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Daily Acts: How to Move the World Every Day

Apr 16, 2013

by Karen Brown

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Do you think you could perform 3,500 sustainable actions in a weekend? Probably not. But what if hundreds of other people helped you, people with terrific skills and huge enthusiasm? Could you do it then?

Trathen Heckman thinks you could do it, and have fun, too. This former professional snowboarder, Fortune 500 technologist, and board president of Transition US, is the founder of Daily Acts, a Petaluma, California, nonprofit that promotes positive examples of community action. Daily Acts is based on one core insight: you and every choice you make matters, and those choices can ripple out to build a healthier, more sustainable community.

Trathen Heckman

Trathen founded Daily Acts in 2002, growing community and eventually building a website where volunteers can register their actions. In 2010, Daily Acts had grown to set the audacious goal of planting 350 new gardens in the community, in resonance with 350.org. The group enlisted neighbors and friends who blew past the 350 goal, planting 628 gardens.

Striving to be as inclusive as possible, Daily Acts expanded their actions to include opportunities for apartment dwellers, schools, churches, local businesses, and public spaces. Actions now include growing food, conserving energy, saving water, greening your ride, living local, and building community. They surpassed their 2012 goal of 1,000 actions, achieving over 2,300 registered positive actions in a single day. “So we freaked ourselves out with a really big goal this year,” said Trathen. “We’re going for 3,500 registered actions on May 18-19.”

Daily Acts

Daily Acts coverts non-productive lawns into permaculture gardens, growing food and herbs.

You have probably heard “every choice you make matters” before, but what’s unique about Daily Acts is its ability to count and map the cumulative activities of its members, then provide this feedback to the community, building enthusiasm and momentum.

“We measure to manage results, but also because it’s a meditation on our relationship with time and stuff,” Trathan said. “For example, I started out by weighing my recycling. Pretty soon I realized the goal should not be how much you recycle, but how little. What I mean is that if we put nothing in the trash or recycle bin, that would be the ideal state.”

Daily Acts

Daily Acts maps each registered action to share how community is growing.

A few years ago, Daily Acts literally took their challenge to city hall. They convinced the City of Petaluma to let volunteers reclaim 25,000 square feet of public turf and replace it with a “food forest” grown according to permaculture principles. Today at City Hall, you can harvest tree fruit, artichokes, strawberries, and thornless blackberries where once only thirsty grass had been. The city was so inspired by the transformation that they donated sheet mulch for 500 household lawns, enough to save the city millions of gallons of water a year.

“These eco-design solutions are becoming part of our culture, and those skills scale up,” said Trathen. “A few years ago, a lot people had never heard of greywater recycling or sheet mulch. Now it’s the cool thing to do.” So cool, in fact, that Daily Acts has influenced state water policy, which now permits home recycling systems on a laundry-to-landscape model. And to show support for more sustainable business practices, they encouraged Congressman Jared Huffman to author California’s B Corp legislation.

Daily Acts

A backyard greywater recycling workshop.

“These are transition-powered, people-powered, low tech, low cost solutions. I’m using 60-70 percent fewer resources, it’s amazingly fun, it’s way cheaper, and it actually feels better,” said Trathen. He has invented a term to describe his improved quality of life: Sustainable Hedonism.

“The most accessible system you have is your own two hands. You don’t need to have all the answers or the skills. You can come together with other people, learn as you go, and you don’t need to be afraid of making small mistakes. Archimedes said, ‘Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world.’ That’s what these community actions do,” said Trathen. “They move the world every day.”

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2 Featured Comments

  • allstarorganics

    allstarorganics from allstarorganics said 6 years ago Featured

    Thank you Karen for bringing such an important story to us all. As a farmer, I have long believed that real, lasting, long term change to our communities and our world happens one mouthful at a time. If we seek out and choose to eat those foods that are grown in accordance with the principles we say we stand for, we will inevitably see those many small choices add up to transformative change on a global scale. Though the problems may seem dauntingly huge, the solutions tend to appear as maddeningly simple and modest. Values driven. Something homegrown. Something hand made. It is the cumulative effect of small shifts in human patterns of living that add up to big solutions. Designing food into communities and shortening the distance from field to table are two really good steps in the right direction.

  • blainedesign

    Karen Brown from blainedesign said 6 years ago Featured

    A little fact about food production in the U.S.: California produces about half of the fresh fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country. And California is a state facing what could become serious water issues. So conserving water through residential greywater recycling is critical in this state, and home food production could become essential elsewhere if California cannot continue to produce food at its current levels. Something I love about home gardening solutions is that they are so portable -- anywhere there is a little patch of land, there is a potential productive edible garden.

100 comments

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 6 years ago

    Awesome and amazing. Think what would happen if we did this all across the US and the world!

  • caitlinborck

    Caitlin Borck from TheSprightlyHound said 6 years ago

    What a great idea! My fiance and I just started a large garden this year and we're looking forward to the health benefits. We plan on making out home as eco-friendly as possible too...articles like this really help to make contacts and get tips and advice!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    Love this :)

  • valeriephoto

    Valerie from valeriestitchery said 6 years ago

    Thanks Karen for sharing this inspiring story! It's really great to see Daily Acts contributing to their community, and also bringing its members together in way they weren't before. I think the act of growing anything, plants, animals, communities, is very powerful and meaningful beyond just the actual product. And mapping the impact makes it tangible, which perpetuates the excitement, keeps people involved, and gets new people to become active. Way to go!

  • AnatomicalQuilling

    Sarah Yakawonis from YakawonisQuilling said 6 years ago

    Just popping up from an ocean of quilling paper to let you know I found this really inspiring!

  • jessgreenleaf

    Jess Greenleaf from GREENLEAFblueberry said 6 years ago

    Home gardens and eggs from backyard birds are the best! Even the headiest store-bought eggs don't hold a candle to the color, texture, and taste of eggs from backyard birds. Getting my salad and scramble from my own yard isn't a lot but it's something! I'm all for the little actions we can pull off.

  • BozenaWojtaszek

    Bozena Wojtaszek from BozenaWojtaszek said 6 years ago

    All thumbs up! That's how to make a difference - bravo!

  • KathrynPHaley

    Kate Haley from CopperSpineStudio said 6 years ago

    Such an inspiring post, thanks for sharing!

  • BirdEnergy

    Genise Park from GeniseParkArts said 6 years ago

    Sweet! Wish more cities would embrace this!

  • lovelygifts

    Linda from lovelygifts said 6 years ago

    Good article and cause!

  • genisepark

    Genise Park from genisepark said 6 years ago

    This is so awesome!

  • MundanalRuido

    Silvia Vázquez from MundanalRuido said 6 years ago

    I really agree with the basic ideas behind this initiative. All of us are the power that make the world change, and with a lot of small acts can achive a more sustainable world, and they make all of us happier and useful to the society. Moreover, the collaboration with other people can help us to make new friends and to know other interesting people, also allow us to develop new skills (like gardening, recycling...) I really like it! Small changes = better world for all of us! :)

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 6 years ago

    Ooooo this is SO great!!! And inspiring! I am going to join in!!!!

  • krize

    Kristina Sabaite from krize said 6 years ago

    Wonderful!!!

  • felisadora

    Felisa Dora from FelisaDora said 6 years ago

    Amazing! Even a small step can lead to a change. Thank you for the eye-opening article.

  • TheYearningRobot

    Charlene Blackwell from TheYearningRobot said 6 years ago

    Inspiring! It always saddens me to see undertended yards, while I ached for a place to be able to plant a small garden, knowing there are many more people like me out there. Moving to Seattle has been amazing and has totally changed my perspective of what a beautiful yard can grow!

  • butterflies4socrates

    Angela Holland from barefootprincessita said 6 years ago

    Yes, great! We're doing this for the first time at an Elementary School in Florida- all from scratch.

  • andiespecialtysweets

    Jason and Andie from andiespecialtysweets said 6 years ago

    Wow, Karen, Petaluma has allot of sweet sauce in it's pocket! This is encouraging and very inspiring... it's just like learning how to walk, one foot in front of another. A baby doesn't become overwhelmed thinking about all the other babies in the world trying to take their first steps and give up and sit down. On the contrary, they just get excited to take more steps of their own! it's easy to forget, especially when some of these steps/decisions require a new direction in thinking and more effort initially, how each new stride contributes to a collective result. News like this reminds us that each transition is significant!

  • TheresasGourmet

    Theresa Ryales from TheresasGourmet said 6 years ago

    Very inspiring!

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 6 years ago

    Formidable ! Thanks for sharing with us !

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 6 years ago

    "What you do makes a difference, & it's up to you to decide what kind of a difference you want to make" Jane Goodall

  • Cufflinked

    Cufflinked from Cufflinked said 6 years ago

    Awesome!

  • genisepark

    Genise Park from genisepark said 6 years ago

    Awesome!!!

  • 118jan

    Janette from AmericanDollClothes said 6 years ago

    What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • ofacatandbirchtrees

    ofacatandbirchtrees from ofacatandbirchtrees said 6 years ago

    Love the initiative. That's what gardening is all about! Thank you for including my terracotta pots in the treasury. Sonja www.facebook.com/joandsonja

  • littleliagraphic

    little Lia from LittleLiaGraphic said 6 years ago

    wow amazing action! We should always try to make the world a better place, hopefully this act could inspired people around the world

  • burcuyurtolu

    Burcu Yurtoglu from HAMMAM34 said 6 years ago

    a great cause!!!

  • GracefullyGirly

    Kimberlee from GracefullyGirly said 6 years ago

    Love it! Making the world a better place a person at a time really adds up, doesn't it?!? Thanks for the story.

  • maclancy

    Marianne Clancy from maclancy said 6 years ago

    Thank you~gratitude! so happy to see Etsy promote this! Made my day.Wait, excuse me. The sun is shining for its allowed few minutes a day in Eugene Or.~ I must go plant something in the garden~happy making a difference everyone. We can do it. One person at a time~!

  • margaretjeske

    Margaret Jeske from TheCountryBluebird said 6 years ago

    Amazing article! The video of how they created the yard into a garden is great, too. : )

  • lmouer

    Lynsey from lmouer said 6 years ago

    "Daily Acts is based on one core insight: you and every choice you make matters, and those choices can ripple out to build a healthier, more sustainable community." What an inspiring idea. It is so uplifting to see people doing good. Thank you for sharing and best of luck on your future endeavors.

  • Kam2012

    Kam from RiverGoddessBoutique said 6 years ago

    Cool! Very inspiring.

  • owlgypsy

    Christina Young from owlgypsy said 6 years ago

    So very inspiring! Thank You!!!

  • NinaRaizel

    Nina from NinaRaizel said 6 years ago

    Sustainable hedonism! What a perfect and concise term for a beautiful way of life! There is nothing more inspiring than seeing others take responsibility for the actions of humans. We're all in this together, and we will only succeed in making our world more sustainable through community, creativity, and open-mindedness. Great post!

  • sukran

    Sukran Kirtis from SukranKirtisJewelry said 6 years ago

    how unique lives out there, love it

  • H88255

    H88255 from HillarysSuperfoods said 6 years ago

    This is amazing. We all need to participate and grow our own gardens and help the world. Mother Earth needs a break once and a while! We need to do our part!

  • MTmaiden

    Helen N. Hanson from NonToxicSpiritArt said 6 years ago

    Great! We do a trade off in our area. Some do chickens, some do fruit trees, some do veggies. It's a lot of fun, even our local Super One market sells produce form our local farms. It's the way to go and it's kind of fun to add in everyone's different talents. Thanks for posting! It's got me thinking of something like this with all our local artists.......maybe an interior design collaboration....food for thought!

  • PinkCheetahVintage

    PinkCheetahVintage from PinkCheetahVintage said 6 years ago

    Love it. Turning our 'lawn' into a garden this year. The water sucking grass was a waste!

  • nicolejoleen

    Nicole Trujillo from NicoleJoleen said 6 years ago

    Reading this is just an inspiring reminder of the good that is still out here. Teaching our little people how big the smaller things in life really are will stay with them forever....Taking time to stop and smell the flowers goes a long way.

  • patspottery

    Pat Parker from PatsPottery said 6 years ago

    What a GREAT idea!!

  • thebuttonbird

    Katie Cusack from TheButtonBird said 6 years ago

    Wonderful!!

  • blainedesign

    Karen Brown from blainedesign said 6 years ago

    Although I was fortunate to interview Trathen, he and everyone else at Daily Acts always stressed how the work is truly a community effort and the product of many, many hands working together. Hundreds of people volunteer to make life more connected and resilient, and they do it joyously. In talking to Trathen and Daily Acts City Program Coordinator Erin Alexrod, I was impressed with how they spoke only of community and never themselves.

  • thefrenchpostcard

    Lisa Damberger from FrenchCountryLife said 6 years ago

    Just as Gandhi said, "When the people lead, the leaders will follow". Another excellent article, Karen! So wonderful! Thanks for including my garden tools and thanks for your own acts of moving the world. Be well.

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 6 years ago

    This is great , the article is warm and inviting as is the subject. There are terrific movements happening bringing people together of all ages reminding us everyone has something to offer.

  • gaiadesignstudios

    gaiadesignstudios from GaiaDesignStudios said 6 years ago

    This is great!

  • rarebeasts

    Brian McNamara from rarebeasts said 6 years ago

    Awesome idea, should be in every city.

  • tinysparklestudio

    tinysparklestudio from tinysparklestudio said 6 years ago

    Petaluma rocks! I am so proud to have 4 children growing up in this special community!

  • picklehead

    Karina Pryor from picklehead said 6 years ago

    So wonderful! thanks so much for sharing this :)

  • lauramazzariol1

    Laura Mazzariol from shesimplyhandmade said 6 years ago

    It is such a beautiful example of how people of the same community can act together to save the environment they live in! Everyone should be inspired!

  • lauramazzariol1

    Laura Mazzariol from shesimplyhandmade said 6 years ago

    It is such a wonderful example of how people of the same community can act together to save the environment they live in! Everyone should be inspired!

  • catherinemaria

    Catherine Maria Charalambous from BouncyTree said 6 years ago

    Such an inspiring story. Well done. They tried to grow gardens in the township close to my house. Unfortunately the minute the fruit and veg started growing, it was robbed of it's natural produce and the greenhouses torn apart. Sad that people cannot appreciate such good efforts here in South Africa.

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 6 years ago

    Bravo!!!

  • Villedefleurs

    Tatiana from VilleDeFleurs said 6 years ago

    Great and inspiring article. Thanks for sharing !

  • bellasparty

    bellasparty from bellasparty said 6 years ago

    Absolutely amazing! Thanks for this inspiring article!

  • FeltHappiness

    Juliane Gorman from FeltHappiness said 6 years ago

    There is a great talk on TED about another urban farming/sustainable food project in Todmorden, England -- http://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes.html

  • FeltHappiness

    Juliane Gorman from FeltHappiness said 6 years ago

    Forgot to write that this article about Daily Acts is also an inspiration!

  • janicewd

    janicewd from janicewd said 6 years ago

    A wonderful gift. Beautiful gardens. Thank you for a great story to have read.

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 6 years ago

    Such good ideas!

  • eshannon12

    Eric Shannon from BigBarkerDogBeds said 6 years ago

    Beautiful, thanks for the great work you're doing.

  • kathyjohnson3

    Kathy Johnson from kathyjohnson3 said 6 years ago

    If it ever stops snowing here in Minnesota, I will plant my garden....

  • WhisperingOak

    Quality Handmade Items from WhisperingOak said 6 years ago

    It is wonderful to see organizations working for such a great goal

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 6 years ago

    Awesome idea!

  • Challand

    Sharon Challand from Challand said 6 years ago

    I love the lawn garden pictured here!

  • bohemiansway

    Maria Holt from bohemiansway said 6 years ago

    OUTSTANDING ideas, I'm ready!

  • beadfreaky

    beadfreaky from beadfreaky said 6 years ago

    What a great way to motivate!

  • ellabellamay

    Ursula Goetz from ellabellamay said 6 years ago

    So inspiring! Can't wait to get out and garden! Love the lawn garden. Not only are you producing a wide range of useful items (herbs, seeds, vermiculture?, nesting materials, small animal hiding places, calming sitting areas, food), but there is no pollution created by mowing, and no over-watering or chemicals needed! Love it!

  • AnnAngelica

    AnnAngelica from AnnAngelica said 6 years ago

    This is how you change the world. One positive act at a time and it snowballs as more and more people participate. Thank you so much for printing this and inspiring everyone!!

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 6 years ago

    Very thought provoking. I'm almost ready to plant our tomatoes. Hope to have a larger garden each year!

  • HerterDesigns

    Ida Herter from HerterCrochetDesigns said 6 years ago

    Great blog post! I love this idea, and I love the idea of the community garden.

  • thevillagecrafter

    tammi from thevillagecrafter said 6 years ago

    Stories like this are so inspiring and remind me of my grandpa's early efforts in the 70's to reduce-reuse-recycle and always pay it forward

  • seasidecloth

    seasidecloth from seasidecloth said 6 years ago

    It's so great to hear about the inspirations and wonderful community involvement in this story.

  • bluepoppyseed

    Jennifer Reese Szczesniak from bluepoppyseed said 6 years ago

    Love this. Many of the obstacles we have to things like rain water harvesting or using gray water for irrigation need to be tackled at the code level. But all these individual stories certainly make a compelling case.

  • allstarorganics

    allstarorganics from allstarorganics said 6 years ago Featured

    Thank you Karen for bringing such an important story to us all. As a farmer, I have long believed that real, lasting, long term change to our communities and our world happens one mouthful at a time. If we seek out and choose to eat those foods that are grown in accordance with the principles we say we stand for, we will inevitably see those many small choices add up to transformative change on a global scale. Though the problems may seem dauntingly huge, the solutions tend to appear as maddeningly simple and modest. Values driven. Something homegrown. Something hand made. It is the cumulative effect of small shifts in human patterns of living that add up to big solutions. Designing food into communities and shortening the distance from field to table are two really good steps in the right direction.

  • loveartworks

    Kristin Love from LoveArtWorks said 6 years ago

    Oh MY!! This is Awesome!! Such an Important and Amazing Feature that plants seeds of Thought and potential Action Far and Wide here in the Etsy Universe! Everything,{{E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.}}, we do matters, even if it's just planting one Kale plant in a pot, talking about this concept with your neighbors or picking up a stray can and recycling it. "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World". The time is Now and Thank You Karen for sharing! :)

  • rickytalmage

    Ricky Talmage from PeysterStreet said 6 years ago

    Such an inspiration! When people with different ideas and viewpoints, but a similar goal get together, amazing things happen!

  • alangood

    alangood said 6 years ago

    I heard Trathen speak at an event a few months ago. He's a wonderful, unique, and inspiring guy. Very memorable. I am glad this organization is in my community.

  • skyvalleygems

    skyvalleygems from skyvalleygems said 6 years ago

    Loved this article ! I think the idea to change is affecting so many, and I would love to see this happen worldwide.

  • Talking1

    Richard - TalkToMeGuy said 6 years ago

    Amazing, people actually gathering in real time and talking ! Taking action one lawn at a time, very inspiring! Another wonderful story ~ Karen and Esty ~ Thank You !

  • glynniskillen

    Diane and Glynnis from DiGiJewels said 6 years ago

    May the force be with you! Seriously, this is fantastic. As a society, we need to do more things like this! Am proud to be among such inspiring people! Thank you for making a difference... Setting such a good example.

  • BeaumontStudio

    Olivia Beaumont from BeaumontStudio said 6 years ago

    Brilliant!

  • glitterandstones

    glitterandstones from glitterandstones said 6 years ago

    Very inspiring Karen. Thanks for sharing

  • NirvanaRoad

    Lisa from NirvanaRoad said 6 years ago

    Very inspiring!

  • blainedesign

    Karen Brown from blainedesign said 6 years ago

    Yeah, Andie, and like a baby's first steps, each step can provide very significant learning. I love Trathen's insight about measuring his recycling. Over time he realized that the goal should not be recycling more and more, but ideally to have less and less that needs recycling in the first place. In some sports, like golf, it's the lowest score, not the highest, that wins. The same principle holds true in so many areas of sustainable practice, which strive to be lightweight, economical, and as simple as possible. The beauty of community, of course, is that lasting change values people, and not stuff.

  • millerkent

    Kent Miller said 6 years ago

    Karen -- Thank you for highlighting Daily Acts' important idea in an eloquent article that's thought-provoking right down to the hyperlinks. It's always good to be reminded that, for all our virtual communities' merits, our real-world communities are where we can perhaps best improve life on earth for our families, our neighbors (not just the human ones), and ourselves.

  • beachyrustica

    beachyrustica from beachyrustica said 6 years ago

    Great post, Karen! I have a plot in a community garden and it really is a wonderful thing.

  • ErinAxelrod

    Erin Axelrod said 6 years ago

    Solutions like these ARE happening all around the country! Visit www.transitionus.org or www.transitionnetwork.org to find a transition initiative near to you! It is incredible to see the response from folks all across the country and the world. Up next in the Daily Acts' world, we'll be transforming three lawns in April/May: 1,000 square feet at a business Park in Petaluma, 12,000 square feet at a Nonprofit Health Center in Petaluma, and doing a "Garden Wheel" style lawn transformation at Revive Drinks in Windsor! If you are local, join in at www.dailyacts.org. -Daily Acts

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 6 years ago

    I'm pretty sure our HOA will not let us transform our front yard into a garden oasis but, they cant keep me from my back yard....

  • blainedesign

    Karen Brown from blainedesign said 6 years ago Featured

    A little fact about food production in the U.S.: California produces about half of the fresh fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country. And California is a state facing what could become serious water issues. So conserving water through residential greywater recycling is critical in this state, and home food production could become essential elsewhere if California cannot continue to produce food at its current levels. Something I love about home gardening solutions is that they are so portable -- anywhere there is a little patch of land, there is a potential productive edible garden.

  • MrPimm

    Meghan P from BustinCaps said 6 years ago

    Very Inspiring. Cheers!

  • SHM2013

    Silvia from MarinaBosettiDesigns said 6 years ago

    Why is it that my post doesn't appear after submitting it?

  • teridrobnick

    Teri Drobnick from TEEsoxbyTeri said 6 years ago

    How inspiring, I am planting my garden this week!

  • WildInspirationArt

    Kathleen Fitzpatrick from WildInspirationArt said 6 years ago

    This is fantastic! AND I live in Petaluma, CA! How wonderful.

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 6 years ago

    Great post...Very inspiring!

  • leahleaf

    Leah Moses from Yumyo said 6 years ago

    so wonderful!!!

  • NirvanaRoad

    Lisa from NirvanaRoad said 6 years ago

    So cool! I'm originally from Marin County. Cali is such a progressive state! Love what you are doing. Lisa

  • ArtisintheHeart

    ArtisintheHeart from ArtisintheHeart said 6 years ago

    Truly inspirational.

  • nickydill

    Nicky Dillerstone from nickydill said 6 years ago

    This is a brilliant initiative and the only way for change is lots of small steps, I love my garden and creating beautiful spaces where people want to be is so important. fab and inspiring

  • krispstudio

    Kristel from KrisPstudio said 6 years ago

    Fantastic! I live part-time in Petaluma, and didn't even know about this! Will definitely have to check them out!

  • dahlliaflowers

    Dahllia Fawsy from CraftsattheCrossing said 6 years ago

    This is really neat.. we are currently working on a non profit supporting community and integrating art and music into sustainable activities, i cant wait to learn more about yours!

  • blainedesign

    Karen Brown from blainedesign said 6 years ago

    Update: The 2013 Daily Acts 350 Challenge was held over the weekend of May 18-19. The community generated 3,543 individual actions of connection and sustainability, surpassing their goal of 3,500. Congratulations to everyone!

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