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reimagining the ethnobotany of self sufficiency

 
pollinator
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What can we grow to make our communities more self sufficient?

Staple Foods?

Foods that make life better or make us happy like watermelons?

Clothing?

Herbs?

Food for animals domestic and wild?

Habitat for pollinators?

Raw material for canoes?

Basketry plants?

Fuel?

Oil?

What can we grow to build sustainable resilient communities that keep things local in a changing world?

 
garden master
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Location: Maine, zone 5
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William Schlegel wrote:What can we grow to make our communities more self sufficient?

Staple Foods?



Chestnuts, chestnuts, chestnuts!!!  How great would it be to have a bounteous glut of chestnuts available?
 
steward
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William: One of my favorite games to play is, "What could I grow or make myself that I am currently buying from the store?"

Because of that game, I am now growing tomatillos (enchilada sauce), yellow mustard seed, and flax. I am currently keeping chickens and rabbits. Not that I can buy rabbit meat from the store, but I buy meat in general. I am sewing my own clothing, because I can get sizes that fit me, and styles that I like to wear. I'm still buying fabric. I have grown fabrics that I wear, but only small items like belts.

Corn and squash are at the core of my self-feeding efforts. Other things like beets, carrots, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons are what makes life interesting, but they are so fleeting and hard to preserve that it's hard to include them on the subsistence living part of the equation. They go on the quality of life side.

Coppicing the fruit orchard to make sticks for use in the garden has become really enjoyable to me. I've started to expand on that to grow handles for tools.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Based on yield, the bush beans that I have been growing are not a self-sufficient food source. Based on the way that I grow them (surrounded by weeds). I'm expecting to grow a patch of pole beans in the coming growing season. Perhaps they will be more suitable.

Apples grow tremendously well here, but a family can only eat so many apples, or drink so much hard cider.
 
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Last year I tried 4 varieties of pole beans just to see if i can I really grow beans to eat in reasonable portions. I've been disappointed with my bush bean yields...enough to save and plant next year plus a few meals  to eat has been the norm. My results were that i was away from my property during the first frost which was unexpected and not in the forcast and almost everything melted (or whatever you call it when your food turns to mush) not success. I've thought a lot about regional food security and while potatoes,  squash, greens, chickens, cows, apples, pears etc are useful the best I have come up with is eat the weeds, deer, elk, and indigenous food sources using gardening as a supplement to wild food. The more food you can gather freely that nature grows the less effort you need to put into taming nature. There is a reason farming didnt exist in the pre-colonial pnw maybe in other places farming is the natural expression of humans interacting with land but not here.  The main problem with that being that the indigenous food sources are hugely diminished,  think salmon, surgeon and wapato for starters. So for where I live I say restore habitat for salmon, let go of the idea that traditional colonial foods are what is needed, hunt the yearling bucks not the old timer successful breeders with a big rack, plant regionally adapted fruit and nut trees, harvest the fruit and nuts that generally go to waste, learn to identify and use local wild food sources and share food and knowledge and wake up your neighbors to the abundance that surrounds them.
 
master pollinator
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
beets, carrots, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons are what makes life interesting, but they are so fleeting and hard to preserve that it's hard to include them on the subsistence living part of the equation.



Fruits and vegetables, including greens, retain much of their nutrition if dehydrated.  Unfortunately, drying removes a lot of their quality of life enhancement aspects.

Dried vegetables can be powdered and stored in jars if space is at a premium, and added to soup and baked goods.

I've had best success with a hanging net bag dehydrator.

 
pollinator
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
William: One of my favorite games to play is, "What could I grow or make myself that I am currently buying from the store?"


Corn and squash are at the core of my self-feeding efforts. Other things like beets, carrots, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons are what makes life interesting, but they are so fleeting and hard to preserve that it's hard to include them on the subsistence living part of the equation. They go on the quality of life side.



It's interesting how everyone approach is so different, for me carrots and beets are available fresh from July through to April, so only two months when they are not either in the ground (july to october) or in a tub of wet sand in the barn (october to april). Tomatoes and cucumbers are huge store-cupboard staples here as well, all in jars. now for me "luxury" items I grow because I like them, but we are marginal for them include sweetcorn and winter squash outside, and peppers and melons inside.  

We have managed without trying really to become self sufficient all year round in Onions they last in strings in the barn until March/April, and then I take any left, cut and freeze them which lasts us through until l the first green ones are ready in June. Peas fresh for June-August and frozen the rest of the year, Green beans fresh July -September frozen after, Sweetcorn, fresh for a fleeting two weeks in September and then frozen. Garlic and potatoes

I think if I wanted to make the biggest jump as it were it would be fuel. We don't burn a huge amount of wood but it is certainly the biggest easy import onto the farm as it were. We already buy it uncut and unsplit so it is the smallest step for us, rather than trying to grow flax for clothing or rape for oil.
 
gardener
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I would think that it would take some specialization within the people of the community, like in the old days tribes, some were the hunters, some were the gatherers, some made the cloth from plant materials but all worked for the good of the whole tribe.
Specialty items were traded for other items, if someone needed something it was provided by those who had that something.

In a modern community once you get past the heat for survival issue
staple foods would be first on my list, this would include meat.
Herbs are a staple too, without seasoning, foods can be bland.
Next would be raw materials for clothing, sheep provide wool and meat, hogs provide meat and light weight leather, Cows provide milk, meat, heavy leather, etc.
Habitat for pollinators can be found in nearby wooded areas, if there are no woods, then you would need to harvest wood and make some sort of hive.
If you don't live near or on a river or lake or ocean, do you really need raw materials for canoes?
Baskets can be made from many different materials, including grasses, I have baskets of thin twigs, grasses, and swamp rushes and I live on top of a mountain.
Oil can come in the form of lard from pigs or olives or nuts, even corn germs can be pressed for corn oil, so this one would depend on effort and equipment on hand more than anything.

It is possible to create a self sustaining village even today, but I think you would have to have a group of  people willing to leave behind some of the conveniences most people have come to rely on.

Redhawk
 
William Schlegel
pollinator
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One way I think we can become more a self sufficient community is by seed saving as a community. The local seed movement has spawned a local seed co-op in my area called Triple Divide Seed Co-op. They are a network of certified organic farmers three of which are in my valley within about twenty miles of me. I am not really a bilateral part of their community. They trial and grow out varieties suitable to our valley and I buy them usually just once. Then if suitably impressed I save the seed and incorporate it into my breeding projects.

My bilateral seed exchange community is farther flung. Mostly via mail. However a bilateral seed exchange community that is mostly very local would be really cool.

My local seed library is a bit like that, however I am not sure how much. Mostly it seems a good way for experienced gardeners to transfer seed to inexperienced. Hopefully in time this grows the network. I don't often make it to the exchanges. Would love to contribute things, come back a few years later and find seed someone had grown out of something I brought especially a grex or a landrace.

So one aspect of building the ethnobotany of a local community is simply to grow excess seed and sell it, trade it, or gift it.
 
Posts: 122
Location: Prairie Canada zone 2/3
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

We have managed without trying really to become self sufficient all year round in Onions they last in strings in the barn until March/April, and then I take any left, cut and freeze them which lasts us through until l the first green ones are ready in June. Peas fresh for June-August and frozen the rest of the year, Green beans fresh July -September frozen after, Sweetcorn, fresh for a fleeting two weeks in September and then frozen. Garlic and potatoes



We usually eat the last of our onions right about the time they start to sprout in spring - ten years of trial and error, and we've finally figured out about how many to plant!  In the span between when we eat the last bulb and see the first good sized green onion sprouts in the garden, we use chives, which are perennial and very hardy.  Our chives are up and big enough to start harvesting about two weeks after the snow melts off them - which can be as early as mid-March in the sunny bed on the south side of the house, and as late as mid-April in the more shaded bed on the east side of the house.  We have four or five clumps, and stagger the harvesting.  They perfectly complement the spring eggs, which we always end up with a glut of.

As for the original question, I think it is worth having some of everything, if possible.  I am a big fan of diversity, and being able to produce food, fiber, habitat, and fuel is my personal ideal.  We're nowhere near yet, though we're improving food production significantly.  I tried producing fiber (alpacas), and discovered I'm not into shearing, so we're back to the drawing board on that one.  We do plant things for wildlife, particularly insects...though often, those plants are also nice for us, either for their beauty or as herbs.  

In the end, though, I think that producing a community's worth of goods will take a whole community to accomplish.  My family is really good at producing squash, potatoes, and eggs, and we plant a lot of trees, so someday we'll have tree fruit to share, as well.  A neighbor might be better at raising and shearing fiber animals and not very interested in trying to manage chickens.  Another neighbor might be stellar at growing corn, and not so excited about keeping livestock of any description.  While I believe diversity is important, I also think that different people and different land will naturally be better at (or more interested in) producing certain things, and may want to focus on what they are best at, while maintaining what diversity they can.  
 
Joseph Lofthouse
steward
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Jess Dee wrote:I tried producing fiber (alpacas), and discovered I'm not into shearing, so we're back to the drawing board on that one.



I think that the traditional viking way of harvesting wool was to pull the wool from the sheep during the time of year when they were naturally shedding.

I love growing Egyptian onions, because they are ready to start harvesting about 2 weeks after the snow melts.

One thing I have noticed by having fields spread out over several villages at different elevations, with different soil types, is that some fields excel at producing certain types of crops. So I have tended to devote each field to those crops that thrive when grown in it. That's why I ended up with "The squash field", and "The corn field", and "The Vineyard", etc...

 
Jess Dee
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Jess Dee wrote:I tried producing fiber (alpacas), and discovered I'm not into shearing, so we're back to the drawing board on that one.



I think that the traditional viking way of harvesting wool was to pull the wool from the sheep during the time of year when they were naturally shedding.

I love growing Egyptian onions, because they are ready to start harvesting about 2 weeks after the snow melts.

One thing I have noticed by having fields spread out over several villages at different elevations, with different soil types, is that some fields excel at producing certain types of crops. So I have tended to devote each field to those crops that thrive when grown in it. That's why I ended up with "The squash field", and "The corn field", and "The Vineyard", etc...



I wonder if it was a standard wool sheep, or something else?  There are fiber goats, and one you can just brush the wool out, while the other has to be sheared.  I've seriously considered the former, as I quite like goats.  

We've noticed a similar phenomenon even on our little 10-acre spot.  We've got sandy patches that the carrots like, and more fertile bits that are more suitable for squash.  Funny how that happens.
 
gardener
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I'm so very far from being self sufficient, and in some  ways I don't want to be, in the traditional sense.

I am always looking for ways to turn other peoples waste streams into feedstock for my own production, and ideally, selling that product back to them.
It's not self sufficiency, rather it is like living among the elephants.
You could try to ignore them, but good luck with that,you can't control them , so avoid getting stepped on, sell them all the peanuts they can eat,enjoy the benefits of all that poop, and when one falls,feast upon their warm carcass....


Clothing is amazing.
Most forms of clothing seem to require huge labor or energy inputs,even after the raw material is grown.
I cant bring myself to invest in the process of creating  clothing from scratch when there are large surpluses of quality fibers going for pennies on the dollar.
One dear friend "harvests" all of her wool for knitting from the thrift store, in such a manner.
I already have a surplus of useful clothing at my house, and clothing is something poor people(like me)get offered a lot of.
I have settled on a "hierarchy of rags" to dispense with excess clothing.


Energy is a big drag on self sufficiency for our house.
Cooling is pretty much  going to mean shade.
The pear tree is about 15' from the south side of the house, but still tiny.
The grape vines are just starting up the arbor that is west of the pear tree.
Along the west side, I have no soil, so I'm growing the grape vine down a horizontal cord.
Self sufficient heat means  biomass burning.
I have plans for a willow/ bamboo based "woodlot" , but the goal is salable charcoal, with home heating a side benefit.
Baking or dehydrating is probably more realistic use of the otherwise wasted heat.
A biochar kiln that uses free woodchips as feed stock and pallets as fuel seems like a better bet for home heating.
That's on the to do list...

Food wise, my family isn't on board at all.
Fruit is OK with them, but veg isn't really appreciated.
Eggs are great, but no one in the family, including me is ready to eat animals we know personally.
The return on duck or quail eggs is much higher than on chicken eggs, but both of these animals have significant drawbacks in my situation.

Long term, I'm aiming at dwarf chinkapin acorns for meal and oil.
These acorns don't need to be  leached of tannin's, they are naturally "sweet".
Acorn oil would be a unique market offering, and acorn meal could be a staple for chickens and even the family, if properly prepared.
Tortillas,pancakes and breads would be ideal.
Just need to get my land secured before I pull the trigger on raising these trees.
That is on the to do list...

Plant starts and laying hens.
I often buy plant starts myself, but I think with the right investment in time/energy and material, I could grown own, use what I need and sell the rest.
Trees especially seem like a winning product.
I have never hatched chicks, but selling laying hens seems like a great business to be in.
Just like the plant starts, no inventory would go to waste, since we could use it(them) ourselves.

I have seen a few successful chicken composting setups, but my chickens seem to tire of scraps quickly, and rats feeding on the left overs has become a real problem.
A rat proof vermiculture bin that the chooks can harvest from is my latest plan for making use of scraps.
It's on the to do list...

 
William Schlegel
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Jess Dee wrote:

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Jess Dee wrote:I tried producing fiber (alpacas), and discovered I'm not into shearing, so we're back to the drawing board on that one.



I think that the traditional viking way of harvesting wool was to pull the wool from the sheep during the time of year when they were naturally shedding.

I love growing Egyptian onions, because they are ready to start harvesting about 2 weeks after the snow melts.

One thing I have noticed by having fields spread out over several villages at different elevations, with different soil types, is that some fields excel at producing certain types of crops. So I have tended to devote each field to those crops that thrive when grown in it. That's why I ended up with "The squash field", and "The corn field", and "The Vineyard", etc...



I wonder if it was a standard wool sheep, or something else?  There are fiber goats, and one you can just brush the wool out, while the other has to be sheared.  I've seriously considered the former, as I quite like goats.  

We've noticed a similar phenomenon even on our little 10-acre spot.  We've got sandy patches that the carrots like, and more fertile bits that are more suitable for squash.  Funny how that happens.



https://www.thesilvermaplefarm.com/a-good-yarn/rooing

It's specific breeds of primitive sheep that can be harvested without shearing or not sheared at all. Yep you can still get Viking sheep, goats, horses, and chicken landraces. Though they themselves are quite interested in gastronomic botany with a view towards what can be digested in a rumen. They aren't quite plants, though they might be more efficent than plants at fiber production for some uses. I suppose the ethnobotanical equivalents are linen, hemp, cotton and the like. Around here Apocynum cannabinum is an important plant for the production of homemade string. Lots of work though. Made one small piece of string in class last year. In a world where we make our stuff ourselves string is really expensive.

My thought here for this thread is to go beyond individual self sufficiency and imagine sustainable self sufficient villages and communities. The sort we may have had just 150 years ago or so but perhaps with modern twists. Are solar panels sustainable? Electric tractors for tillage? What if we used electric motors on our wheel hoes in our flax fields?  
 
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It's interesting to me what many of you consider to be needs to be self-sufficient. And how much you do not mention. If you look at the records of the early settlements in what became America, two of the most important "trades" were blacksmith and religious leader. Without metal, you'll be cutting trees and digging gardens with stones. And without food for the Soul you will soon become lost in the wilderness.

In any self-sufficient village you need vastly more than the most basic needs. Harness makers, animal "specialists", shoe makers, carpenters, midwives, lots of children, spinner and weavers, weapon makers, container makers (barrel & basket), rope & cordage makers, metal workers, historians and teachers and Elders who remember, healers & herbalists, and in many ways almost most important, ...Ceremonial Leaders.

~~Fortunately (for us) we have all those here, and all the tools for their use. We could just use a few more self-sufficient folks to join us.
 
William Schlegel
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https://www.amazon.com/Zapotec-Science-Farming-Northern-Sierra/dp/0292728328/ref=mp_s_a_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1545964763&sr=8-6&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=zapotec&dpPl=1&dpID=512aXHKwF8L&ref=plSrch

Zapotec Science is a book I picked up recently and haven't finished with by any means. It describes a lot of the lives or the Zapotec people with lists of plants and animals they make use of and details of how they farm.

Two books together Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden and Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains do the same for the Hidatsas people. It wasn't till I read the second of those two books that I saw the bigger ethnobotanical picture of self sufficiency.

There are plants for food, plants for sweet things, plants for medicine, plants for cordage, plants for clothing. Then there are animals and metals and so forth.

In our modern societies we have pretty easy access to trade goods. Perhaps we won't ever be hard up for cordage, we take it for granted.

My grandfather who was poor before the greag depression hit didn't take many resources for granted. He hoarded everything. He had a box of worn out leather gloves. Sounds like the Zapotec use resources similarly even some stuff we might think of as trash.

I have the older edition of Tom Elpel's book "participating in nature". It helped me come to understand a little bit better how one of my uncles has adapted to being homeless. It has great instructions for making cordage, making sandals from old tires, how to keep warm over night without camping gear, and some of where food can come from. Kris Reed and his book "Foraging The Mountain West" extends that. Christopher Nyerges has a somewhat similar book called "Extreme Simplicity"

I'm currently reading  Will Bonsall's book on gardening. I recently read Carol Deppe's book's on gardening as well.

Resilient self sufficient gardening or farming combined with foraging, some understanding of useful plants for food, medicine, fiber, and wood, and a variety of relatedskills starts to seem alot like the ethnobotany of the Hidatsa or the Zapotec people's or of Christopher, Will, Carol, Tom, and Kris.
 
William Schlegel
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Jim Fry wrote:It's interesting to me what many of you consider to be needs to be self-sufficient. And how much you do not mention. If you look at the records of the early settlements in what became America, two of the most important "trades" were blacksmith and religious leader. Without metal, you'll be cutting trees and digging gardens with stones. And without food for the Soul you will soon become lost in the wilderness.

In any self-sufficient village you need vastly more than the most basic needs. Harness makers, animal "specialists", shoe makers, carpenters, midwives, lots of children, spinner and weavers, weapon makers, container makers (barrel & basket), rope & cordage makers, metal workers, historians and teachers and Elders who remember, healers & herbalists, and in many ways almost most important, ...Ceremonial Leaders.

~~Fortunately (for us) we have all those here, and all the tools for their use. We could just use a few more self-sufficient folks to join us.



Would be kind of neat if we all lived in the same village.
 
William Schlegel
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My List of Essential Plants for a Self Sufficient Community in my climate and experience. Northern Rockies west side

Domestic Food Plants

High Calorie Root Crops

Potatoes
Parsnips
Salsify (experimental)
Sunchokes
Leeks (experimental)
Garlic

Vegetables
Maxima Squash
Pepo Squash
Moschata Squash
Sweet Corn
Siberian Kale
Orach
Peas
Carrots
Tomato
Tomatillo
Turnip
Daikon Radish
Asparagus (added)
Cucumbers (added)

Dry Legumes
Beans
Favas

Grains
Flour Corn (white)
Flint Corn (orange)
Hard White Spring Wheat
California Chia
Thistle Sage

Oil Seeds
Sunflower
Hull less squash

Domestic Fiber Plants
Flax also for flax seed which is a good egg substitute.

Fruits
Apple
Sweet cherry (I can't grow well, but commercial in my valley)
Pie Cherry
Pear
Domestic Plum
Peach (I can't grow well but commercial in my valley)
Apricot (bears in my neighborhood occasionally)
Watermelon
Muskmelon (commercial in my valley)
Ground Cherry
Raspberry
Rhubarb
Nanking Cherry

Street Trees
Silver Maple (can be tapped, grows well here)
Burr Oak (edible acorns)

Herbs
Coriander (flavoring)
Poppy Seed (baking)
Dill Seed (beneficial insects and flavor)
Pleurisy Root (experimental, pollinators and coughing)
Echinacea (pollinators and tea when sick)
Anise Hyssop (pollinators and flavor)
Mint (flavor)
Fennel Seed (flavor and beneficial insects)
Fenugreek (nitrogen fixation and pregnancy)
Bee balm (pollinators and tea)

Wild edibles
Showy Milkweed (I cultivate it)
Miner's Lettuce (I cultivate it)
Purslane
Yellow Salsify
Tumble mustard
Chenopodium album
Bitterroot (traditional carbohydrate source here for last ten millennia or so) I only have a few so mine are for the flowers and the hope of learning to grow more.  


Wild Fruits
Blue Elderberry (fruit, pollinators, birds, and hollow stems),
Wild plum used to grow near Dixon MT
Montana Huckleberry (in Mtns especially valley to the East)
Choke cherry
Golden current
June berry
Raspberry
Thimble berry


Wild fiber plants
Apocynum cannabinum (hard won string)

Wood
Black Hawthorn (tool handles, walking sticks, fruit)
Ponderosa Pine (firewood and lumber)
Douglas Fir (firewood and lumber)
Rocky Mountain Juniper (rot resistant)
Willow (sticks for roasting stuff over campfires)
Western Red Cedar (rot resistant and smells good)


Experimental plants for me:

Pleurisy root (a friend in Missoula has grown it successfully)
Garden Salsify (haven't tried yet- I do know of a wild stand in a town 15 miles north of me);
Leeks (I know a guy who grows these, but I haven't tried).
Pinon Pine other nut pines, something I am trying but will take awhile


Other folks in my community would grow or wild harvest other plants. Some of these plants I would get from them or from trips into the forest. I could make a fuller list if I referred to some references or included things I don't have much direct experience with. For instance walnuts do ok in the area but I don't eat them myself so they aren't in my experience. Also lots of plants grow here that I don't currently consider essential. Like I grow blue and multi color flour corn, but if I had to live on flour corn would probably want primarily a white flour corn like Papa's White, Pancake White Manna, or Arikara White. I have also omitted things I should and would include upon revision like Asparagus. I've also omitted many plants I grow but don't consider to be particularly important like Lettuce. Some seed crops of certain common vegetables grown by my local seed coop with three members in my valley I personally don't grow seed to seed. I would probably buy seed from them for broccoli for instance if I wanted to grow it. Though I'm pretty ambivalent to broccoli with Siberian Kale taking pretty good care to reseed itself in my garden and Tumble Mustard a common weed on my hill having a similar flavor.

I don't personally consider transplanting, floating row covers, cold frames, greenhouses, or walls of water to be sustainable practices. I try to move away from these practices in my gardening. Though I may be wrong and they may be fine. Glass Cold Frames, glass houses, and glass cloaches have been around a very long time. Starting a few tomatoes on the windowsill still works.
 
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https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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