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grassfed beef harmony hill farm

Here’s why grassfed beef is worth the money

Plus tips on how to cook it up — it’s different from grainfed beef

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

All our family farmers are transparent about the way they farm. They do it the old fashioned way: slow and natural.

harmony hill farm grassfed beef

That’s how Earl, his wife Robin, and son Jesse raise their animals (cows, pigs, chickens, and more) at Harmony Hill Farm in Scottsville, Va. We talked about it with Earl, and we’ve got the whole conversation below, plus info how to cook grassfed beef without ruining it!

The motto of Earl and his family is: “Farming in harmony with nature.” It’s not the cheapest way to farm. But here’s why it’s worth paying a little extra money to benefit from what they have to offer.

grassfed beef

Before the days of industrial corporate farming, the typical American family spent 30% of their income on food… about the same as what they spent (and still spend) on housing.

Nowadays, thanks to industrial agriculture, most Americans spend less than 10% of their family budget on food. But it’s true what they say: You get what you pay for. Treating plants and animals like widgets on an assembly line has made them cheaper in every sense of the word. Today’s food has fewer nutrients, less natural flavor, and more unhealthy stuff like pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and bad fats.

To minimize cost while maximizing profit, industrial agriculture harvests produce before it’s ripe from soil full of chemicals, then ships it long distances. Industrial ag crams animals into confined spaces, stuffing them with unnatural feeds, antibiotics, and hormones to fatten them fast during their short, often miserable lives. The result is food that’s much less nutritious and flavorful than what your grandparents ate, and worse for the environment.

To get the food our bodies were meant to eat, you have to turn back the clock to the old ways of doing things. You have to take your time and grow your produce in soil that’s naturally rich and fertile, not chemically enhanced. And you have to leave your produce there until it has absorbed all the nutrients and flavor it was meant to absorb from the earth and the sun.

You have to raise your animals the way nature intended — out in the pastures and woodlands and sunshine, eating what they were meant to eat. For cows, that means grass. Grassfed beef contains more healthy things like vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and cancer-fighting fats.

Yes, it costs more to make food this way. But better health is worth it. The better flavor that comes with it is icing on the cake.

As a farmer, it’s not easy to go the unconventional all-natural route. The American industrial food system is designed to support conventional farmers. We asked Earl about it.

harmony hill farm

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How long have you been farming?

EARL:

We’ve been farming full-time here in Fluvanna County for two and a half years. Before that I was a landscape contractor for 30 years in Hanover County. We’d gotten a few cows and hens and broilers, raising them on the side as hobby. But our hearts became more involved with that than the landscaping. So we left the landscaping business, found a farm, and moved up here and started farming full-time.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

That’s a big change! Any regrets?

EARL:

None so far. We moved away from our family and friends, so we don’t have that everyday interaction anymore. We thought it would be more of an emotional strain. But it really hasn’t been. It was time for a new season in our life and where the Lord was leading. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been difficult or we haven’t had our struggles. But any new venture you’re always going to have those things.

The other day I was talking with Sam (Seasonal Roots’ Farmer Connector) about mindset and emotional things. You’ve got to turn a profit and make a living and support your family. But for us it wasn’t all about the money. It was about a lifestyle change and the direction we wanted to head.

harmony hill farm grassfed beef

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How’d you pick up the hobby and then turn it into a second career? Do you come from a farming family?

EARL:

We’re first-generation full-time farmers. My grandfather always did it on the side. But he never did it full-time. We were the first to do it as a career. Some new farmers do their research early and get started really young. But financially it can be really hard. Getting in when we did later in life, we had a monetary base we could fall back on because of the landscaping business.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Why did you get into all-natural farming? Was that your grandfather’s influence?

EARL:

No, my grandfather’s methods were more conventional. We call our type farming unconventional because we’re out of the mainstream, unlike industrial farming. My wife was the driving force. Robin started the research to learn about healthy food and healthy eating, where we bought our foods from and how it was raised. She wanted our family to have healthier food. As we started doing it on the side for ourselves, we thought we might be able to make a go of this.

harmony hill farm

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Healthier eating motivates a lot of us. What else motivated you?

EARL:

Our faith — our belief that things are created a certain way, and they need to be allowed to perform in a manner in which they were created. Cows were created to be herbivores and eat grass, not meat byproducts and grain. Our society has changed that, wanting to get away from how something was designed to live, and that’s how we cause a lot of our problems. No animal was designed to live in an industrial situation, crammed in together.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

So how did you learn how to farm unconventionally, as you call it?

EARL:

Our learning has been schooling with folks who have been in our type of farming. We were reading Wendell Berry and Greg Judy. We’ve been to classes with Polyface Farms, falling back on their wisdom and experience. And of course trial and error — you learn by doing.

grassfed beef

VEGGIE FAIRY:

What’s been the biggest challenge of becoming an all-natural farmer?

EARL:

That hardest part is that here in America, because of the industrial, commercial way that we do things, the food is so cheap. Our food is cheaper than anywhere else in the world. That’s hard to overcome. The food we grow is more expensive because our animals are so much more healthy and better for you. It’s more work and takes longer to grow a quality product.

But still, it has to turn a profit. So it’s been hard because that’s the biggest thing you hear: “Why is your meat so much more expensive?” We have to do a lot of educating. It’s better for you and tastes better. We do what we can to be transparent. We invite folks to come out and see how we do it. Our customers visit our farm and they can see our animals out on pasture or in the woods. With a local family farmer like us, you know where your food comes from. You’ve got no clue when you pick something up from one of the big box stores.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

So what kind of response do you get?

EARL:

Usually folks, if they want to eat healthier, once they get it, they’re sold for life. And those folks are everywhere. You’ve just got to be able to find them. That’s where Seasonal Roots fits in — you help us connect with those families who want to eat healthier food.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

We’ve mentioned already why grassfed meat is healthier for people. Is eating grass healthier for cows, too?

EARL:

Grassfed is so much better. Because our herd is out on pasture, like nature intended, they stay healthier. They don’t get sick as often as they would crammed into a crowded, dirty feedlot eating grain. And their ruminant stomach can’t digest grain, so if you feed them grain, well then they need antibiotics. The meat we provide has no antibiotics and no GMOs.

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Grassfed vs grass finished

Not only is the beef from Harmony Hill Farm grassfed — it’s grass finished, too. Many farmers who claim to be grassfed actually switch their cows to grain at the end to fatten them up faster. The cows of Harmony Hill eat grass their whole lives.

grassfed beef grass finished beef

There’s more on that, plus the environmental benefits of grassfed on Harmony Hill Farm’s website.

Their site is full of great information, including their favorite books on these subjects, so be sure to check it out. You can also visit them on Facebook.

How to cook grassfed beef

To get the full benefit of lean, healthy, grassfed beef, you have to cook it right. Fortunately, it’s easy to cook right. You just have to know how. So don’t let anyone tell you grassfed beef is tougher than grainfed.

The biggest culprit is overcooking. Grassfed is made for rare to medium-rare cooking. If you prefer beef well-done, first sear it over high heat to seal in the juices, then cook it at very low temps in a sauce to add moisture, like in our beef bourguignon recipe. The reason: grassfed is high in protein and extremely low in fat.

However you like your beef, be sure to take it out of the fridge 30 minutes to an hour before you cook it, so it’s closer to room temperature. Like your muscles, it’s more relaxed (and tender) when it’s warmer. As it warms, it also releases moisture that you can pat dry ahead of time. That prevents the meat from steaming itself into a gray lump instead of searing nice and brown. Rub it with extra virgin olive oil, salt it, and if you like, coat it with your favorite dry rub seasoning.

For grassfed steaks cooked indoors:
1. Preheat your broiler to 450 and place a heavy, oven-proof skillet in the oven to preheat along with it.
2. When the skillet is sizzling hot, turn a burner on high, grab an oven mitt and move the hot skillet from the oven to the burner. Turn the fan over your stovetop on high and place the steaks in the skillet. They will smoke like crazy! But be strong and let them sear for a minute, then flip them to sear on the other side for another minute.
3. Put the skillet back in the oven. One-inch steaks will take 4-6 minutes to hit medium rare (120-130 degrees inside). Since it will continue to cook even after it’s removed from the heat, take it off when the internal temp is still 10 degrees below the target temperature. Using tongs (not a fork — don’t poke holes for the juices to escape), place the steaks on a cutting board and loosely tent them under foil for 10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat while it finishes cooking, making for juicier steak.

More tips for grassfed cooking, plus recipes, are on our Pinterest beef page.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

home delivered farmers market - open house

Home delivered local food: How it works

Take a tour of the Hub!

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

When we hosted an Open House at our Hub in Richmond, more than a hundred people stopped by check out the place where we pack up your weekly orders. They got to talk about local food, sample it, and peek behind the scenes at how our home delivered local food gets from the farm to you. You can scroll down for a photo tour that shows you how it works! But first…

The Open House

home delivered farmers market - open house

We sure appreciated the farmers who took a break from their chores to come hang out with us! They included Jack from Sion House Farm

home delivered farmers market - g flores produce

…and Enrique and Cristian from the Flores family farm, G. Flores Produce.

home delivered farmers market - cattle run farm

Ralph from Cattle Run Farm was there, too, and brought grassfed beef for the sliders.

home delivered farmers market - farmer connector sam

Your Farmer Connector, Sam, grilled up the beef, along with grassfed chicken from Harmony Hill Farm.

home delivered farmers market - corn pool 1

The smaller ones among us dove into a corn-filled kiddie pool, which hid a whole herd of plastic animals.

home delivered farmers market - corn pool 2

Apparently there was a lot of corn splashing going on. After the last cutie crawled out, the corn was donated to Ralph’s pigs, who pronounced it delicious.

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering zee

Zee of Foster’s Catering is a local food artisan — her muffin tops in our home-delivered farmers market have many, many fans. She’s also a member of the Seasonal Roots team, leading the neighborhood Market Managers on Richmond’s Southside.

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering muffins & child

For the Open House, Zee baked up 265 mini muffin samples and gave them all away. Quote of the day: “These are so addictive!”

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering SR cake

Seconds after this photo was taken of the biggest cake Zee brought, the crowd descended… and this cake was GONE.

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering cakes

Zee also raffled off four mini animal cakes — a pig, a kitty, a cow, and a… dragon?

home delivered farmers market - fosters catering winners

A couple of the lucky winners!

home delivered farmers market - happy team

A lot of members of the Seasonal Roots team were there, too. Jamila, in the middle taking the selfie, is our Veggie Fairy Godmother, the one who helps us veggie fairies on our appointed rounds as we take care of members and support local farmers. Zee is on the far left, and between them is Duane, our founder and Head Veggie Fairy. On the other side of Jamila is Sam, your Farmer Connector who vets each farmer and food artisan and chooses what goes in the market every weekend.

And now for…

The Hub tour

Our local farmers and food artisans deliver their local food to the Hub on Monday. As soon as the food arrives, it goes straight into our two big coolers.

tomatoes beefsteak sion housen cropped

One is kept at 50 degrees for tomatoes, which don’t like to be too cold in order to max out their flavor… as well as hardy vegetables and fruits that don’t need to be too cold, like potatoes, apples, and winter squashes. The other cooler is kept at 41 degrees for greens, berries, and the like.

hub outside cooler

People who take the tour in person are always amazed at how big the Hub is. You can see the entrance to the coolers on the right, there. Through that door, the refrigerated areas alone add up to 3,500 square feet — bigger than a lot of our houses.

hub 2

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we set up the conveyor, get out the boxes, pull on our woolen undies, and line up along the conveyor to pack the orders right there in the coolers. Everyone who takes the Hub tour in person says, “Wow, it’s so cold in here!” Especially if they walk in from a hot summer day. But since the food never leaves the cooler until delivery day, it stays cool and fresh until it comes to you.

hub 1

Okay, so most of us don’t wear woolen undies. Or even own them. But hoodies, wool caps, and scarves, definitely.

box and packing slip

Since most of our members customize their basket and order Extras, every order is different. So a packing slip is generated for each order, and we follow that packing slip as we pack each box.

hub 3

It takes about 12 of us to pack up the orders with 8 others helping.

down the line

When the line gets going, a packed box comes off the end of the conveyor every 30 seconds.

quality control

At the end we do quality control, checking to make sure that each order has everything it’s supposed to have.

seasonal roots truck

At dawn on delivery day (Wednesday in Northern Virginia, Thursday everywhere else), we load up the boxes in our trucks and head out to the party stops.

veggie fairy at party stop

That’s where the neighborhood Market Managers in each area meet up to collect their neighbors’ orders.

loading car

They load up their personal vehicles with the boxes and place perishable items like meat and dairy in a cooler in their vehicle. When they make their rounds, they take the perishables out of the cooler and add them to your order when they arrive at your place — keeping your food cool, fresh, and safe from the farm to your door!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

Cattle Run Farm veteran-owned grassfed farm

Veteran-owned grassfed farm is good for America

EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / September 19,2018

Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

An All-American Grassfed Farm
From the army to the farm, this veteran continues to serve

After five deployments and 21 years in the Army, 1st Sergeant Ralph M retired in 2017. He returned home to Ruckersville, Va., to help his father with the 175-acre family farm. But his dad’s health was failing, and just two months later he passed away.

Since then Ralph has continued the family’s farming tradition, the third generation to work the land and raise cattle on Cattle Run Farm.

Ralph is also committed to teaching the next generation…

Read the rest of the newsletter below, or view this issue as a printable PDF with clickable links.

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veteran-owned grassfed farm Cattle Run Farm

Veteran-owned grassfed farm is good for America

From the Army to the farm, this veteran continues to serve

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

When Seasonal Roots’ Farmer Connector, Sam, recently visited Cattle Run Farm, LLC, he quickly observed happy, grassfed beef cows grazing the rolling pastures in central Virginia. You can count on Sam to find the best producers we can all feel good about. Cattle Run Farm, LLC, is a third generation family farm and veteran-owned, with the best grassfed beef.

After five deployments and 21 years in the Army, 1st Sergeant Ralph T. Morton retired in 2017, to his family farm in Ruckersville, Va., to help his father and sister with the 175-acre family farm. But his dad’s health was failing, and just two months later he passed away. Through his legacy and commitment to educating the future, Ralph is excited about continuing the family’s farming tradition with innovation and strategic initiatives. Not only does the farm provide grassfed beef, but they produce thornless blackberries, herbs, and vegetables.

Cattle Run Farm teaching 2

In between his daily farm chores, this veteran continues to serve others as he welcomes school groups, 4-H groups, community members, and other veterans to the farm, to engage in non-formal learning opportunities.

Ralph, a 4-H alum himself, and Cattle Run Farm, LLC, are designing an Agricultural Innovation Learning Lab (AILL) to innovate, motivate, and educate youth and families about science, technology, engineering, agriculture, and math (STEAM) using agriculture. The primary focus of the AILL is to provide hands-on, real-life application experiential learning opportunities that support social-emotional learning and community development. Additionally, programs are designed to develop curiosity and stimulate critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills, while linking key concepts to prior knowledge and practice.

The program will run from July 8, 2019, to August 1, 2019. Start your planning early as they only have 60 slots available. We will keep you posted about the registration process!

Cattle Run Farm teaching

Obviously, Ralph is committed to teaching the next generation, and the Veggie Fairy wanted to find out why.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Why teach children who aren’t growing up on farms about good farming practices?

RALPH:

If we don’t preserve the family farm way of life, we’ll be a dying breed. All our food will come from big corporations, who don’t have the same commitment to good animal husbandry and land stewardship as small farmers do. Therefore, we wonder why we have unhealthy communities. Good agrarian practices lead to good health.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How did you learn about farming?

RALPH:

Farming has been a part of me since I was a little boy. I have been around farming my whole life. I was born and raised here on the farm. I grew up learning from my father and grandfather, and participating in 4-H youth development activities.

My vision is to do the same thing with my children that my father and grandfather did with me. I have four kids — the oldest is in college at the University of Arizona, while the younger three enjoy being out on the farm. As a parent, it’s important to expose and engage children at an early age to help them develop skills, a work ethic, and to have a greater appreciation for agriculture and natural resources.

Cattle Run Farm Ralph & his kids 1

I give our kids animals to be responsible for and they look forward to coming out every day to feed and care for them. Kids are sponges. You show them something one time and they’re saying, “I want do it! I want to do it!”

Cattle Run Farm Ralph & his kids 2

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Why did you choose to stick with grassfed?

RALPH:

For us, it makes raising cattle economically feasible. We have a lot of grass and living outside on pasture is low stress for them. Grassfed means cattle are allowed to forage and graze for their own fresh food. I use a rotational grazing system, using best practices gleaned from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). We took our pastureland and divided it into ten paddocks. Every seven days the cows rotate to a new paddock of fresh grass. This allows the grass to grow back for the next rotation. We do supplement the grass with a little bit of non-GMO grain, that is purchased from our local co-op. Maintaining good animal health requires giving them proper grasses, forages, and legumes which requires good soil health.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How do you keep the soil healthy?

RALPH:

Soil management is a key part of rotational grazing. We use both commercial and organic fertilizers. We are constantly monitoring the health of the soil by taking soil samples twice a year and adding the proper nutrients as needed. We plant legumes such as different types of clovers that naturally release nutrients into the soil through their roots.

Clover is a legume crop, belonging to the bean and pea family of plants. Legumes perform a unique service among the plant world. They fix nitrogen in the soil, transforming nitrogen gas found in air pockets of soil into organic compounds that can be used by plants. They do this by partnering with beneficial bacteria in the soil called Rhizobia, which grows in rounded nodules along the plant’s roots. Once legumes fix nitrogen, surrounding plants can use the nitrogen compounds to fuel growth.

If you just take, take, take from the land and don’t put back, the animals and the grasses won’t get the nutrients they need to grow and produce.

Cattle Run Farm winter

VEGGIE FAIRY:

We see you caring for your cows in the snow. How much do your cows stay outside in their natural environment?

RALPH:

Our cattle stay outside the entire time. Every once in a while, one might get a runny nose which can lead to transmittable respiratory problems – that’s the only time we administer antibiotics. Confinement, once you start confining them into feed lots, they get crowded and hot and it turns into a muddy muck hole. Not to mention a high-stress environment, which causes sickness and impacts the quality of the beef. Cattle turned out on pastures stay healthier and less stressed.

Another health practice for our herd is we fenced off our streams, as cattle like to stand in the water when it’s hot to stay cool. But then they develop foot problems and the streams become polluted, which is not environmentally friendly. So we have natural tree canopies for shade and put in an automatic watering system to ensure they’re consuming fresh water daily.

(VEGGIE FAIRY NOTE: Animals on farms that never give antibiotics may suffer unnecessarily if they do get sick and can’t be properly treated. The opposite problem occurs in conventional feed lots that crowd animals together in an unhealthy environment – often, all the animals have to be given antibiotics all the time just to prevent them from getting sick. As a result, some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, which is making it harder to fight bacterial infections in humans, too.)

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How many cattle to you have at one time?

RALPH:

We run a cow-calf operation, a grow-your-own concept, so we’re not just buying someone else’s calves and fattening them up. We run anywhere from 40-45 head. We “background” all our calves, meaning when they’re ready we wean them off their mothers and condition them for 45 days. This prepares them to be turned out to pasture for grazing. Calves on a good forage program can gain anywhere from two to three pounds per day, which is good basic animal husbandry. The management is very methodical.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How does that compare with feed lot farming?

RALPH:

Finishing cattle is a very methodical process. It takes a great deal of planning and crunching numbers. The farmers who are in the cattle feeding business, operating a feed lot, don’t have much time to get their cattle to a certain weight to meet the packer’s request. They only have a window of anywhere from 120 to 240 days to get a 500- to 700-pound steer to a market weight of 1200 to 1300 pounds. Growth implants are delivered through a pellet under the skin in the animal’s ear. They enhance the reproductive hormones that occur naturally in the animal. In steers implants replace some of the hormones that were removed when the animal was castrated. Implants generally encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feeds conversion. Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed energy as protein deposition does. At Cattle Run Farm, we don’t foster these practices.

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So those are just some of the facts that back up what we always say here at Seasonal Roots: Humane farming is good for the animals, good for us, and good for the planet!

Read about another grassfed farm that’s also part of the Seasonal Roots family.

Here are tips for cooking grassfed beef, which is different from grainfed because it has less saturated fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and more antioxidants like vitamin E.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

strawberries spring superfood

10 spring superfoods

EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / May 9,2018

Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

10 SPRING SUPERFOODS TO PUT IN YOUR BELLY NOW!
Discover their amazing super powers

Spring’s a great time to go local, because to tell the truth, no list can do justice to spring's amazing bounty. Every spring, Virginia's fields overflow with foods bursting with flavor and nutrition and week by week, they're all on offer in our online farmers market. It was really hard to settle on just ten spring superfoods, so treat this list as a starting point for enjoying Mother Nature's seasonal treats...

Read the rest of the newsletter below, or view this issue as a printable PDF with clickable links.

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why local food tastes different

Why fresh local food tastes so different

EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / November 8, 2017

Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

CASE STUDY: CELERY

It’s celery season out on the Flores family’s farm on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Gerardo and his son Omar are harvesting fresh, aromatic celery bunches from their fields. Then we deliver it straight to you within just a couple days. If you ever needed proof that freshly harvested local produce tastes better than the stuff you get at the grocery story (which is at least a week old), do a celery taste test.

When most people think about the taste of celery, they think of grocery store celery – bitter or, at best, blah…

Continue reading about local celery and why its so awesome, below, or view this issue as a PDF with clickable links.

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