All posts by Joan Ruskamp

I grew up a city girl dreaming of the farm life. My husband and I started farming in the early 1980s. The attachment to a farm was something I had yet to fully understand as we experienced financial strain and saw ministries spring up to help farmers cope. Now, nearly 30 years later, I have come to realize that farming is more than a career. It has become a part of who I am. We feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa near Dodge, NE. Our farm is the place my father-in-law was raised on, so it has always been important to us to honor those who started this farm. My jobs range from taking care of cattle and office work to farm landscaping and parts runner. We have five children who initially spent many hours with me doing little jobs like watering trees. Those five children are now grown with four of them in off farm careers and one in college. They all developed very good work habits as shown in their many high school and college honors. I am also involved in our community as a 4-H leader, volunteer EMT, catechist, and a member of several farm organizations. My experience in the Nebraska LEAD Program encouraged me to get more involved in promoting agriculture through the Farm Bureau Pen Pal Program and blogging for CommonGround.

Where’s the beef? {Recipe for Beef Month}

Joan new shot 1Some of you might remember the slogan Wendy’s used in 1984 with Clara Peller exclaiming “Where’s the beef?”   As a woman that loves to eat beef I am asking that question in regards to the new recommendations to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines .  The new recommendations are not recognizing that beef can play an important role in a healthy diet.

I have to admit I have not always appreciated the nutrient dense food that beef is.  When I was taking aerobic dance classes in the early 1980’s I was eating salads and avoided eating meat.  I had the misperception that meat made people fat.   I struggled to be satisfied with the foods I was eating which meant I usually reached for sugar loaded snacks to get me by thus sabotaging any attempt at weight loss.  I gradually came to appreciate the nutrients in calories and how important that is when maintaining or trying to lose weight.BeefsBig10

Ironically, no pun intended, beef is quite loaded with nutrients important to good health.   If you are concerned about building muscles, maintaining brain function, having a strong immune system, utilizing oxygen more effectively, increasing your energy, protecting cells, supporting your nervous system, maintain strong bones and teeth and help in converting food to energy than you would benefit from keeping beef in your diet.beef vitamin poster comparison

If you compare beef to other foods you will see how much you would have to eat to get the same amount of just one nutrient versus the big ten in beef.  A 3-4 ounce serving of beef is about the size of your iPhone and that will give you those top ten nutrients including HALF your daily recommended amount of protein needed.  A four ounce burger at around 170 calories paired with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese is a great alternative to a sugar cookie that has the same amount of calories and very little nutritional value.

As a mom on a farm that raises cattle I was fortunate that our children were able to enjoy beef as part of their diet.  Our children were active, healthy and have become successful in a variety of career paths.  I am also active in the care of our cattle on our farm and have come to appreciate the role beef plays in agriculture.   
Where’s the beef?  It’s here and I hope it’s on your plate tonight! And here is a great recipe to make it easy to love beef….BBQ style. As May is Beef Month, we have a lot to celebrate with beef production being so important to Nebraska, and it being healthy for your family and you!

beefsandwich{BBQ Beef Sandwiches}


  • 3-5 lb beef eye of round roast
  • Mike’s Own Seasoning (made in West Point, Nebraska but found at numerous locations)
  • — Or combine Lowry’s seasoning salt, Accent seasoning, Lowry’s garlic salt with parsley
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Buns


  1. Generously rub the seasoning onto the beef eye of round.
  2. Preheat your grill around 300 degrees. Do not put the beef on direct heat (read how to indirect grill here).
  3. Keep on the grill until the internal temperature is just to 140 degrees. This usually takes around 2-3 hours.
  4. Check often and turn the round if needed. Make sure beef is not overcooked. (Works great on a Traeger or wood pellet grill – but works on a gas/coal grill as well).
  5. Take off the grill as soon as it reaches 140 degrees. Let sit five minutes before slicing.
  6. Slice and serve immediately with your favorite BBQ sauce and on a bun or without.

Happy Beef Month!

Walking beans

I am walking through a soybean field just as the leaves are beginning to turn. The plants are knee high.

Have you ever walked beans?  Have you ever heard of walking beans?  I smile as I ask this because before I became a farmer I had no idea what walking beans meant.   Before I was married I had a co-worker at a vet clinic I worked at that farmed with her husband.  One day she mentioned that she was going to be walking beans on her weekend off.  At that time I knew very little about farming and farming terminology.  The little bubble above my head was of her and a leash and somehow getting green beans to move along.  I didn’t even know that she was referring to soybeans as the only fields I saw growing up were cornfields.

Steve's not confused as he walks through this soybean field that was partially harvested the week before.  Rains kept us out of the field for a week.  Steve is chewing on a soybean to check for moisture, a skill I have yet to learn.
Steve’s not confused as he walks through this soybean
field that was partially harvested the week before. Rains
kept us out of the field for a week. Steve is chewing on
a soybean to check for moisture, a skill I have yet to learn.

My flashback to that moment came the other night as I was watching TV and one of the political candidates from Iowa mentioned that she had grown up walking beans.  I was wondering how many people knew what she was talking about.  I also realized I’ve done this when talking to people about what we do on our farm.  I assume someone understands my terminology until I see a confused look on their face or worse yet, they turn and walk away shaking their head!

One of those expressions came to me when I was talking about how we treat cattle.  When we find a sick animal we remove him from his pen and take him up to the barn where we can give him medicine.  This is how I said it “we pull the steer and then take him to the barn to get treated”.  I didn’t realize that the bubble image the person was having was of us roping the animal and dragging him from the pen to the barn.  Fortunately this person asked more questions so I was able to explain what “pulling” meant.

We use ATV's instead of horses to remove cattle from their pen.  We try to walk them out slowly as this steer is doing.  He is looking at the gate and moving towards it.
We use ATV’s instead of horses to remove cattle from their pen. We try to walk them out slowly as this steer is doing. He is looking at the gate and moving towards it.

I wasn’t brave enough to ask my friend what it meant to walk beans.  My opportunity to learn came when I became a farmer.   When Steve and I were in our early years of marriage I became quite skilled at walking beans.  Walking beans was a form of weed control in soybean fields.  We would walk through the rows with a hoe to cut out the weeds.  My sisters also became skilled at walking beans when they came to visit.  We all agreed that walking beans was not that fun but easier than detasseling corn.

My days of walking beans are long over thanks to the development of roundup ready soybeans.  Using a chemical to control weeds isn’t the only tool we use but this was a big help.  Tillage methods and crop rotation are also important as we try to raise the best crop we can each year.

I would encourage anyone not familiar with farming terminology to ask the questions that help in understanding what we are doing and why.  My own fear of looking stupid really makes me look stupid for not asking and making an inaccurate assumption.  I have learned to prefer wisdom over ignorance, facts over fear and truth over lies. joan6

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you! For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Chipotle Meatballs Recipe and Farm Tour

JoanRuskamp2Registered Dietitian and food writer from Stirlist, Amber, came out to my feedlot recently and shared one of my favorite meatball recipes on her blog. I was able to show her the feedlots, explain how we take care of our cattle, why we use vaccines and how many hormones are in beef vs. other foods (hint: see picture of M&M jars below!). 

Chipotle Meatballs and Farm Tour

DodgeWatertowerMost people end up getting out of Dodge, but last month I found myself spending the day in Dodge, Nebraska. I traveled to Dodge with my mini me (Kristen- my intern) and we had the opportunity to visit with Joan Ruskamp, a cattle feeder and farmer. I was really looking forward to spending the day with Joan so that I could see firsthand what a day in her life looks like. Joan grew up in Grand Island, NE and is a graduate of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture at Curtis in Veterinary Technology. Her role on the farm may have changed over the years, but she stays busy with bookwork, doctoring, processing and other duties around the farm. Joan enjoys being a CommonGround volunteer because it has given her the opportunity to chat with people who might not understand what life is like as a farmer and cattle feeder. Thanks to recent marketing campaigns by brands such as Chipotle, many consumers have questioned her farming practices. However, Joan loves to answer questions and she definitely helped shed some light on a few of the tough subjects she’s had to address the past few years. I think the biggest myths about cattle feeding is that the cows are crowded, “shot up” with hormones, given unnecessary antibiotics, and that the farmers mistreat the animals. What I saw on Joan’s farm that day was the complete opposite. I was surprised to see how much room the cattle had and I was really impressed with Joan’s knowledge about feeding, managing disease, and hormones. She also gave up some very valuable time to answer all my questions, which was very much appreciated. The photo below is the view from Joan’s front door. Do you think this looks like a factory farm?DodgeDeck

It’s not quite a “factory farm,” is it? Joan prefers the term, “family farm” because the land was passed down by her husband’s family. In fact, all five of her children have helped around the farm over the years. I was really surprised to see how spread out the cattle were. I realize that I am not an expert in cattle, but I saw no signs of the cattle looking uncomfortable or crowded.DodgeCows

There is plenty of room to roam…dodgepens

One of the most popular questions that Joan receives is about the amount of estrogen in beef. To help better illustrate the amount of estrogen in beef, Joan created a great visual teaching tool using jars of chocolate candies. The amount of candy represents the amount of estrogen present in eggs, peas, potatoes, and beef. I wasn’t able to capture the labels in this photo below, but the jar starting from the left represents 1 egg, then 1/2 cup peas, 1/2 cup potato, and then 1/4 pound of beef. Each candy represents 1 nanogram of estrogen, which is 1 billionth of a gram. (That’s a pretty small amount!)

1 egg = 993 nanograms of estrogen

1/2 cup peas:452 nanograms of estrogen

1/2 cup potatoes: 300 nanograms of estrogen

1/4 lb Beef: 1.7 nanograms of estrogendodgeMs

dodgeFeed-781x1024So what do cows eat? You might have heard something about “grass fed” vs. “grain fed.” I think it’s important to mention that all cattle start out on grass, so you could say that all cattle is grass fed. However, “grass fed” implies that that cattle are not finished on the grain you see pictured below. The way Joan explained it to me is that the diet of grain and other nutrients better supports what the cattle are bred for and helps build muscle. The cows strictly fed grass their whole lives will not develop like those that are finished on grain. Joan said that one is not necessarily better or worse, but there is a difference in taste, quality, and price. If you want to eat beef that has only been fed grass it’s whole life, you can expect to pay more for it. The Ruskamps finish their cattle on a diet that consists of grain and other nutrients, and their diet is carefully monitored each day.dodgeeaters

As far as antibiotic use, Joan says that they only use antibiotics when they need to treat a sick animal. The inhumane thing would be to not give the animal medicine to improve. It was also interesting to learn how treatments have changed over the years. They can give one treatment that can last 10 days, compared to many years ago farmers were giving higher doses for longer periods of time. Also, antibiotics are only administered in the neck region and not other areas of the body. Fascinating!

Read the rest of Amber’s blog here. Now, enjoy this recipe!meatballs

Chipotle Meatballs and Farm Tour

2 pounds lean ground beef (I recommend 93-95% lean)
2 eggs
1 cup water
1 package chicken stovetop stuffing
1 12 oz jar grape jelly
1 12 oz jar chile or chipotle sauce

Mix together beef, eggs, water, and stuffing mix. Portion meatballs into 1 or 2 oz portions. 2 oz portions will yield at least 2 dozen. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

While meatballs are baking, prepare the sauce, Over medium heat, mix together grape jelly and chipotle sauce. Bring sauce to a boil and then remove from heat.

Once meatballs are fully cooked, you can poor the sauce on top of the meatballs and then cook again for another 5 minutes. Or you can place meatballs in a crockpot, add the sauce, and cook on low heat until ready to serve.meatballs3

One size fits all

Joan new shot 1Have you ever purchased an item that was sold as “one size fits all”?  There are some items, like a rain poncho, that worked for me to buy that way.  That wasn’t the case when I went to buy a pair of rubber gloves.   I found it very difficult to stuff my hands into a glove that was made for much smaller hands than mine.  Has this ever happened to you?  

joan pulling a glove onImagine shopping for clothes if your choices were limited to the one size fits all label.  Would we be limited to buying stretch pants and pull-over tops?  The one time in my life that I actually liked elastic pants was when I was pregnant.   Even the labels small, medium and large can be frustrating if you don’t know how much they will shrink.  Fortunately, we have clothing made for all shapes and sizes including specialty stores for those needing even more choices.

What about food choices?  Besides a plethora of diets to choose from we also have plenty of choices when it comes to how the food was raised.   When I was a child, my mom didn’t have the labels of organic, grass-fed, hormone free, etc. to look at.   Mom often bought the items that were on sale that week to feed our family of eight.  Now when a mom goes to the store, there are labels and whole grocery aisles of specialty foods that can be quite confusing.  Learning what labels mean and understanding more about production practices can help. You can learn more about labels here.

Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals on our deck - steak with veggies and hash browns.
Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals on our deck – steak with veggies and hash browns.

joan_gardenWhen Steve and I were raising our children we could choose to eat food from our farm and from the grocery store.  I took pride in having a big garden with items to freeze or can for winter meals. Perhaps many of you also enjoy gardening and eating the fruits, or veggies in my case, of your labor. We sometimes butcher a steer from our farm but also buy meat at the grocery store.  I never doubted the safety or quality of the food from the grocery store or from our farm.   How the food was raised was not a concern of mine and our children were healthy and active with doctor visits due mostly from sports injuries.   

In our culture today we have many people concerned about how food is raised.   Part of that is due to the change in the size of farms as well as fewer people doing the farming.  Farms have changed over the centuries to meet the needs of the people needing to be fed.  The food choices we have today are very important so that those with food sensitivities can find what they need as well as the family on a tight budget.Joan_four tractors oats

Our farm practices are designed to feed more people using less resources.  We utilize the science and research done by our universities and yes, companies that sell us seed, weed control and veterinary medicine. We utilize a hormone implant in cattle, antibiotics for disease and seed corn that can defend itself against a pest through DNA procedures.  It is very important to us to use methods that will leave us a better farm tomorrow. Putting research into practice is akin to saying the proof is in the pudding.   Continually finding better ways to improve our soil, provide better care for the cattle and produce a healthy food choice is what we work for.   Joan_history of auto and biotech

I encourage people on all sides of the debate about food production to first accept the need for a variety of farming methods and second to spend time getting to know farmers by asking us how we do what we do.  It is through shared friendly discussions that we all benefit from a continued food supply to meet the needs of a many sizes needed to fit all society.

This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond  near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.
This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond near our house and feedlot. She is the next generation we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.


The gate keeper

There are some jobs that are just easier to do with extra help.  One of those on our farm is opening and shutting gates.

I am opening a gate for Steve.
I am opening a gate for Steve.

I was trained for the gate keeper job when I met Steve.  The feedlot Steve had at his dad’s place had wooden feedbunks that were inside the pen.   When the cattle were fed Steve had to drive inside the pen.   That meant four times on and off the tractor to feed one pen.  Since I spent the weekends at Steve’s folks I would often help with cattle chores.  I was the gate keeper during feeding.  I didn’t mind hanging out with my honey and I’m pretty sure he was glad for the help.

Steve is driving on the cement pad and blowing straw for bedding out so the cattle have a dry, comfortable place to lay down.
Steve is driving on the cement pad and blowing straw for bedding out
so the cattle have a dry, comfortable place to lay down.

Our feedlot has fence line bunks which is much better for the cattle and the equipment.  The cattle always have a dry place to stand where they eat.  We do put bedding in the pens and that is when it is nice to have a gate keeper.

 Here is the hay buster that is behind the tractor.  In the old days we had to pitch hay using forks.  Now we can bed the cattle so much faster and easier!

Here is the hay buster that is behind the tractor. In the old days we had to
pitch hay using forks. Now we can bed the cattle so much faster and easier!

Steve was bedding cattle and asked if I had time to open gates.  I know how cumbersome it can be to climb off the tractor, open the gate, drive in, get back out and close the gate, get back in the tractor and so on.

We feel better when our cattle are comfortable.  As you can see they don't always choose to lay on the straw!
We feel better when our cattle are comfortable. As you can see
they don’t always choose to lay on the straw!

There are probably more romantic things we could do together but I have to say that working side by side with Steve has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!

Cold happens…

Joan new shot 1A recent snow and ice storm that hit the southern states has made me appreciate our road crews and the work they do to keep our roads safe during winter weather.  When the forecast calls for snow/ ice in our area the salt trucks are out in full force preparing the roads so people can travel more safely.  It is sad to see what happens to people in cities like Atlanta when cold weather leaves motorists stranded for 18 hours.  We can plan and prepare to the best of our ability for weather situations but Mother Nature has been known to surprise us.

USA Today front page news story about the Atlanta storm.
USA Today front page news story about the Atlanta storm.

Because weather forecasting in an evolving process we have emergency weather plans so we can take the best care of our cattle as is possible.  This includes having plenty of feed ingredients on hand much like people will stock up on grocery items like milk and bread when bad weather is in the forecast.   We also continually work at keeping cattle pens in shape and machinery ready to go.  This winter we have not received much snow so the pens have been easier to take care of.

You can see the cattle resting comfortably in temperatures around zero.  In the upper left of center you can see the steel windbreaks.   The pen in front of me has a windbreak of trees Steve and I planted in the early 80's.
You can see the cattle resting comfortably in temperatures around zero. In the upper left of center you can see the steel windbreaks. The pen in front of me has a windbreak of trees Steve and I planted in the early 80’s.

Cattle that live outside adjust to the weather.  They have a thick hide (we know it as leather) and grow hair that insulates their bodies for colder temps.  In Nebraska we also get strong winds so the wind chill is a factor in designing cattle pens.  We seek to provide pen conditions that keep them as comfortable as possible.  Many of our pens utilize windbreaks from trees we’ve planted in the early 1980’s.  Other pens utilize windbreaks made from steel for similar protection.

This is what the other side of the windbreak looks like.  The cattle can get out of the wind and the bedding provides added comfort.
This is what the other side of the windbreak looks like. The cattle can
get out of the wind and the bedding provides added comfort.

Because we have had so much cold with high winds we have had a tougher time keeping water tanks open.  We chop open the ice with an ax.  That job is a little hard on my back so it has been Steve’s job this winter. Generally the cattle drink throughout the day to keep the water tanks on.

Steve is chopping the ice around the edges of the tank first.  A black Angus steer looks on.  Notice the thick fur on this steer.
Steve is chopping the ice around the edges of the tank first. A black
Angus steer looks on. Notice the thick fur on this steer.

The Atlanta storm is a great reminder to me about the dangers winter weather can bring and the need to be prepared.   We have learned that Mother Nature is not perfectly predictable.  We strive to prepare for the worst and hope for the best!

The certainty we have is that the weather will change.  It won’t be long before the heat of summer arrives and we will be putting up sprinklers to keep the cattle cool.

This looks refreshing in the middle of winter.  We know  it won't be long before we are working in much warmer conditions.
This looks refreshing in the middle of winter. We know
it won’t be long before we are working in much warmer conditions.

Apple Crock Pot Breakfast Recipe

Joan new shot 1 Autumn is a beautiful season for so many reasons. I love years like this, when summer tries its best to hold off the crispness of fall. But inevitably, as the days get shorter, our world is filled with the unique sights, sounds, and smells of fall.

Autumn is also a very important time for farmers because it marks the end of the growing season. I love to count my blessing at this time every year, having been lucky enough to see the circle of life of another crop year.

This time of year can be crazy for farmers. When the crops are ready to be harvested, there is little that will keep the farmer out of the field.

This go, go, go attitude can leave little time for family interaction or quality time together. But if there is one thing that can get a farmer to stop momentarily in his tracks, it’s a good, hot meal. That is one of the things I love most about food – it has an amazing ability to bring people together and bring calm to the storm, if only for a moment.

I chose this recipe to share with you because it’s the perfect time of year for so many reasons. On the tail end of apple harvest season, many people are looking for great apple recipes to capture their flavor during the peak of freshness. This recipe is also great for fall because it does a great job of warming you right up on a cold morning.

When it comes to bringing the family back together, this crowd pleaser always seems to get the job done. I hope it does the same for you and your family.

Best wishes,
Joan Ruskamp

Apple Crock Pot Breakfast

Apple Crock Pot Breakfast


  • 2 apples sliced
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 2 cups water


  1. Layer the following into a regular-sized crock pot starting on the bottom:
    1. Applesapples1
    2. Brown sugar
    3. Cinnamon
    4. Oatmeal
  2. Pour two cups of water over the top.
  3. Cover the crock pot with the lid.
  4. Cook overnight on low setting.

NOTE: This recipe works well if you start at 9 p.m. and eat breakfast at 7 a.m. the next morning. This recipe is also good cold.


M&M’s and Hormones

Joan new shot 1I recently participated in a series of conversations about the use of hormones in beef cattle.  Little did I realize that an idea conceived while walking pens one morning would become a hit among my peers.

My display consists of pint sized canning jars and M&M’s.  I used facts from a beef myths website  to calculate the amount of M&M’s it would take to equal levels of nanograms of estrogen in foods.  A nanogram is one billionth of a gram used to measure hormones in the blood.  I found that using one M&M per nanogram would require buying large amounts of M&M’s.  While I would enjoy eating those M&M’s I decided for travel purposes I would divide the levels by six to show levels of estrogen in food.BlogMMsHormones

The jars compare levels of estrogen found in foods like cabbage, peas potatoes and beef.  What seemed to really amaze people was the idea that women of childbearing age would comparably have around 22 gallons worth of M&M’s in their system naturally making the little chip from the beef sample look insignificant in regards to making healthy food choices for yourselves and your family.

JoanBlogmmshormonesHyveeRecently I was in a HyVee in Omaha.  I had several kids interested in eating my M&M’s but what really amazed me was how quick they caught on to the fact that we have hormones present in many of the foods we eat as well as even larger amounts in our bodies.  The parents would confirm that they were concerned about hormone levels in beef.  After allowing me to explain how we use hormone implants in cattle as well as the M&M visual they agreed that this was not an issue to prevent them from buying beef.

As a volunteer for CommonGround and an advocate for agriculture, I have found that listening is the most important skill I can use when reaching out to consumers. If it is a concern for the consumer then it is a concern for me to clarify what the consumer wants and needs to know.  Sometimes it means sharing facts in a manner that a consumer can relate to and then encouraging them seek further information from reliable sources.

Summer Salsa recipe + benefits of food biotechnology

Summer is here for many of us! A great recipe our family enjoys is summer salsa that I like to make with sweet corn and tomatoes. Both of these vegetables are fresh in our stores today because of food biotechnology – or GMOs.

What are the benefits of food biotechnology to agriculture?

joan ruskamp food biotechnology safety commonground nebraskaGrowing food with GMOs can result in better-tasting fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer and are naturally resistant to insects. Plant breeding also results in crops better able to withstand the environmental challenges of drought, disease and insect infestations.

By developing special traits in plants, food biotechnology allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources. This increased availability of crops provides significant economic gains to farmers in developing countries.

It helps your food budget as well.

An Iowa State University study shows that without food biotechnology, global prices would be nearly 10 percent higher for soybeans and 6 percent higher for corn.

Biotechnology also benefits the environment.

A Council for Agricultural Science and Technology report says biotech soy, corn and cotton have decreased soil erosion by 90 percent, preserving 37 million tons of topsoil. Food Biotechnology crops also provide a 70 percent reduction in herbicide runoff and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

USDA also says research on potatoes, squash, tomatoes and other crops continues in a similar manner to provide resistance to diseases that otherwise are very difficult to control.

No need to fear your food!

summer salsa joan ruskamp nebraska beef farmer commonground nebraskaSummer Salsa
2 ears cooked sweet corn (2 cups)
3 med tomatoes chopped (3 cups)
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves (or chop fresh if avail.)
1 tablespoon lime juice

Mix well. Let sit at least an hour. You can adjust the amounts according to your own preferences. This salsa is great when you have fresh corn and tomatoes from the garden (later in the summer for those of us in Nebraska!) but thanks to food biotechnology, we can enjoy these vegetables year-round.

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