Peach Farmer David Mas Masumoto Receives Organic Pioneer Award From Rodale Institute

A serendipity to discover Masumoto peaches for sale at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY after borrowing Mas Masumoto’s The Perfect Peach from the local library

Masumoto peaches ready to ripen up for a couple of days with Mas Masumoto’s The Perfect Peach, borrowed from the Albany, NY public library

After a couple days of ripening at room temperature, a juicy, sliced Masumoto organic peach

The Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Awards honor a (1) farmer, (2) research scientist, and (3) business who are leading the good food movement towards an organic planet.

This year a third-generation farmer, David Mas Masumoto who grows organic peaches, nectarines and grapes for raisins on the 80-acre Masumoto Family Farm, south of Fresno, California, received the honor from the Rodale Institute.  Farmer Masumoto in accepting the award noted that he was honored to be part of the Rodale family of pioneers as we all work to build a healthy world and that he shared the award with all those who have worked the soil and organic peaches, nectarines and raisin grapes on our family farm, including all the life above and below the ground—I live in their shadow of wisdom and excellence. 

The scientist who was this year’s recipient of the Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Award, William Liebhardt, is a soil scientist, dedicated to understanding various farming systems and their impact on soil fertility. Mr. Liebhardt is a former Director of Research at Rodale Insitute and the former director of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at the University of California, Davis.

The business which received the 2018 Organic Pioneer Award was Nature’s Path (based in Richmond, British Columbia). Nature’s Path utilizes 5,500 acres of regenerative Canadian farmland (near Duck Mountain in Saskatchewan), has earned Zero Waste Certification for all three of its factories (including one near Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and continues to advocate for agricultural practices that go beyond the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic standard. The company’s founder and co-CEO, Arran Stephens has helped shepherd the growth of the organic movement for more than 50 years.

Mas Masumoto has been recognized before for his remarkable accomplishments: in 2013, as the author of nearly a dozen books, he was appointed by President Obama to the National Council on the Arts. And on learning about these awards by the Rodale Institute, this organic and local food advocate decided to search his local library’s catalog for books written by Mas Masumoto, a name that was only slightly familiar to an upstate New Yorker, 3000 miles from the agricultural riches of California.

A major civic enrichment for my hometown of Albany, NY is the remarkable and well-used Albany Public Library with its six branch libraries and a main library spread around a small city of 100,000. An electronic search on-line of the library’s catalog, showed the availability of three books by Mas Masumoto: The Perfect Peach: recipes and stories from the Masumoto family farm (2013); Wisdom of the Last Farmer: harvesting legacies from the land (2009); and  Four Seasons in Five Senses: things worth savoring (2003).

The decision to borrow The Perfect Peach from the Albany library became a wonderful serendipity. A culinary enrichment offered by the small city of Albany is the Honest Weight Food Co-op. A stop at the Honest Weight Food Co-op’s produce department on the way home from the library made for a shock for this peach lover to see Masumoto peaches for sale. Coincidence or fate, whatever, $15.00 worth of the peaches found their way into the shopping cart. Cold and hard, I put faith in their tastiness with some ripening up on the kitchen counter. Voila! A couple days later, the pleasure of a delicious and organic peach.

With peaches ranked number six on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty 12 conventional fruits and vegetables to avoid, it was beyond wonderful that my hometown food co-op was stocked with the Masumoto peaches  and there would be the sweet juiciness of organic peaches to enjoy in the days ahead. And with Mas Masumoto’s The Perfect Peach borrowed from the local library, a delicious peach recipe will be tried before too much longer.

There’s some slight dissonance in enjoying an organic peach from 3,000 miles away. But with the weekly deliveries of a CSA farm share from Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook (Columbia County), NY, a few miles south of Albany, under way for the season, no guilty feelings for this exception to the principle of eating organic and local. As a footnote, on this website, which promotes local and organic, with a spotlight shining on CSA farms, we also offer directories for organic and fair-traded tropical foods (coffee, tea and chocolate) that are sourced from afar.

(Frank W. Barrie, 6/13/18)

Heifer International Incubated a CSA Program, Now Expanding In Arkansas, Which Moved Up Ten Spots On The 2018 Locavore Index

More than 75% of Heifer International’s proceeds directly support its programs and it has earned GlobalGiving Leader Status from Charity Navigator

Last week, we reported on the results of the seventh annual Locavore Index compiled by the Vermont-based local food advocacy organization Strolling of the Heifers. A map of the United States, picturing the results, uses dark green to designate the top ten and brown to designate the bottom ten. The state of Arkansas (population 3,004,279) shows the most pronounced improvement in its ranking, moving up 10 spots from last year’s index to an overall ranking of 35. On the map depicting the 2018 rankings, Arkansas has turned to tan from last year’s brown. Bravo!

A review of the seven different data sets used in the rankings for Arkansas indicates that if it were to improve its farm to school participation, where it is now ranked 51 out of 52 (in addition to the fifty states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico are included in the rankings), it would further substantially improve its ranking.

Heifer International, the non-profit organization, describes its mission as Working with communities to end world hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.  The organization’s motto, A Cow, Not A Cup, is rooted in the teach a man to fish philosophy of its founder, Dan West, a farmer from the American Midwest.It works to empower families in three specified ways: by training people in sustainable farming, helping farmers gain access to the market, and helping women develop leadership skills so that they can have access to greater opportunities such as education and entrepreneurship.

For more than 70 years, the organization has partnered with and helped communities in 125 countries. On its website, a world map shows the countries around the world where it has sponsored projects. In the United States, Heifer USA has helped to create two successful farmer-owned cooperatives in Arkansas (as well as similar farmer-owned enterprises in Appalachia). These cooperatives provide shared services such as marketing, packaging, distribution, credit and loan services.

Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative based in Clinton (Van Buren County), Arkansas is a small-batch meat company delivering monthly shipments of responsibly raised meat to the customer’s door. Its vision is to restore consumers’ confidence in their food. And New South Produce Cooperative (formerly known as Foodshed Farms and incubated by Heifer International’s USA Country Programs) is a group of family farmers dedicated to growing great food while caring for the Earth and giving back to the communities of the eight family farms that are part of the cooperative.

New South Produce Cooperative’s fresh certified organic and certified naturally grown produce is distributed to participants in its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program at 15 pickup locations around Northwest & Central Arkansas. Its summer CSA program is full-up, and it is now signing up participants for its fall 2018 CSA program.

Kudos to the two Arkansas farmer-owned cooperatives and to Heifer International which incubated this positive change in Arkansas. It raises the spirits to see farmer-owned businesses becoming financially viable and self-sustaining.

May brown turn to tan and hopefully some day to green for more states on the Locavore Index’s map.

(Frank W. Barrie, 6/8/18)

#1 Green State in U.S. Reaching Out For New Residents

Vermont’s Stay to Stay Weekend Program encourages visitors to learn about opportunities to live full time in the Green Mountain state

Vermont Ranked #1 on the 2018 Locavore Index compiled by Strolling of the Heifers

The enviably green, eco-conscious New England state of Vermont (population, 623,657) has been promoting Stay to Stay Weekendsdefined by its tourism office as three-day lodging and networking packages for visitors interested in becoming Vermonters. Future weekends include one in mid-summer, August 10-13 and one in the fall, October 19-22. The purpose is to connect guests to employers, entrepreneurs, and potential neighbors in three specified local communities around Vermont: Bennington, Brattleboro and Rutland.

We have long noted the impressive standing of Vermont as a green state with its strong commitment to protecting the environment demonstrated by the extraordinary number of community supported agriculture farms committed to organic and conservation agriculture while also building community. Our directory of CSAs in Vermont lists a remarkable 60 farms. And a recent exhibit at the Vermont Historical Society, Freaks, Radicals and Hippies: counterculture in 1970s Vermont, rightly emphasized that the American local and organic food movement, now so vital across the United States and Canada, had its beginnings, in some good measure, in the back-to-the-land movement, which was a big part of the counterculture in 1970s Vermont.

The results of the seventh annual Locavore Index recently announced by the non-profit, local food advocacy organization, Strolling of the Heifers are another indication that Vermont deserves its reputation as the greenest state in the U.S. The organization’s Locavore Index ranks the 50 states (plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) in terms of their commitment to local food. Seven different data sets were researched and compiled in creating the rankings. Vermont again tops the list, as it has since the first Locavore Index was compiled in 2012.

The rankings for 2018 are not the result of any bias of Strolling of the Heifers, based just north of Brattleboro in East Dummerston (Wyndham County) in Vermont. According to Orly Munzing, executive director of the organization, Strolling of the Heifers is all about the idea that growing and consuming local food is better for everyone. The Locavore Index is how we track and encourage more efforts in every state to spread the benefits of healthy local foods and strong local food systems. The top ten (in order) for 2018 were Vermont, Maine, Montana, Oregon, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Wisconsin and Rhode Island.

A map of the United States (including Puerto Rico, shown as an island off the coast of Florida) uses dark green to designate the top ten and brown to designate the bottom ten with the weaker commitment to healthy local food. Might some states at the bottom of the rankings seek to turn their color on the map from brown to green or at least to a shade of tan? The bottom ten (starting with the lowest ranked state) are Texas, Nevada, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama, and Illinois.

The seven different data sets used in the rankings are (1) farmers markets per capita (weighted 10%), (2) CSAs per capita (weighted 10%), (3) farm-to-school participation rank (weighted 15%), (4) food hubs per capita (weighted 5%), (5) direct sales by farmers to consumers (weighted 25%), (6) USDA grants for local food production, specialty crop block grants, farm-to-school grants, and farmers market promotion grants, per capita (weighted 20%), and (7) hospitals serving local food (weighted 15%). The state of Vermont was ranked #1 in each category except for farm to school participation where it ranked 9th and in the USDA local food grants category where it was ranked 4th. The state of Rhode Island was ranked #1 in farm to school participation, and North Dakota was #1 in USDA local food grants per capita.

While Strolling of the Heifers is best-known for a weekend of events built around an agriculturally-themed parade, featuring well-groomed heifer calves led by future farmers (that takes place this year June 1-3 in Brattleboro), the group has focused its year-round programs on economic development work in the farm and food sectors, with the specific goal of creating jobs by working to foster small business entrepreneurship.

Need a pick-me-up? Check out the You Tube video created by Caleb Clark of the 2015 Strolling of the Heifers parade.

(Frank W. Barrie, 6/1/18)

Inspiring Vision For Restoring The Soil That Feeds Us: David Montgomery’s Growing a Revolution

David Montgomery’s Growing A Revolution, Bringing Our Soil Back to Life is a clarion call to restore the soil that feeds us all

A roller-crimper can transform a cover crop into an effective mulch, suppressing weeds, by laying the cover crop over in one direction and crimping or crushing its stems

Spring – planting season – isn’t a good time to read David R. Montgomery’s Growing a Revolution  (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2017). Not when you live, as I do, in farming country in upstate New York. The plows are at work everywhere, from large green motorized behemoths to the horse-drawn antiques of the Amish. And, according to Montgomery, this is what not only has been destroying farmland around the world, it also probably was responsible for destroying past civilizations.

Montgomery sounded a death-knell over a decade ago in his book Dirt, which took a wide-eyed trip through a history of soil erosion and nutrient eradication, the long-range after-effects of what we thought too easily was progressive agriculture. It stands alongside Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature as a call for action falling largely on deaf ears, so Montgomery has revisited the topic in an encouraging, inspiring way. The needed changes can be made, he argues, and are being made – and in the unlikeliest places.

Growing a Revolution follows the author from country to country, climate to climate, to look at successful examples of no-till farming. As Montgomery is quick to observe, farmers generally aren’t given to change anything unless confronted with evidence of success, and that success needs to be seen in the harvests.

The key to Montgomery’s argument is conservation agriculture, the three components of which are (1) minimum disturbance of the soil; (2) growing cover crops and retaining crop residue so that soil is always covered; and (3) use of diverse crop rotations. These principles can be applied anywhere, on organic or conventional farms, with or without genetically modified crops.

The invention of the plow gave us cheap, reliable weed suppression, even as it destroyed the teeming world of earthworms and fungi and micronutrients that keep soil viable. Plant roots, Montgomery explains, are two-way streets through which carefully negotiated and orchestrated exchanges occur. Plants absorb nitrates and other soluble nutrients, and release carbon-rich molecules to feed fungi and bacteria that draw nutrients from the soil. You can learn much more about this from Montgomery’s previous book, The Hidden Half of Nature, co-authored with his wife, Anne Biklé, and reviewed here.

The large-scale manufacture of fertilizer worsened the problem, creating a dependency cycle that keeps those factories humming – and the dark secret behind them is that those factories can quickly be converted to munitions production, which ensures that they get federal financial support. Thus have we degraded a third of the world’s agricultural land – and it’s a failure that resonates through history.

Examining the archaeological record for ancient Rome, it’s clear that after the conquest of Carthage, when slave labor became plentiful, the landscape changed from small family farms to huge plantations, with the result of tremendous soil erosion and the eventual collapse of a civilization. There was massive soil erosion in colonial America thanks to tobacco farming, but that was at a time when there seemed to be no end of fresh land. It turns out, argues Montgomery, that there is an end.

Thus the simple, straightforward message of his conversational, well-crafted book, backed by centuries of common-sense farming. But we’re dealing with decades of quick-fix evangelizing, which keeps the chemical-fertilizer and herbicide makers wealthy, and the aforementioned class of stubborn individualists, whose plows large and small are in gear at the start of the 2018 growing season. So Montgomery takes us on a tour of farms where no-till techniques have been proven.

We meet third-generation no-till farmer Guy Swanson in a Kansas workshop, who notes that companies that control the fertilizer industry are functional monopolies. In the United States … Koch Fertilizer dominates production of nitrogen fertilizers, and the Mosaic Company (a spinoff of Cargill) is the largest producer of phosphate and potash fertilizers. He also focuses attention on Monsanto, makers of Roundup (glyphosphate), which has a monopoly on patented seeds for glyphosphate-resistant crops.

Writing about Swanson, Montgomery observes, On an irrigated no-till farm with a corn-corn-wheat-corn-sunflower rotation, his system reduced a $200-per-acre conventional fertilizer bill to less that $100 an acre. And it saved $25 to $60 an acre on dryland fields planted half in wheat and half in corn. If applied to a 10,000-acre farm, this adds up to an annual net savings of more than a quarter-million dollars a year. These are the dollars-and-cents figures farmers need in order to be persuaded, and they’re here in the book, calculated at each of Montgomery’s stops.

Wes Jackson founded the Land Institute in 1976, and is a celebrity pioneer of the sustainable agriculture movement. What he’d like to see on the prairies is an herbaceous polyculture founded on perennial grains instead of animals, in a bid to fight perennial erosion. After years of development, he’s now marketing one such grain called Kernza, which eventually should have a yield on a par with annual wheat.

A visit to Dwayne Beck, director of Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, South Dakota, looks at crop rotation. There’s no single best way, according to Beck – you have to develop your own based on location. His advice: Water use must match water availability. Crop diversity and ground cover are necessary for fending off weeds, pests, and disease. Crop rotations must not be consistent in either interval or sequence.

Jerome Rodale created Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in 1942, offering information about what he’d already put into practice at his Pennsylvania farm. His son Robert now runs the Rodale publishing empire and the 333-acre Rodale Institute, where they practice what they preach. Farm manager Jeff Moyer identifies weeds as the biggest problem, and uses a roller-crimper to crush the cover crop and thus block weed growth. Used with a planter, it allows the farmer to drop seeds into fresh mulch. Because of the persistence of perennial weeds, Moyer tills about every third year, terming it rotational tillage.

The US Department of Agriculture and a handful of universities saw the Rodale results and set up their own organic test farms. A 2015 review … found that organic practices proved economically viable (comparably or more profitable) and resulted in improved soil quality, greater soil carbon capture, and better pest suppression. But, as Moyer observes, farmers aren’t converting to organic methods because of the perceived protection of crop insurance.

The roller-crimper works best with a flowering cover crop, says North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown, but his growing season is too short for his cowpeas to flower before the corn has to go in. So he uses cattle to tear up the foliage. The aboveground chewing, tearing, and trampling by livestock grazing creates wounds that the plants must heal, writes Montgomery. “But the plants don’t do it alone. They need soil micronutrients and microbial metabolites – both of which will be delivered only if they pump a steady supply of carbon-rich exudates out of their roots to recruit microbial assistants.”

Montgomery’s world tour included a visit with Rattan Lal, a native of Punjab who earned his Ph.D. at Ohio State University in 1965 at the age of 24. After conducting successful experiments at the University of Sydney, Lal was hired by Nigeria’s International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, where he introduced no-till farming. Although the board chairman called it madness, within five years, Lal was vindicated by success.

Herbert Bartz experimented with reduced tillage in southern Brazil in 1970s, and kicked off what became a conservation agriculture movement in South America – which now is approaching total no-till in Argentina and southern Brazil. Ironically, it was helped by Monsanto’s Roundup for weed control, although many farmers are now adopting the other two conservation agriculture principles.

In Ghana, Kofi Boa runs the No-Till Center, where he’s known as Mr. Mulch for the cover crops he grows – green manure, he calls it. He’s fighting a history of studies in Africa that don’t see no-till as an effective solution – but the studies are flawed insofar as they don’t reflect all three components of conservation agriculture. In Costa Rica, Montgomery meets coffee farmers using biochar, a charcoal produced in smoldering fires, as a soil amendment. Inert but highly porous, it’s excellent for holding water and providing a microbial habitat. Peter Kring, an expatriate American who has lived in Costa Rica for many years, turned an abandoned cacao farm into a thriving one, with additional fruits and spices.

Also at issue is the matter of returning organic matter from cities to farms, which merits its own chapter. Milwaukee has been selling biosolids to farmers for a century; Denmark recycles more than half its sewage sludge, while Canada is recycling a fifth and the U.K. twice that amount. Montgomery visits a Tacoma sewage treatment plant visit that produces TAGRO, a microbially digested fertilizer, mixing biosolids, sawdust, and sand.

Controversy bubbles over what’s in such biosolids and how it’s applied, especially regarding heavy metal and pathogen content. Montgomery is fairly dismissive of the contamination potential, but he seems to be guided by a pair of reports that asserted low risk potential – although the studies themselves aren’t summarized. This issue hit home recently, as my hometown of Glen (Montgomery County) in upstate New York, recently was approached by Canada-based biosolids company Lystek to install a treatment facility in a nearby industrial park. This led to a very vocal outcry from some residents, a huge hearts-and-minds campaign by Lystek, and, ultimately, a rejection on the basis of legal technicalities.

Much of the information in Growing a Revolution grows repetitious – don’t till, plant cover crops, rotate, repeat – but Montgomery clearly is aware of this, and thus dresses his chapters with good humor and diverting anecdotes. I can’t see how he otherwise could write so persuasively about the subject.

At this point, only about 11 percent of global cropland is under conservation agriculture. Three-fourths of that is in the Americas. Very little of it is in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The revolution is coming more and more to the mainstream, as in a New York Times Magazine piece titled Can Dirt Save the Earth? (4/18/18) by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, and covers much of this ground. But it needs to spread to the fields, until the day we can all celebrate spring with the sight of lush, arable, unplowed fields.

(B.A. Nilsson, 5/29/18)

[Editor’s Note (FWB): A study recently published in Science Advances, the on-line publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the world’s oldest and largest general science organization), has found that rising carbon dioxide levels this century will alter the protein, micronutrients and vitamin content of rice, which two billion people worldwide rely on as a primary food source. According to reporter Brad Plumer in a recent article in the NY Times (5/23/18), With More Carbon Dioxide, Less Nutritious Food, this recent study builds on a major study published in Nature in 2014, finding that elevated levels of carbon dioxide reduced the amount of zinc and iron found in wheat, rice, field peas and soybeans. This recent study bolsters the case for regenerative agricultural methods spotlighted by David Montgomery in Growing A Revolution. Bringing our soil back to life can heal damaged environments, improve farmers’ bottom lines and ensure the nutritional quality of food. And thanks to David Montgomery for making the very strong case for a path forward for agriculture that can be simply put. No-till farming: Allow plants to put down roots so they can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.]

A 2.5 Acre Heritage Farm Grows In NYC: Producing 45 Tons of Produce In Past 6 Seasons & Growing Community Spirit

Historic farmland was restored in NYC to create the bountiful Heritage Farm at Snug Harbor on Staten Island

Farmer Jon Wilson watering seedlings nurtured in a hoop house at The Heritage Farm

Healthy rows of garlic growing at The Heritage Farm in mid-May for harvest in early July

Rows of lettuce plants in mid May on restored NYC farmland

The feathery leaves of fennel plants signal a future summer harvest of this mildly anise or “licorice” flavored vegetable, a favorite of connoisseurs

The Heritage Farm is also a compost demonstration site for NYC’s Compost Project

One of the several historic Greek Revival buildings on Snug Harbor’s campus

A ride on the Staten Island (which is free!) from lower Manhattan to NYC’s island borough, plus a 15 minute City bus ride takes a visitor to The Heritage Farm at Snug Harbor

This spring. farmer Jon Wilson’s plan to plant 500 tomato seedlings was delayed by the heat of a day in mid-May that felt summer-like. The planting by a team of four farmers (two full time, two part-time) would have to wait until the cooler evening.

Farmer Wilson’s favorite tomato of the 36 varieties that would be planted this season is a big and wide Striped German, described by the experienced grower as low acidity, high brix, and citrusy flavored. The rich soil of a New York City farm, Snug Harbor’s Heritage Farm, on the western side of Staten Island (not far from where the Staten Island ferries dock in St. George after traveling over from lower Manhattan) would be demonstrated, later in the 2018 growing season, by the tastiness of eating a locally grown tomato.

Jon Wilson’s description of his favorite tomato reminded this backyard gardener that too few folks appreciate that tomatoes come in a multitude of varieties with varying flavors, and that freshness, ripeness and terroir (a characteristic taste and flavor imparted by the environment in which vegetables are grown) also impart qualities to a tomato, lacking in nearly all supermarket ones.

Farmer Jon Wilson and his team nurture the small city farm. This season, 20,000 square feet of cover crops (oats, peas and rye) were grown to enrich naturally the land.

Chefs from over a dozen New York City restaurants (in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, including Chef Thomas Keller’s internationally famous and very expensive Per Se (in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle in the heart of Gotham) who value the variety of flavors of heirloom tomatoes and other produce, have partnered with Snug Harbor’s Heritage Farm to make its 2.5 acres a local, agricultural success story.

And it’s not only big city chefs who benefit from the rich farmland. The small farm is committed to producing accessible, locally-grown produce for the community.

Seasonal produce is sold at the Heritage Farm Stand on the south side of the Snug Harbor campus, between the farm and the South Meadow. The farm stand is open 10:00AM-3:00PM every Saturday from mid June until Thanksgiving.

Snug Harbor’s Heritage Farm also deserves praise for its educational programs for the local community. Last season, farm staff worked with over 100 volunteers and educated over 2,280 children on sustainable farming, food sources, and plant biology at the farm. The farm also has a partnership with the New York City Department of Probation’s Youth WRAP Program, which serves young people on probation by providing life skills and job training.

According to a succinct history, which includes some photographs, on its website, Snug Harbor was founded in the early 19th century as a haven for aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors by the will of Robert Richard Randall, the heir to a shipping fortune who died in 1801. It became a campus of 50 structures and 900 residents from every corner of the world, and by the early 20th century, was reputedly the richest charitable institution in the United States and a self-sustaining community with a farm, dairy, bakery, power plant, chapel, hospital, concert hall, dormitories, and a cemetery.

But the Randall endowment started to run out and the historic buildings began to deteriorate. New York City was persuaded by local activists and artists to purchase the property with the objective of transforming it into a cultural resource. The Heritage Farm is a very successful part of that 21st Century transformation.

(Frank W. Barrie, 5/23/18)

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