the previous census was taken in 2007.

The number of women farming in California has steadily increased over the past three decades. The 1978 USDA census counted 6,202 women who listed farming as their main occupation. By 2012, there were 13,984.

These new farmers are embracing different delivery methods that don’t involve bulk commodity sales to food processing companies. They’re peddling produce directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands and subscriptions for produce boxes. Those sales methods increased 8 percent from 2007.

Fyhrie and Torbert sell their peaches and other organic fruit directly to subscribers in Davis and also to stores such as the the Bi-Rite market in San Francisco’s Mission district.

Neither woman comes from a farm family, and neither inherited land. Both are college educated and found their way to farming from other pursuits. Torbert holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton University, and Fyhrie recently graduated from the University of California,Berkeley, with a degree in biology.

Both are crazy about farming.

Upon graduation from UC Berkeley in 2012, Fyhrie returned home to Davis. “I didn’t want to jump into working in a lab,” she said.

Instead, Fyhrie took a job as a summer field worker at the Impossible Acres Farm in Davis. “I’ve always enjoyed jobs that kept me outside most of the time,” she said.

Fyhrie deepened her commitment to agriculture in February, when she enrolled in the California Farm Academy, a program run by the Center for Land Based Learning in Winters.

Twenty hopeful farmers are currently enrolled in the seven-month program, 14 of them women, said Jennifer Taylor director of the academy.

“Women getting into agriculture is a huge trend,” said Taylor, who herself began farming several years ago in a Wisconsin dairy operation. “In years past it was a very male-dominated profession.”

Taylor said the gender shift may be a result of societal changes.

“The idea that one can actually be a farmer without coming from a farming family is starting to feel like a reality to more people,” Taylor said.

One aspect that is appealing to women is how farming adds a sense of service to a community. “Some want to feed people, others want to see food justice happen. One way to do that is to be involved in growing food .”

At Princeton, Torbert studied fusion energy. However, it dawned on her that physics is not the kind of work where the tangible effects of one’s work is readily evident.

“I feel there are so many problems in the world that need to be changed sooner,” she said. “In my other jobs it felt like I was just monitoring. As a farmer, I feel like what I do can have an effect on the system.”

Torbert changed gears and pursued a graduate degree in horticulture at UC Davis. Fyhrie is following in her footsteps once she graduates from the farm academy program.

Torbert started her Cloverleaf farm four years ago when she leased 5 acres from Rich Collins, owner of the 200-acre Collins Farm.

Cloverleaf farm recently earned its organic certification, and is just now starting to show a profit, she said.

“Sometimes I feel less supported and find that there is more skepticism from older-generation farmers,” Torbert said. “People make assumptions that you do not know how to drive a tractor.”

Not all beginning farmers are under 35, said Michelle Stephens farmbudsman with Yolo and Solano counties. A lot of the women who she helps with farm permits are new farmers in the 40-year-old range.

“It’s less their full time business and more of an augmentation to what they are already doing,” said Stephens. “So, maybe they have some chickens and they decide they want to sell eggs.”

Some women entering the field hail from longtime farming families, like Kristy Levings, who co-owns Chowdown Farms, a livestock operation in the Capay Valley.

Levings, who is 35, defines herself as a third-generation farmer. At age 11, she was already in charge of a commercial sheep flock. But she has not handed the reins of her farm. She had to leave him and come back to the farming world by way of the big city.

“It was not a given that I would engage in farming,” said Levings, whose only sibling is a younger sister. Bias against females taking over a farm was a factor.

“If you grow up in a farming family, there are different expectations on you based on gender,” Levings said. “If you don’t grow up in a farming family, it is easier to think about farming without a gender filter.”

She left the farm after high school to pursue a degree in psychology and gerontology at San Francisco State University. After graduating she entered a career in social services.

When her mother grew sick in 2007, Levings moved back to the Capay Valley. A year later, an attractive parcel of property came on the market. Levings, then 28, bought it with her farming partner Brian Douglass. They sell lamb and other meat to such well-known local chefs as Randall Selland and Patrick Mulvaney.

Levings said she believes women farmers are bringing new talents to the field.

“Women bring to the table a certain way of thinking about things – from a multitasking perspective,” Levings said. “Like planning strategically.”

She likened farming to conducting a symphony. “There are a lot of moving parts all at once,” she said. “You have to be able to hear when the farm is out of tune.”

She said that with livestock it helps to be able to look at the field and see how the flock is interacting within it and how it interacting with what is growing on it

The only limitation Levings sees to being a woman farmer? Physical power. “I don’t have the same musculature as a male,” Levings said.

For her, that’s nothing more than a momentary drawback. “There’s nothing I cannot do – I’ll just do it in a different way,” Levings said. “If I have to lift something heavy, I’ll figure out how to use a machine instead of trying to muscle it myself.”

Link to article


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Cover crops and water infiltration – a video from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

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Lady Gaga joins California water conservation effort

In partnership with the State of California’s drought awareness program Save Our Water, international pop superstar and five-time Grammy winner Lady Gaga has released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) asking Californians to join the effort and take extraordinary measures to save water during the drought. The PSA is available on, a new site designed to help Californians find ways to conserve at home and at work every day.

The campaign comes as the State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt mandatory water conservation measures for urban water users and suppliers, including prohibitions on outdoor irrigation more than two days per week, washing hardscapes, sidewalks and driveways with water and using hoses without shutoff nozzles to wash cars.

Lady Gaga PSA – Save Our Water from ACWA on Vimeo.

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Invasive giant African snails seized at LAX – from the Los Angeles Times


By Veronica Rocha

Two picnic baskets packed with 67 live giant African snails were seized by federal authorities at Los Angeles International Airport, authorities said Monday.

The snails, which weighed a total of more than 35 pounds and reportedly were intended for human consumption, was apparently the largest seizure at LAX of the mollusks, which are sometimes fried and served as a snack.

The snails were discovered July 1 in two picnic baskets, which weighed more than 35 pounds, said Lee Harty of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The snails arrived from Lagos, Nigeria, and were headed to San Dimas, she said.

In the past, federal inspectors have discovered one or two of the large snails hidden in luggage, but this marked “the first time this pest has been encountered in such large quantity and as a consumption entry” in Los Angeles, said Todd C. Owen, director of field operations for the customs agency.

Giant African snails, also known as land snails, can live as long as 10 years and grow up to eight inches long. The snails can carry parasites harmful to humans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture deems the large snails as a damaging species, consuming more than 500 types of plants, according to federal authorities.

But when the snails can’t find fruits and vegetables to eat, they will “eat paint and stucco off of houses,” the customs agency said in a statement.

The incident remains under investigation.

Link to story

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UC Davis Drought Study Assesses Current Losses and Potential Future Impacts

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (standing) at the National Press Club in Washington DC with UC Davis professors Jay Lund (right) and Richard Howitt, co-authors of the drought impact study.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (standing) at the National Press Club in Washington DC with UC Davis professors Jay Lund (right) and Richard Howitt, co-authors of the drought impact study.

A new report from the University of California, Davis, shows that California agriculture is weathering its worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves, but the nation’s produce basket may come up dry in the future if it continues to treat those reserves like an unlimited savings account.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences study, released today at a press briefing in Washington, D.C., updates estimates on the drought’s effects on Central Valley farm production, presents new data on the state’s coastal and southern farm areas, and forecasts the drought’s economic fallout through 2016. The study found that the drought — the third most severe on record — is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third. Groundwater pumping is expected to replace most river water losses, with some areas more than doubling their pumping rate over the previous year, the study said. More than 80 percent of this replacement pumping occurs in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.

The results highlight California agriculture’s economic resilience and vulnerabilities to drought and underscore the state’s reliance on groundwater to cope with droughts. “California’s agricultural economy overall is doing remarkably well, thanks mostly to groundwater reserves,” said Jay Lund, a co-author of the study and director of the university’s Center for Watershed Sciences. “But we expect substantial local and regional economic and employment impacts. We need to treat that groundwater well so it will be there for future droughts.” Other key findings of the drought’s effects in 2014:

  • Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion (revenue losses of $1 billion and $0.5 billion in additional pumping costs). This net revenue loss is about 3 percent of the state’s total agricultural value.
  • The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.
  • The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.
  • 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.
  • The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.
  • Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year’s drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
  • Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.
  • The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions.
  • Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.

Groundwater a “slow-moving train wreck”

If the drought continues for two more years, groundwater reserves will continue to be used to replace surface water losses, the study said. Pumping ability will slowly decrease, while costs and losses will slowly increase due to groundwater depletion. California is the only state without a framework for groundwater management.

“We have to do a better job of managing groundwater basins to secure the future of agriculture in California,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which largely funded the UC Davis study. “That’s why we’ve developed the California Water Action Plan and a proposal for local, sustainable groundwater management.”

Failure to replenish groundwater in wet years continues to reduce groundwater availability to sustain agriculture during drought — particularly more profitable permanent crops, like almonds and grapes — a situation lead author Richard Howitt of UC Davis called a “slow-moving train wreck.”

“A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Howitt, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics. “We’re acting like the super rich who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

To forecast the economic effects of the drought, the UC Davis researchers used computer models, remote satellite sensing data from NASA, and the latest estimates of State Water Project, federal Central Valley Project and local water deliveries and groundwater pumping capacities.

The analysis was done at the request of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which co-funded the research with the University of California. The report’s other co-authors include UC Davis agricultural economists Josué Medellín-Azuara and Dan Sumner, and Duncan MacEwan of the ERA Economic consulting firm in Davis.

California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and nearly a quarter of the nation’s milk and cream. Across the nation, consumers regularly buy several crops grown almost entirely in California, including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, grapes, olives and figs.

Read the full report

Link to news release

Link to archived news conference

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Fair food gets a TV show! From the Modesto Bee

DN fair eats

Food Network, “Carnival Eats” host Noah Cappe poses with the 18 inch monster corn dog and 5 lbs. of fries he learned to make from owner Tom Stroud at the Monster Grill at the Stanislaus County Fair. Photo by Debbie Noda, Modesto Bee.  


By Nan Austin

TURLOCK – Some fairgoers came for the barbecue, washed down with beer floats. Others lined up for deep-fried, bacon-wrapped pickles, cheesecake on a stick or a dozen forms of fried potatoes.

But it’s lobster corn dogs, doughnut sandwiches, deep-fried frogs legs and a mega loaf of curly fries that will be the most memorable morsels of this year’s Stanislaus County Fair, thanks to a Food Network episode of “Carnival Eats” filming in Turlock this weekend.

“Vegas has its secrets. The fair has its calories. It’s the guilty place you go once a year,” said host Noah Cappe between takes Saturday. The show has crisscrossed the country since April, filming Cappe gamely learning to cook everything from gumbo in Louisiana to deep-fried rattlesnake in Oklahoma.

“I appear to be a slow learner. But I’m definitely getting comfortable around the friers,” Cappe said with a grin.

“It’s silly. The guy can barely slice an onion, but he loves to eat,” said show director Spencer Ramsay while his crew set up cameras at the Monster Grill.

“Setup takes a couple of hours,” he noted. “That’s always what takes the time.”

Outside, cameramen taped a black cloth hood around a window in front of the main cooking area to block reflections. One camera would be shooting there while two others stood inside with Ramsay to capture Cappe’s foray into monster corn dog and curly fries cooking. Each item is cooked at least twice, giving a variety of wide-angle and close-up views to be stitched together later.

“It’s a huge process,” said producer Topher McFarlane. The Monster Grill trailer, which has a second trailer attached with walk-in refrigerator and office space, is one of the larger venues they’ve filmed, he noted. Filming inside tents and tiny booths each take their own engineering for lighting, sound and camera angles.

During filming, Cappe’s slim, 6-foot-3-inch frame swiveled expertly to stay in the photo frame as owner Tom Stroud maneuvered bulky packages and oversize equipment in the small space. The booth can run through 14 tons of potatoes in one fair, Stroud said.

Stroud’s 18-inch corn dogs and 5-pound serving of curly fries, both $8 items, were the menu for his segment. It takes custom-built, extra-deep deep-fry bins to cook both. The corn dogs take custom-cut sticks because of their weight, Stroud said. Some people share the mega meal, others dive in alone, he said.

“You get people trying to outdo each other. It’s really comical,” he said.

On Saturday the crew also filmed Cappe making lobster corn dogs that sell for $10 at Sharky’s Fish Fry, owned by two generations of Delahoydes. Phillip Delahoyde said his dad invented the batter-fried lobster sausages and lobster fries to be featured on the show. Other quirky offerings include deep-fried avocado and, at another booth, a chicken sandwich made with raspberry-jelly-filled Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

“If we had to think about calories, that would be scary,” Delahoyde said with a laugh.

Filming wraps up today, with segments on deep-fried frogs legs with deep-fried okra at the Southern Comfort Express booth and homemade doughnut ice cream sandwiches from Sweet Cheeks Fair Treats.

Sacramento’s Cal Expo and the Stanislaus fair will be the California contributions for the first season of “Carnival Eats,” due to start mid-August on the Cooking Channel and Great American Country in the United States, and the Food Network in Canada. The show will mix and match locations, making Turlock’s air date a toss-up right now, Ramsay said.

The fair has a week still to run, giving fairgoers a chance to taste the real thing and dozens of other only-at-the-fair foods.

At the Knights of Columbus booth, volunteers in red T-shirts that say “Keep Calm and Eat Linguica” will be fundraising for scholarships and extras for Sacred Heart School. After more than 60 years of selling linguica sandwiches, they’ve added a linguica corn dog, french fries and sweet potato fries this year, said volunteer Kevin Crivelli.

Rotary’s beer booth has $8 beer floats this year, said volunteer Don Gonsalves. One pairs a dark Guinness with chocolate and another adds orange cream soda to Blue Moon beer. Both come with ice cream and whipped cream.

“We’ve had people try it that don’t drink beer and love it,” Gonsalves said.

Doughnuts are big sellers throughout the fair, even showing up as stuffed toys winnable at games along the midway. Castle Mini-Donuts offers a doughnut sundae, eight doughnuts topped with whipped cream, chocolate or caramel sauce and a cherry on top, said worker Jackie Barrera.

Fried bread has been dubbed “elephant ears” at one booth offering a number of toppings. An Indian Fry Bread booth has s’mores bread, a fry bread dribbled with melted marshmallows and chocolate sauce.

The classic cinnamon rolls, a fair staple for 37 years, have added a cinnamon roll sundae – a few more irresistible fair calories.

Link to story

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Climate Change: Register now for the first California Adaptation Forum

text cloud around the words "2014 California Adaptation Forum"The consensus is overwhelming: our climate is changing. According to NASA’s Global Climate Change website, “97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” Adapting to climate change is critical at all levels of our economy, including ensuring a secure food supply in the future.

For the first time, the Local Government Commission in partnership with the State of California will be holding the California Adaptation Forum. The two-day event is designed to engage a diverse mix of attendees to create a comprehensive network with a shared, strong commitment to addressing climate risks. It will be held in Sacramento on August 19-20, 2014. Registration for the forum is now open with early registration rates ending on July 18th, 2014. This event is very timely and builds off last year’s successful National Adaptation Forum.

The event will include agriculture/food-focused sessions such as:

  • How Local Food System Planning Can Create More Resilient Communities
  • The Role of California Rangelands in Adapting to Climate Change
  • Reclaiming Energy: Farms, Forests and Waste Streams

CDFA has engaged growers on identifying potential adaptation measures, which are highlighted in the Climate Change Consortium Final Report. The California Adaptation Forum will continue this discussion in a highly useful way, for the benefit of our children and future generations that will call California home.

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Governor Brown signs bill allowing wine tasting at farmers’ markets – from the Sacramento Bee


By David Siders

Californians can start sipping wine at farmers markets.


Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday he has signed an urgency measure allowing winegrowers who bottle their own wine to conduct instructional tastings at California’s numerous farmers markets. Assembly Bill 2488, by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, was approved by both houses of the Legislature without dissent.

The bill expands a provision of state law allowing the sale of estate-grown wine at farmers markets. Wine industry groups said the inability to offer samples hurt sales in an industry in which customers are accustomed to a taste.

Brown, a Democrat, signed the legislation without comment. It was one of 10 bills the governor announced signing Tuesday.

The measure requires wine tasting areas to be separated from the rest of the farmers market by a rope or other barrier, and it limits tastings to three ounces per patron per day.

Proponents of the bill said it would help small wineries build their brand. Opponents, including the California Council on Alcohol Problems, opposed the measure, according to a legislative analysis.

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From Huffington Post: This Living, Sustainable Mushroom Building Could Be the Future of Green Architecture

By Priscilla Frank, Huffington Post

photo of mushroom building

Photo credit: Kris Graves/MoMa

This summer marks the 15th year of The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program, which challenges young architects to design innovative projects that bring new possibilities to our understanding of sustainable architecture. The eco-friendly structure that reigns victorious serves as a temporary urban shelter for MoMA PS1′s Warm Up summer music series.

This year’s winner, designed by David Benjamin of New York architects The Living, is, simply put, a mushroom tower. And this mushroom tower could change the future of environmental design. The cylindrical tower isn’t quite manufactured but grown, thanks to its entirely organic material made from cornstalks and the root-like structures of mushrooms, called mycelium. Up until now, these mushroom roots, created by Ecovative in 2007, have mostly been used as a packaging material. But their purpose in art and design is about to shift considerably.

Here’s how it works: To create the brick substitute, the mixture of cornstalk and mushroom root is left to harden for several days into a sturdy solid through an entirely natural cycle requiring nearly no waste, nearly no energy and nearly no carbon emissions. Essentially, the architects channel the “biological algorithm” of mushroom roots to grow a building from the ground up. The entire growing process takes around five days. ArchDaily described the resulting wonder as resembling the “intersection of three arteries — blown up a few thousand times.

The wildly creative engineering feat, essentially creating a new ecosystem of design, is named Hy-Fi. “Hy-Fi is a reference to a kind of technical term called hypha, which is the type of living organism that we use to manufacture the building blocks of our project,” designer Benjamin explained to The Creator’s Project. “In this project, we’re using a living organism as a factory. So the living organism of mycelium, or hyphae, which is basically a mushroom root, basically makes our bricks for us.”

At the top of the tower you’ll see a row of shiny blocks, which serve as the molds in which the bricks grow. Their light-refracting film coating, invented by 3M, directs light back into the towers. This serves to draw cool air in at Hy-Fi’s bottom layers and push it out on top, creating a delightful microclimate. The mirrored top layer is also a sly nod to New York architecture. “We wanted to acknowledge the red brick structures and glass towers of New York City, but then turn them inside out,” Benjamin explained to ArchDaily.

When Warm Up comes to a close and the tower is disassembled, the molds will be returned to their makers for further research. As for the rest of the structure, it will return to the place from whence it came, the local earth of NYC. Yup, it’s compostable. “One of the things that we’re experimenting with in the project is a kind of local economy of materials. Everything from the project, in its entire life cycle, comes from a 150 mile radius,” Benjamin told Creator’s Project.

“Then at the end of the lifespan of the temporary structure, we’re going to compost it, again, right here in New York City, and then return that raw material to local community gardens and tree planting. In that sense we’re experimenting with a local version of architecture similar to some experiments with the local food movement.”

Well, there you have it. Hy-Fi is more than just a mushroom tower, it’s a challenge to the very limits of sustainability, an expansion of what bio-design is and can be. On the other hand, we can’t wait to party there during Warm Up. Listen up youths, this may be your only chance to dance the day away under the benevolent shelter of a tubular ‘shroom shelter. We highly suggest you take advantage. Hy-Fi will be open to visitors until September 7, 2014.

The other finalists for this year’s MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program were Collective-LOK (Jon Lott, William O’Brien Jr., and Michael Kubo), LAMAS (Wei-Han Vivian Lee and James Macgillivray), Pita + Bloom (Florencia Pita and Jackilin Hah Bloom), and Fake Industries Architectural Agonism with MAIO (Cristina Goberna and Urtzi Grau). The five finalists’ proposed projects will be featured in a MoMA exhibition opening July 4. Learn about last year’s winning project here.

Link to article

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California Grown ‘Snap a Selfie’ benefits food banks

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (left) joins Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta and California Grown's  Nick Matteis for a #cagrown selfie.  California Grown has committed to donating a pound of food to California food banks for every #cagrown selfie that is posted on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook by end of October.  Participants are asked to take a photograph of the CA Grown logo or anything grown or produced in California and then use #cagrown in their post.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (left) joins Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta and California Grown’s Nick Matteis for a #cagrown selfie. California Grown has committed to donating a pound of food to California food banks for every #cagrown selfie that is posted on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook by end of October. Participants are asked to take a photograph of the CA Grown logo or anything grown or produced in California and then use #cagrown in their post.

Link to California Grown ‘Snap a Selfie’ page.

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