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Public food forest signage help needed

 
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We're trying to make signs to identify plants in a permaculture community garden.  I'm imagining something akin to a botanical garden sign system.  

I know what I don't want.  I've been to places where all they have is the Latin name for a plant.  That's not very informative for the general public.  I also want more than just the common name.  

I'm thinking of having the common name, a few graphical icons along the bottom of the sign that tell the permaculture aspects of a plant (pollinator, N fixer, dynamic accumulator, etc), and then a list of specific benefits of that particular plant.

So maybe like the image below?  Yes, I know Borage isn't a N fixer or a typical mulch crop but I wanted to have more icons on there as examples.

Are there better ways to convey the info?  I like the idea of the icons if we can come up with good pictures for them (the sketch on the left is supposed to be a bee).  We'd also have a sign here or there in the garden that goes into more detail about each of those features and why they're important.  Along with brochures when you enter the garden that would further help.

Possible icons: N fixer, dynamic accumulator, pollinator plant, insectiary plant, mulch, food, medicine, others???
Plant-sign.png
[Thumbnail for Plant-sign.png]
 
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This is a great start, Mike! You could maybe do the local common name, with the botanical name, and 'aka' other common names in parentheses, directly under it. Sorta like so:

Borage/Borago officionalis
(Aka: starflower, bee flower)

And, I love the idea of the icons, and maybe a key to them set up in each guild, for reference? Some would be obvious, like bees🐝, butterflies🦋, & birds🕊. The medicinal ones could have the classic snake on a pole⚕, maybe with a simplified list of uses, and edible could be indicated by a dinner plate or place setting 🥣 🍽. Non-edible parts (like seeds, leaves, stems on some plants) could be pictured with a 'don't' symbol,  like a leaf or stem, with the red circle & bar (🚫)over them...
 
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I do like the idea to put the latin on there. Lately I have been running into a lot of plant nerds and they all seem to enjoy learning those.

I think your definitely on the right track either way. I like pictures...
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Carla and Dan!  Yeah, we're walking a fine line between mentioning medicine, toxic parts and edibility.  Not sure how that will shake out but one way or another we'll figure it out.

I love the snake on the pole for medicine!  And a dinner plate or chicken drumstick could work for the food icon.

What about icons for mulch, dynamic accumulator or insectiary?  If those should even be icons...
 
Mike Haasl
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Oh, and I think we're stuck with greyscale coloration.
 
Carla Burke
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Yup, I think the Latin names ought to be there, just because there are many common names that overlap - some with toxic look-alikes. That Latin name can help tremendously.

I think some of the icons most commonly used on seed packets might go a long way, in helping, like a bold 'N', for nitrogen fixers, a sun/half sun/ blocked sun, for light requirements, seed planting depth indicators, raindrops for things that need loads of water, etc would be not only easy to use, but easily identified. Some things, like 'mulch well', companion,  'doesn't play well with...', and 'good cover crop' may just need to be written out.
 
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Mike wrote: And a dinner plate or chicken drumstick could work for the food icon.


Ummm. Nope. It seems that unusual meat is always described as "like chicken". Wild plant food is generally described as "like Asparagus". It never lives up to it though.

Kidding. The drumsticks would make sense to more people.
 
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Latin names greatly reduce confusion. Give the (a) common name, but also the Latin name. Other than that, looks like you have a great start with what you have there.
 
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I had a little look at my 'interesting plants' spreadsheet and I have classified them as follows:
characteristicnotes
edibleI think I would use a knife and fork graphic
green manurefor me this incorporated living mulches, biomass and accumulators
fibre plant
firewood/timber
shelterie. pioneering
N2 fixing
polytunnel (i.e. tender)
evergreen
climber
ground cover
water/bog plant
Shady, Part Shady, Sunny
salt tolerant
wind tolerant
acid soils
scottish plantie. native plant
annual/ biennial/ perennial
height
width


These were things that were of importance to me, but not all of these are relevant to you and you can overload people with information. I think insect attractant is a very good one to include, as is medicinal use, maybe dye plamt might be another one (how to show that in black and white!?)
 
Mike Haasl
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Good point regarding dye plants and fiber plants.  We have both in decent variety around the garden.  Sun-wise it's all full sun so we don't have too many shade or part shade plants (yet).  Once the standard apple gets bigger we might though.....

Ok, I guess we'll do Latin although I don't speak the language.  If we have to, I guess...  :)
 
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You organized my thoughts for me Mike and friends! I have been thinking about this very topic for my own garden.

I'm going to completely steal the idea and carry it out here on my own. I'll share back my results.

I've been pondering materials for signage since I first had the idea to label things. After my long garden clean-up of plastic and styrofoam I made a fairly strict personal rule that nothing new goes in the garden that won't turn into soil in my lifetime... so it's a bit of a challenge. Botanical gardens seem to use some sort of plastic or resin, I'm not sure what precisely - clearly it seems to be quite UV resistant.

I was thinking of attempting woodburned/oiled as in the PEP "make a sign" badge bit. However I do feel like that is more suited to large signs and it will be harder to inscribe details such as the function icons you mention. Maybe if I choose a better carving wood like a fruit wood perhaps which will take more fine detail cuts. I do have a surplus of loquat wood, but it is quite orange and I feel like a white wood would provide a much better background for text. Maybe bay laurel? Then the signs will smell nice too!

Another possibility is using Japanese calligraphy inksticks for the writing. If I'm careful about sourcing they're primarily soot/charcoal and will fit my biodegradable requirement. I could then also avoid the time spent carving and burning. I've seen some wood with said ink that must be 60 years old and is still legible, so it seems like a reasonable alternative if I can get it to work.
 
Mike Haasl
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I'd be really leery of using wood burned signs unless they're clear coated in some way.  All the ones I've seen at WL have faded over enough time (5 years?).  

One option for simple signs would be metal that would eventually biodegrade.

In our case, the high school has a fab lab where you can use their fancy laser/CNC equipment.  They have a plastic sheet with a black layer in it.  You come up with a sign and upload it and the laser blasts away the black to make your letters/images.  It can also cut out the border of the sign and do mounting holes all in the same process.  So I suspect we'll go with that even though it's plastic :(

One other thought is to put a QR code on the signs as well.  Any ideas of how to do that and where to send the QR link?
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:
One other thought is to put a QR code on the signs as well.  Any ideas of how to do that and where to send the QR link?



That's interesting, you would have to put some sort of web presence, a site, a blog or how about a forum topic on Permies, specific to the plant? May be with photos and other info about the plant and lock it so it just stays as a static information page. QR codes are easy, there are lots of generators you can download.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Mark, could the website be as public as a wikipedia page or something like that?
 
L. Johnson
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Mike Haasl wrote:Thanks Mark, could the website be as public as a wikipedia page or something like that?



Qr codes just turn text into an easily scannable form, so as long as the link doesn't change it can be anything you can write in text.
 
L. Johnson
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Mike Haasl wrote:I'd be really leery of using wood burned signs unless they're clear coated in some way.  All the ones I've seen at WL have faded over enough time (5 years?).  

One option for simple signs would be metal that would eventually biodegrade.

In our case, the high school has a fab lab where you can use their fancy laser/CNC equipment.  They have a plastic sheet with a black layer in it.  You come up with a sign and upload it and the laser blasts away the black to make your letters/images.  It can also cut out the border of the sign and do mounting holes all in the same process.  So I suspect we'll go with that even though it's plastic :(



I think your idea is awesome. I hope it works wonderfully and creates a lot of interest in the plants.

As for life-span, I think 10-15 years is the sweet spot, they'll need to be re-hung periodically anyway to keep the string from restricting the plant growth. Right now my thoughts are making home-made charcoal/vinegar/honey ink and painting on a light wood like bay laurel. I may oil over that, or try both and see what lasts better. I might do a few wood burned and oiled as well for comparison.

I don't think I'm going to get a good botanical garden label aesthetic with this technique, but I bet I could make a cool Japanese restaurant menu type placard which would have it's own interesting aesthetic.

yakitori menu placards - same style for plant labels?


 
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Something I find essential for my tree planting notes is:  

Date planted
Started from seed?  Seedling?  Sapling?

As the years pass, I like being able to look in my notes and see the age of a tree that I planted.

 
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Mike Haasl wrote:One other thought is to put a QR code on the signs as well.  Any ideas of how to do that and where to send the QR link?

Are those the funny, squiggly boxes people use their phones to access?  That means they have to have a phone, right? So why not just use a regular web address they can take a picture of, but try to make sure it's simple enough that's it's not too messy to type in at home, or that google can find just with local keywords?

I do like the idea of a webpage with more info on each plant. That way you can keep the signs simple with just the highlights, but the webpage could say more about things like how to plant, how to save seeds, when it flowers/sets fruit etc.

I also agree with the need for both local name and botanical name. Local names are really useful for local communication, but if someone's trying to do something like order seeds off the web or if they've got an allergy to a group of plants like Solanum, knowing the botanical name can be a huge help and removes guesswork.
 
L. Johnson
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I've always thought the friendliest thing to do with URLs on signs is to post both the url, especially a short one that you could jot down on a notepad, as well as the QR code. It's very easy to do both if you are printing the sign, and to make QR codes you pretty much have to be printing them anyway.

That said I'm not a big fan of URLs on signs... I've just experienced so many dead links in my life on the internet. Signs are likely to outlast the link. The internet is both surprisingly permanent and surprisingly ephemeral.
 
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Since the forest is in the ceded territory, I think it would be cool to include the Ojibwe names. I have a large GLIFWIC plant guide you could use. It includes descriptions of the known traditional uses for anything that grows natively around here, as well as for that of pioneers brought by early settlers.
 
Coydon Wallham
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I liked your first inclination to exclude the Latin names. Those wouldn't be difficult to pull up from the other info presented and anyone interested in that would probably have a better learning experience in doing so. Heuristics and all that...
 
Nancy Reading
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L. Johnson wrote:

Mike Haasl wrote:Thanks Mark, could the website be as public as a wikipedia page or something like that?



Qr codes just turn text into an easily scannable form, so as long as the link doesn't change it can be anything you can write in text.



I would use something like wikipedia links or the pfaf database if I were going to use QR codes (which I wouldn't because I don't have a mobile phone, so wouldn't have thought of it). There is no need to create a new web presence, unless this is part of the community education you're intending to create. There's a fair amount of information on both websites; maybe Wikipedia has better pictures, but pfaf has better Permie-style information.
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:Thanks Carla and Dan!  Yeah, we're walking a fine line between mentioning medicine, toxic parts and edibility.  Not sure how that will shake out but one way or another we'll figure it out.
I love the snake on the pole for medicine!  And a dinner plate or chicken drumstick could work for the food icon.
What about icons for mulch, dynamic accumulator or insectiary?  If those should even be icons...



Mmm, Mike, I think it a very strange idea that you would use a meat symbol to identify a plant!!!
Many people don't eat meat at all, and that number is increasing rapidly.
I think a dead chicken would spoil the peace of a forest garden.

Also, with plants, it can often be that it is particular parts that are edible, like rhubarb stems, but the leaves aren't.
So it would need to be made clear which parts are edible, or that only part of it is edible.
Sometimes it is more important to label particularly toxic parts.

Maybe the signs could have a QR code on them that went to a page on a website that explained about the plant in more depth - or a link to a site that did.
That way you could keep the signs simple, clear and beautiful, and give lots more information.

Have fun!
 
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Jay Angler wrote:

Mike Haasl wrote:One other thought is to put a QR code on the signs as well.  Any ideas of how to do that and where to send the QR link?

Are those the funny, squiggly boxes people use their phones to access?  That means they have to have a phone, right? So why not just use a regular web address they can take a picture of, but try to make sure it's simple enough that's it's not too messy to type in at home, or that google can find just with local keywords?



In the UK most people would have a phone and use a QR code. Maybe that is not so in the states, or is that on this forum are a lot of off-grid permies who disconnect from the usual?

 
L. Johnson
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Lisa Sture wrote:
In the UK most people would have a phone and use a QR code. Maybe that is not so in the states, or is that on this forum are a lot of off-grid permies who disconnect from the usual?



I have learned that there are people on this forum that fill out almost every conceivable demographic. Including people who have never touched a phone with a camera on it. Also many who reject certain technologies for a variety of reasons.

It's always nice to offer alternatives.

Also I kind of agree about the chicken iconography. A dinner plate and fork or cup might suit a wider demographic with a bit more neutral take.
 
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 What kind of signs are you looking for and the size? Also, how do want them placed, staked into the ground, mounted on a tree, etc?
 I do custom wood sign engraving with black inlay. Let me know if I can help you out.
 I do these free hand, not with a CNC machine. They are also designed to pass the test of time.
 Let me know if you need my help,
John Bowden
 
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The ideas in this thread reminded me of the ethnobotanical gardens at Evergreen State College. I've linked some examples below. They have the beds grouped by intended use, so that narrows down what might be presented on each sign. I thought they included a sufficient amount of information for a general audience just browsing the gardens, and useful for a more comprehensive plant walk presentation.
20190908_131621.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20190908_131621.jpg]
20190908_131916.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20190908_131916.jpg]
20190908_131610.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20190908_131610.jpg]
 
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I retired as the senior graphic designer for Fleet Readiness East (US Navy) and am a 45 year veteran of the sign business, having owned a Signs Now franchise for over 14 years.  I'm not going to address the content but just to add that you should go see the BEST, most reputable sign person in your area, and I don't mean a "sticker shop".  Consult with them on what they can offer and what they would recommend as far as Substrate.  It depends on your budget and how many of these you're going to want.  Laser etched would probably be amazing, as long as it is done on a substrate that will hold up to weather.  If you can afford laser etched, the overall shape of the substrate doesn't matter; it can be customized.  Ask to see their portfolio, and if you're impressed, come up with some ideas and get an estimate for the best idea.  If you're comfortable with the budget, and intend on doing business with them, ask if they would design you something.  Keep in mind that it costs the sign company money to do this, and they can't work for free.  Whatever you do, do not take their idea(s) and shop for a lower price!!  It's not only highly unethical, but it's also illegal and you can wind up paying the designer the full price of the project.  Sign companies get a ton of people with "great ideas" that turn out to be just tire kickers.  Treat them with integrity; try not to micro-manage the design; just give them freedom, and you'll be well rewarded.  Don't feel that you have to go with the first company you talk to; just find the one with the best designer.  You can always find someone to do it cheaper, but outstanding work (if that's what you want and can afford) pays off long after the sweetness of saving a few bucks wears off - and you won't have to avoid them in the stores.

Write down all the possible "copy" and maybe some ideas, but mostly give them their freedom to work out the design process; that's their specialty, and if you put too many constraints on them it cramps the creative and design process.  You'll be much more satisfied than if you went in with concrete ideas and have them try to juggle them to make it work.  You can't make chicken salad out of chicken manure!
 
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Nancy Reading wrote:I would use something like wikipedia links or the pfaf database if I were going to use QR codes (which I wouldn't because I don't have a mobile phone, so wouldn't have thought of it).


Thanks for the PFAF reminder!  I was thinking I'd want to just link to an existing, established web site instead of creating something and they seem perfect :)
 
Mike Haasl
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John Bowden wrote:  What kind of signs are you looking for and the size? Also, how do want them placed, staked into the ground, mounted on a tree, etc?
 I do custom wood sign engraving with black inlay. Let me know if I can help you out.
 I do these free hand, not with a CNC machine. They are also designed to pass the test of time.
 Let me know if you need my help,
John Bowden


I think we want the individual plant signs to be either small for herbs or more common plants (rosemary, etc).  Maybe 2" by 3".  And the bigger signs for some of the plants (rhubarb, alfalfa, aronia, etc) to maybe be 5" by 8".  I'd want font that is big enough to read without stooping over too much but small enough to fit a reasonable amount of information on them.  I think we'll have stakes in the ground.  I'm not sure what kind, possibly galvanized EMT (conduit) pipe flattened and bent on the top to bolt the sign to.  I want to avoid wood since it rots in about two years here in the ground.  I'm very open to suggestions for mounting stakes that would be affordable and durable.  I think we'll need over 100 of them...

Thanks John, I'll send you a PM!
 
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Thanks Alex, that's almost exactly what I'm thinking of!  I just want signs that will hold up for 10-30 years while still being as permie as possible.  We've done the laminated paper route and it doesn't hold up long enough.  
 
Coydon Wallham
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Mike Haasl wrote: I think we'll have stakes in the ground.  I'm not sure what kind, possibly galvanized EMT (conduit) pipe flattened and bent on the top to bolt the sign to.  I want to avoid wood since it rots in about two years here in the ground.  I'm very open to suggestions for mounting stakes that would be affordable and durable.  I think we'll need over 100 of them...


When I was building a rooftop garden and looking for something to build planter boxes with, I found a small miller who was being paid by the DNR to cut down his "invasive" black locusts. I was told they were known to last over a century as fence posts in contact with soil. That might be in a more arid environment, but I'm guessing they'd be good for at least 30 around Northern Wisconsin...

(BTW, we also trellised the planters using EMT conduit found in dumpsters where the university was remodeling.)
 
Coydon Wallham
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That pfaf site looks neato. They also have a bunch of identification icons that could probably be pilfered for signage in a lazy gardener permaculturist kinda way...
 
Mike Haasl
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We have hardly any black locust up here but maybe if I could find some from down in southern WI it would work.  I'll have to see if I can make some contacts...
 
Coydon Wallham
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The guy we found was around the Kickapoo valley. I'll see if I can dig up contact info but suspect those "invasives" have not survived the intervening decade...
 
Coydon Wallham
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The Lumber cooperative I dealt with apparently dissolved a year ago. To give you a reference point, the custom milled black locust cost us three times as much as the gick treated stuff would have at the fleet store...
 
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This is a somewhat-related statement/rant...

Our land (what remains of an old farm, 89 acres) is accessible in two ways from the road, through the pastures.  We cannot lock it as Charles' cousin's land opens onto ours, and he has cattle and leaves his gates unlocked.  We have lost a lot of tools, antique items, and etc. fro our outbuildings; we have seen many plants that were there for decades disappear: entire trees and bushes.  Now we no longer have "

Chickasaw Plum

Southern Wax Myrtle

An old variety of Fig

Muscadines old varieties, which were growing on an arbor

Blueberries, several bushes

An old but small apple tree

Echinacea plants from in front of my house!  (animals don't remove an echinacea plant and leave a hole!!!)

and more; I try not to think about it.

These things are GONE.  I know that I have seen new young trees ruined by deer here (they ride it down with their chest, bending it til it breaks and then it dies; to get at the leaves
But this is HUMAN predation/theft...

One time several years ago, we found a car halfway up our long driveway, parked and empty and there was a
stack of business cards inside from a Tree Transplant Service!!! -  (the window was open so we snooped!).  Grrr.  

I sold plants at the Farmer's Market here, for a couple of years; one of my more regular customers came off as very chummy from the start; she asked me where we lived, etc.  She then began to say, EVERY WEEK< to me that she is a Forager.  ANd she would look at me meaningfully.  I didn't ask "are you foraging on my land...? Because I knew; she was "telling me"

Our land is NOT public.  Although we don't really have any Keep Out signs; it is somewhat remote, but people have been raping it for years.  

And so my somewhat pesssimistic take on this entire thread; my devil's advocate question, if you will: Who is going to regulate how much people take, and make sure the plants in this public space continue to produce?  
 
Betsy Carraway
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A more normal reply to the actual question:

In my opinion, you NEED the Latin name to be on there, along with as many valid common names as there are.  Without the Latin, one never knows which Indian Tea (or whatever) you actually mean.
 
Mike Haasl
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Betsy Carraway wrote: Who is going to regulate how much people take, and make sure the plants in this public space continue to produce?  


This is inside a fenced community garden so there will be some encouraged pilfering and, I'm sure, some over-harvesting at times.  We have a team of volunteers to maintain and improve the garden.
 
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I like the combination of common name(s) and Latin name, since there are so many reused common names.

I feel strongly about font/size/contrast for signage. Black on white is ideal (the black on natural wood example, while lovely, is difficult to read even when new.)

While I want to like icons, they seem a bit like a code one has to decrypt to gain the information. Even some of the common plant icons, a full sun, a half sun, a water drop, can be poor descriptions.
A selection of short words might be more accessible to more people. An additional description (as in the Evergreen College example) for clarity, such as the color that the dye makes, from what part of the plant...
Possibly headings such as "likes : " , "benefits : " , and "uses : " could be followed by the short descriptors for growing conditions, benefits, and uses

CATNIP  (Nepeta cataria)
likes: full sun, drought-tolerant
benefits: insects, bees
uses: cat intoxicant
 
Hug your destiny! And hug this tiny ad:
Harvesting Rainwater for your Homestead in 9 Days or Less by Renee Dang
https://permies.com/wiki/206770/Harvesting-Rainwater-Homestead-Days-Renee
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