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What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?

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Home vegetable gardens are often promoted as a way to cut household costs by providing low-cost access to fruits and vegetables. How much can gardeners expect to spend and recoup from their efforts? An analysis of published data suggests that home vegetable gardens are profitable, if the fair market value of garden labor is excluded from calculated costs. On average, home vegetable gardens produce $677 worth of fruits and vegetables, beyond the cost of $238 worth of materials and supplies. Local environmental conditions, gardening practices, and crop choices will influence the actual net value realized by individual gardeners.
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April 2014
Volume 52
Number 2
Article # 2RIB5
Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home
Vegetable Gardens?
Abstract
Home vegetable gardens are often promoted as a way to cut household costs by providing low-cost
access to fruits and vegetables. How much can gardeners expect to spend and recoup from their
efforts? An analysis of published data suggests that home vegetable gardens are profitable, if the fair
market value of garden labor is excluded from calculated costs. On average, home vegetable gardens
produce $677 worth of fruits and vegetables, beyond the cost of $238 worth of materials and supplies.
Local environmental conditions, gardening practices, and crop choices will influence the actual net value
realized by individual gardeners.
Introduction and Need
Vegetable gardens allow families to produce their own food organically. This is a huge benefit for
consumers who recognize the benefits of organic foods, but are wary of paying an added cost at the
grocery market (Raab & Grobe, 2005). Vegetable gardens may be particularly advantageous for low-
income groups, who don't identify fresh fruits or vegetables as a staple food (Parker, Pinto, Kennedy,
Phelps, & Herman, 2007), perhaps because of perceived costs.
Extension professionals have noted resurgent interest in vegetable gardens (Miller & Arnold, 2012),
perhaps due to the recent economic recession. In fact, "recession gardens" is the new term for
"victory gardens" (Higgins, 2009; Horovitz, 2009). Extension professionals are commonly asked
about the costs and benefits of home vegetable gardens. Even though very little data exists on the
economic costs versus benefits, Extension home horticulture professionals often recommend
vegetable gardens as a way to access fresh, healthy foods at a relatively low cost. However, while I
was working on a SNAP-Ed-funded curriculum ("Growing Healthy Kids," 2013), my Extension
colleagues who work with low-income individuals, families, and groups regularly questioned the
economic costs and benefits of home vegetable gardens. They asked for more data before we
recommend that gardens can be used to supplement the family food budget.
Gail Ann Langellotto
State Coordinator
Master Gardener
Program
Oregon State
University
Corvallis, Oregon
gail.langellotto@orego
nstate.edu
One estimate of the economic value of vegetable gardening found that the average vegetable
gardener in Newark, NJ could expect to net $475 worth of produce, with only a $25 investment in
their garden (Patel, 1991). However, the costs incurred and the produce harvested from New Jersey
gardens were estimated, rather than rigorously tracked.
Solid data on the economic costs and benefits associated with vegetable gardening is needed in
order for Extension professionals to confidently promote gardening as a way to supplement the
family food budget. I thus searched for references that rigorously detailed the economic costs and
benefits of home vegetable gardens.
Methods
I searched the Google and Google Scholar databases, as well as the Journal of Extension,
HortScience, and HortTechnology archives for various combinations of the keywords: home,
community, garden, economic, value, cost, yield. I only included those reports that rigorously
detailed the economic costs and yield from each garden. Non-peer-reviewed sources were included
only if they reported an exhaustive and detailed list of the economic costs and yield from a home
garden. I found a total of four journal articles and two blogs, which reported 10 observations of the
economic costs and yields for 11 vegetable gardens.
Utzinger and Connolly (1978) reported the average costs and benefits across four replicate 150
square foot gardens in Columbus, OH. Hours of labor were tracked. Costs incurred included
equipment, seeds, plant starts, pesticides, soil test, land rental, fertilizer, mulch, and water.
Stall (1979) reported on a 600 square foot demonstration garden in Homestead, FL. Hours of labor
were not tracked. Costs incurred included soil, blocks, hardware, water, stakes, mulch, fertilizer,
seeds, and pesticides.
Stephens, Carter, and Van Gundy (1980) reported on a 1400 square foot garden in Tallahassee,
FL. and a 638 square foot garden in Jacksonville, FL. Hours of labor were tracked. Costs incurred
included equipment, seeds, plant starts, fertilizer, pesticides, water, and stakes.
Cleveland, Orum, and Ferguson (1985) reported on two vegetable gardens (829 and 624 square
feet) in Tucson, AZ. Hours of labor were tracked. Costs incurred included seeds, plant starts, soil
amendments, fertilizers, mulch, tools, water, and the cost of hauling compost.
Doiron (2009) reported on a 1500 square foot vegetable garden in Scarborough, ME. Hours of
labor were not tracked. Costs incurred included seeds, supplies, water, soil test, and compost.
Roth (2011) reported on a single 878 square foot vegetable garden in Portland, OR, where costs
and harvests were tracked across 3 years (2008, 2009, and 2011). Hours of labor were tracked.
Costs incurred included seeds, plant starts, pesticides, fertilizers, potting soil, hoses, compost,
mulch, and soil amendments.
Four out of the above six sources are 25 or more years old. Although these references may seem
Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?
JOE 52(2)
©2014 Extension Journal Inc.
2
dated, the information that they contain is extremely valuable for my analysis. The gardening tools,
supplies, and methods reported in these papers are still used today, although the costs associated
with starting and maintain a garden were substantially less than they are today. To correct for this
disparity, I adjusted all economic costs and values to current prices (i.e., 2013 value) using an
online Consumer Price Index inflation calculator (Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.). This allowed data
to be compared across studies.
Yields were reported as pounds per crop harvested. Authors estimated the dollar value of garden
yields, based upon the cost per pound for each crop at a local grocery store. In addition, authors
tracked and reported material and supply costs. Although equipment depreciation or land rental
costs were included in the costs of maintaining a garden in some studies (Stephens et al., 1980;
Utzinger & Connolly, 1978), these costs were excluded from this analysis.
Most authors also reported the number of hours worked in the garden and the fair market labor
costs associated with these hours. If no labor rate was quoted, I calculated labor costs using the
Federal- or state-mandated minimum wage rate for the year the study was published.
I then calculated the difference between yield and cost to estimate the net value of each garden.
The net value of each garden was calculated with and without labor costs. A net value per square
foot of garden was also calculated with and without labor costs.
Results
Overall, gardens were profitable if the fair market value of labor used to tend the garden was
excluding from the costs (Table 1). Excluding labor costs, gardens yielded an average $678 ± $515
worth of fruits and vegetables, over and above the costs of irrigating the garden, as well as the
costs of buying seeds, starts, soil and other materials. When scaled to garden size, the average yield
per square foot of garden space was $0.88 ± $0.64. However, when labor costs were included in the
cost-benefit analysis, the net value of home vegetable gardens declined to an average of -$81 ±
$499 per garden, or -$0.11 ± $0.67 per square foot of garden space. Although the yield and net
value across gardens varied quite a bit (note the large standard deviations), costs of materials and
supplies were relatively consistent across gardens, at $237 ± $85.
Table 1.
Summary of Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens
Source
Cost Net Value
*Materials
and
Supplies
Hours
of
Labor
*Fair
Market
Cost of
Labor
*Value
of
Yield
*Net
Value
(including
Labor
Costs)
*Net
Value
(excluding
Labor
Costs)
Net Value
/ square
foot
(including
Labor
Costs)
Net Value
/ square
foot
(excluding
Labor
Costs)
Utzinger $115 39 $149 $322 $58 $208 $0.39 $1.39
Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?
JOE 52(2)
©2014 Extension Journal Inc.
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&
Connolly,
1978
Stall,
1979 $306 NR NR $1585 NA $1279 NA $2.13
Stephens
et al.,
1980
$162 23 $201 $1082 $720 $921 $0.51 $0.66
Stephens
et al.,
1980
$200 68 $594 $1172 $379 $973 $0.59 $1.53
Cleveland
et al.,
1985
$187 153 $1104 $333 -$959 $145 -$1.16 $0.17
Cleveland
et al.,
1985
$217 111 $800 $385 -$633 $167 -$1.01 $0.27
Doiron,
2009 $305 NR NR $2072 NA $1767 NA $1.18
Roth,
2011 $343 54 $463 $651 -$155 $308 -$0.18 $0.35
Roth,
2011 $380 72 $650 $876 -$154 $496 -$0.18 $0.56
Roth,
2011 $158 48 $421 $678 $99 $520 $0.11 $0.59
Mean $237 71 $548 $916 -$81 $678 -$0.11 $0.88
Standard
Deviation $85 40 $293 $546 $499 $515 $0.67 $0.64
Median $209 61 $528 $777 -$48 $508 -$0.11 $0.66
*All costs and values reflect dollar values in 2013.
In each garden, tomatoes ranked among the top five most profitable garden crops. Leafy green
vegetables made the top five most profitable crops in all but one garden (Roth, 2011, for the garden
grown in 2008). Other profitable crops that appeared in the top five lists of multiple gardens
included peas, strawberries, squash, and eggplant.
Conclusion
Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?
JOE 52(2)
©2014 Extension Journal Inc.
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Extension professionals can confidently recommend vegetable gardening as a way to save money on
fresh fruit and vegetable purchases. Although the fair market cost of labor can add a substantial
cost, most people do not hire help to tend their vegetable garden. In addition, the benefits of
gardening extend well beyond the potential financial benefits. For example, vegetable gardening
promotes healthy eating (Alaimo, Packnett, Miles, & Kruger, 2009; Langellotto & Gupta, 2012),
stress relief (Rodiek, 2002), and physical activity (Park, 2007). Gardening has also been linked to a
decreased risk of dementia (Simons, Simons, McCallum, & Friedlander, 2006) and may be more
effective at treating childhood obesity than other therapeutic interventions (Braet, Van Winckel, &
Van Leeuwen, 2008).
Although I attempted to standardize costs and yields by excluding equipment depreciation estimates
from reported costs, and reporting all costs and yields in terms of 2013 dollar values, there was still
a fair amount of variation in the net value of home gardens (note the large standard deviations).
This is likely because each garden reflects the local conditions, gardening practices, crop choices, and
skill of each gardener. For example, see the following.
Stephens et al. (1980) note that the larger, Tallahassee garden (1,400 square feet) yielded less
than the smaller, Jacksonville (638 square feet) garden, due to less efficient use of space (i.e.,
wider row spacing).
Roth (2011) noted that better weather and acquired skills led to better yields in 2009, compared
to 2008.
Cleveland et al., (1985) report irrigation costs for their two desert gardens that are far greater
than irrigation costs in the other gardens included in this analysis.
Doiron (2009) had the most profitable yield of all of the gardens. He is also the founder of Kitchen
Gardeners International (http://kgi.org/) and is widely recognized as an expert vegetable
gardener.
The three Florida (Stall, 1979; Stephens et al., 1980) gardens yielded the next highest harvest
value ($1585, $1082, and $1172), after Doiron (2009). This perhaps reflects the longer growing
season and more favorable climatic conditions for productive vegetable gardening.
It is thus not fair to promise home gardeners that they can net $678 worth of fruits and vegetables
if they start a home garden. It is not fair to suggest that one square foot of a home vegetable
garden is worth $0.88. The standard deviations associated with these averages are just too large.
Nonetheless, this analysis demonstrates that vegetable gardening can help a family save money on
their food budget, particularly if household members (rather than hired help) maintain the garden.
In addition, the relatively small standard deviation associated with start-up materials and supplies (±
$85) suggests that it is fair to tell prospective home gardeners that they can expect to spend a
couple hundred dollars to start and maintain a home vegetable garden.
It is important to point out that these studies noted the value of fruits and vegetables that were
harvested from home gardens, rather than the value of produce that was actually used in meals and
Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?
JOE 52(2)
©2014 Extension Journal Inc.
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in snacks. It is not uncommon for home gardeners to grow more food than they can use at the time
of harvest. However, the same could be said for perishable food items purchased at a grocery
market. Food waste in the United States has increased by more than 50% since 1974 (Hall, Guo,
Dore, & Chow 2009).
Nonetheless, the potential to learn more about food preservation or using garden-grown produce in
home-cooked meals represents an opportunity to build stronger collaborations between Extension
Master Gardeners and Extension Family and Community Health professionals. Master Food Preservers
and SNAP-Ed educators are experts at low cost food preparation and preservation. Working together,
we could maximize the family food budget by encouraging home vegetable gardening and the use of
garden-grown produce in family snacks and meals.
References
Alaimo, K., Packnett, E., Miles, R. A., & Kruger, D. J. (2009). Fruit and vegetable intake among
urban community gardeners. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior , 40, 94-101.
Allan, D. (2012, May 3). Don't start a veggie garden to save money [On-line]. Retrieved from:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-allen/dont-start-a-veggie-garde_b_1473974.html
Braet, C., Van Winckel, M., & Van Leeuwen, K. (2008). Follow-up results of different treatment
programs for obese children. Acta Pediatrica, 86, 397-402.
Cleveland, D. A., Orum, T. V., & Ferguson, N. (1985). Economic value of home vegetable gardens in
an urban desert environment. HortScience, 20, 694-696.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). CPI inflation calculator [Website]. Retrieved from:
http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl
Doiron, R. (2009, March 2) What's a home garden worth? Retrieved from: http://kgi.org/blogs/roger-
doiron/home-garden-worth
Growing Healthy Kids (2013). Retrieved from:
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/nep/garden_nutrition/
Hall, K. D., Guo, J., Dore, M., & Chow, C. C. (2009). The progressive increase of food waste in
America and its environmental impact . Public Library of Science ONE 4(11): e7940
Higgins, A. (2009, June 15). Demand for vegetable seeds is rooted in recession. Washington Post.
Retrieved from: http://articles.washingtonpost.com
Horovitz, B. (2009, February 20). Recession grows interest in seeds, vegetable gardening. USA
Today. Retrieved from: http://usatoday.com
Langellotto, G. A., & Gupta, A. (2012). Gardening increases vegetable consumption in school-aged
children: A meta-analytical synthesis. HortTechnology, 22, 430-445.
Miller, J., & Arnold, S. (2012). Produce your own: A community gardening program. Journal of
Extension [On-line], 50(2). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2012april/iw5.php
Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?
JOE 52(2)
©2014 Extension Journal Inc.
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Park, S. (2007). Gardening as a physical activity for health in older adults. (Doctoral dissertation).
Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/2097/459
Parker, S., Pinto, V., Kennedy, T., Phelps, J. A., & Herman, J. R. (2007). Food choices and coping
strategies during periods of perceived food shortage: Perspectives from four racial/ethnic groups
Journal of Extension [On-line], 50(2). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2007october/a6.php
Patel, I. (1991). Gardenings socioeconomic impacts. Journal of Extension [On-line], 29(4) Article
4FEA1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1991winter/a1.php
Raab, C., & Grobe, D. (2005). Consumer knowledge and perceptions about organic food. Journal of
Extension [On-line], 43(4) Article 4RIB3. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2005august/rb3.php
Rodiek, S. (2002). Influence of an outdoor garden on mood and stress in older persons. Journal of
Therapeutic Horticulture, XIII, 13-21.
Roth, J. D. (2011). The year-long GRS project: How much does a garden really save? Retrieved
from: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2011/11/05/the-grs-garden-project-october-2011-update/
Simons, W. M, Simons, J., McCallum, J., & Friedlander, Y. (2006). Lifestyle factors and risk of
dementia: Dubbo study of the elderly. Medical Journal of Australia , 184, 68-70.
Stall, W. M., (1979), Economic value of a home vegetable garden in South Florida . Proceedings of
the Florida State Horticultural Society 92, 213-214.
Stephens, J. M., Carter, L., & Van Gundy, C. V. (1980). Economic value of vegetables grown in North
Florida Gardens. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society, 93, 70-72.
Utzinger, J. D., & Connolly, H. E. (1978). Economic value of a home garden. HortScience, 12, 148-
149.
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Research In Brief
What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens?
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... Research on residential food gardening includes efforts to map the spatial distribution of residential food gardens (McClintock et al., 2013;Smith et al., 2013;Taylor & Lovell, 2014) or to describe the social or economic benefits of home food gardens (Albaladejo-García et al., 2021;Dubová & Macháč, 2019;Gray et al., 2014;Langellotto, 2014;Schupp & Sharp, 2012). Broader investigations into residential gardens, not tied to food production, have documented the social and ecological drivers of the diversity of insects (Fetridge et al., 2008), birds (Lerman & Warren, 2011), or plants ( Avolio et al., 2018). ...
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... If you can grow vegetables for less money than it would cost to buy the same vegetables at the grocery store, you gain a financial benefit (cost savings). Langellotto (2014) reviewed several studies of gardening costs and yields. She found that in most cases the value of food produced was greater than the cost, especially when no labor cost was counted. ...
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... For example, the proper harnessing of climate-smart farming technologies can increase energy stock through crop residuals [45], and simultaneously increase food stock (through fruits and vegetables) and earn sustainable community livelihoods by selling excess produce [46,47]. A cost-benefit analysis of the economic viability of vegetable and fruit gardening by Langellotto [48] revealed that this activity can produce fruits, nuts, and vegetables worth over USD 677 annually, with the value mainly depending on THE local environmental and socioeconomic context and choice of crops. From the water side, climate-farming systems can improve soil conditions and ground cover that allows better water infiltration and reduces surface water runoff and rates of evaporation experienced in the bare lands [49,50]. ...
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... Land size and number of years of cultivation are the typicalparameters used for estimating the values (Mohan et al., 2006). Economic values also quantify the benefit provided by home gardens (Galahena et al., 2013;Langellotto, 2014). According to the literature, the following multiple regression model was used to estimate the economic value of KHG production destroyed by the landslide (Eq. ...
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... Land size and number of years of cultivation are the typicalparameters used for estimating the values (Mohan et al., 2006). Economic values also quantify the benefit provided by home gardens (Galahena et al., 2013;Langellotto, 2014). According to the literature, the following multiple regression model was used to estimate the economic value of KHG production destroyed by the landslide (Eq. ...
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Thesis
Urban agriculture (UA) is defined as the production of food crops or livestock within urban areas. Despite its popularity in the United States, research into UA systems suffers from a general underrepresentation of commercial urban systems. As a result, urban growers often have unique technological needs that are unmet by research and extension. I worked with a particularly ubiquitous group of urban growers, home gardeners, to better understand the current status of urban agricultural soils. Specifically, this study had three parts. First, I documented the current extent of research and knowledge related to urban agricultural soils in the United States (Chapter 1). Second, I noted the characteristics of residential-scale vegetable gardens in Corvallis and Portland, Oregon, to better understand current growing conditions and needs (Chapter 2). Third, I characterized the biological, physical, and chemical characteristics of these same gardens (Chapter 3). Finally, I conclude with potential directions for further research (Chapter 4). In Chapter 1, I reviewed the academic literature on urban soils and found research which directly analyzed urban agricultural soil to be lacking. Only 17 studies directly addressed the characteristics of urban agricultural soils in the United States. Heavy metals were the subject of the vast majority of these articles, with about half thestudies investigating chemical fertility parameters, and even fewer examining biological and physical qualities of agriculturally productive urban soils. Nearly all studies were conducted in residential sites, which potentially limits data-driven urban agricultural policies focused on commercial urban agriculture as a means to supplement locally grown foods. In order to better inform management recommendations, I recorded garden characteristics of trained urban food growers. In Chapter 2, I report on a survey of surveyed 27 residential food gardens (including two demonstration gardens) in two Pacific Northwest cities. All site managers were trained Oregon State University Extension Master Gardeners. I found 132 unique crops were tended across all gardens, and a variety of management approaches were used. The most noteworthy concern I noted from the site managers was a desire to reconcile the mechanics of crop rotation within a small production footprint. In Chapter 3, I examined the composition of urban garden soils from those same 27 sites in Corvallis and Portland, Oregon. In addition to recording the physical, biological, chemical fertility, and heavy metal parameters of urban garden soils, I tested for differences between garden sites based upon bed-type (e.g. raised beds versus in- ground beds). Raised beds were significantly different than in-ground beds for nearly one-third of the soil parameters recorded. Further, the mean soil fertility values across all sites were 2-8x above the recommended range for one-third of the parameters examined. I believe excessive applications of organic matter to be the source of this nutrient excess. Excessive organic matter, annually added to small garden spaces, likely promotes soil nutrient imbalances. However, the message many urban growers are given is that adding organic matter to soils is good. My data suggests that urban growers need more nuanced recommendations which account for the unique constraints of small garden spaces. Further, the recommendation to build raised beds to avoid contamination did not hold in this investigation. The matter seems more complicated, and I suggest greater scrutiny be applied to discover the source of contaminated soils in raised beds.In Chapter 4, I suggest how policy, training, laboratory procedures, and management goals can be adjusted in light of these findings. It seems that the excessive nutrient levels in raised beds is a waste of both economic and environmental resources, with the potential for nutrient leaching as well. I believe that a well-informed site manager can quickly alter the productive capacity of an urban soil. Researchers who wish to contribute to urban agriculture should search for alternative management options which confer the benefits of compost while balancing the varied nutrient content therein. This likely involves using alternative fertilizer sources as well as novel bulking agents which can build but not imbalance a newly productive soil.
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In our visions of the future, urban agriculture has long been considered an integral part of the ‘sustainable city’. Yet urban agriculture is an incredibly diverse and variable field of study, and many practical aspects remain overlooked and understudied. This paper explores the economic sustainability of urban agriculture by focusing on the physical, practical, and economic aspects of home food gardens in South Australia. New data from the Edible Gardens project online survey is presented on a broad range of current garden setups, including a figure illustrating the statistically typical South Australian food garden. The differences between the survey data and a recent optimized garden model further highlight the gap in knowledge regarding existing home food gardens. With regard to the financial accessibility and economic sustainability of home food gardens, there is also still much more work to be done. Although saving money is a top motivation, with many survey respondents believing that they do succeed in saving money, it remains to be seen whether their current gardening practices support this aspiration. Measurement of the full costs of different gardens would allow for better predictions of whether growing food can save household’s money and under what circumstances.
... As a result, homeowners frequently apply more water than necessary, which leads to water loss as subsoil drainage [21]. Another major problem for urban growers is the labour invested in watering which may conflict with other activities [22]. In some regions, those interested in growing crops are not able to do so due to the presence of legacy contamination [23] or a shallow water table [24]. ...
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