Rice farms could provide offsets in carbon market

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Sometimes it takes a crisis like climate change to reveal a golden opportunity. Our rice farmers in Northern California have long been exemplary stewards of their land, both in terms of providing habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife and for their ongoing efforts to work with environmental and research organizations to improve their farming practices. Now, in response to climate change, they stand ready to take the next step.

This week, the California Air Resources Board will hear a staff proposal for a set of management practices that will give rice growers incentives that could be used to reduce the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. For these farmers, who grow more than 95 percent of California’s rice within 100 miles of our state capital, it presents a proactive opportunity to contribute to the state’s climate change objectives.

The proposed Compliance Offset Protocol Rice Cultivation Projects would allow rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley to generate greenhouse gas offsets that can then be sold in the state’s carbon trading market. Rice would represent the first crop-based agricultural offset protocol, paving the way for additional agriculture-based protocols to be developed.

The management practices listed in this protocol are based on sound science and have proved successful around the world. We know that these practices will be adopted slowly at first, but we are hopeful for increased participation in the future as more growers learn about the benefits of these practices.

Full article here.

*via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7348

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Real or fake? Drought intensifies debate over Christmas trees

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Before they picked out an eight-foot Christmas tree, Tara White and Ed Dilks wondered whether an artificial tree might be a more eco-friendly choice.

But after doing some research, the Glendale couple decided that the convenience of an artificial tree didn’t stack up against the fresh scent and homey feel of a real tree.

“I felt guilty at first,” White said, studying the towering noble fir for gaps. “But it’s not like they go into the great forest and kill the trees. It’s not deforestation.”

The question of which tree is more environmentally friendly — real or artificial? — is resurrected each Christmas season.

But the discussion has gained urgency as California limps through a third year of drought. The debate now hinges on whether plastic trees give the environment a break because they don’t soak up a scarce resource, water.

U.S. customers bought about 33 million real trees last year compared with 14.7 million artificial trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Assn., which represents tree farmers. The artificial tree industry cites different figures: About 25 million real trees were sold in 2013 compared with nearly 11 million artificial trees, the American Christmas Tree Assn. said.

The two groups disagree on plenty of other things.

Natural trees don’t consume enough water to justify buying an artificial tree, said Rick Dungey, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Assn. And many of the real trees sold in California come from Washington or Oregon, which are drought free, he added.

Artificial trees “are a giant green toilet bowl brush,” Dungey said. “A real Christmas tree starts as a seed. It comes from nature. Fake ones end in a landfill, and they won’t decompose like a plant will.”

Advocates of natural trees note that many fake trees are made with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a petroleum-based plastic. PVC is made with vinyl chloride, which can cause cancer and other ailments if exposure in high concentrations occurs, Environmental Protection Agency research shows.

Nearly 80% of artificial Christmas trees are made in China, where most electricity is coal-generated, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Using PVC, coupled with the energy consumed and pollution created transporting the artificial trees from overseas, places a far heavier burden on the environment, Dungey said.

Artificial-tree advocates point to the convenience of a decoration that doesn’t inflame plant allergies, drop needles or require a stand full of water.

“The drought is really serious, especially in California,” said Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Assn. “And it does take many thousands of gallons of water to raise a Christmas tree.”

Buyers keep their trees about 10 years on average, she said, meaning nine fewer trees in a landfill for the average household.

“The better-quality tree you buy, the longer you can keep it. They fold up, they come with nice bags, and you can put them in the closet,” Warner said.

As for the environmental effects of the Christmas tree choice, whether real or fake, the difference is negligible, according to a study commissioned by the American Christmas Tree Assn. in 2011.

Many products Californians use every day also make the same overseas trip on the same ships that artificial trees do, Warner said.

In addition, the PVC used in trees is high quality and safe, the group says. A separate study was less favorable to the fakes. It found that consumers would have to use their artificial trees for about 20 years before the negative environmental effects drop to natural tree levels.

The independent study, conducted in 2009 by Canadian sustainable development consulting firm Ellipsos, also cited the use of PVC as problematic.

On the negative side of the environmental ledger for natural trees: Some tree farms use pesticides and herbicides to fend off damaging insects and weeds, said Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College. Nevertheless, a natural tree, especially those grown close to where a buyer lives, is best for the environment, even amid a drought, he said.

“The petroleum that goes into producing fake trees and transporting them is on a carbon scale much worse than a locally sourced tree,” Miller said. “Just as we are interested in locally sourced food, here is another item that it is best to buy much closer to home.”

Still, consumer demand has spawned hundreds of varieties of artificial Christmas trees, from traditional pine look-alikes to ombre trees that fade from black to gold. For those who might miss the scent of pine throughout their homes, there are fragrant ornaments that give artificial trees the fresh smell of the forest.

Katrina Sullivan’s holiday ornaments are hanging on a “Frosty Flocked” tree from the quirky collection of online retailer Treetopia, based in South San Francisco, where shoppers can score a pre-lighted pink tree or even an upside-down evergreen.

Sullivan, a design blogger, said she finds the annual purchase of a real tree to be one more holiday expense, although natural trees tend to be cheaper than artificial ones on a one-time basis. In addition, she prefers the ease of putting together and taking apart an artificial tree without the stress of pine needles falling all over the floor.

“Artificial trees have come a long way and look amazingly real,” Sullivan said. “I love that.”

But for Ashley James, an artificial tree just doesn’t feel like Christmas. James and her husband, Elton, were shopping on a recent Monday for a natural tree at Mr. Snowman Christmas Trees in Glendale.

It’s their 5-month-old daughter Lily’s first Christmas; they had to give her the authentic holiday experience, she said.

“My family always had a real tree,” James said. “We talked about getting a fake one, but I like the smell of a real tree. I like that it’s natural.”

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7341

California among states selected by USDA for participation in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables

Pilot will support schools’ efforts to procure more fruits and vegetables; Offers new opportunity that supports local producers and local economies.

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WASHINGTON, December 8, 2014 – Today USDA announced the selection of eight states to participate in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, as directed by the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill. Under the pilot, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin will be able to increase their purchases of locally-grown fruits and vegetables for their school meal programs.

USDA Foods – provided by the USDA to schools – make up about 20 percent of the foods served in schools.  States use their USDA Foods allocation to select items from a list of 180 products including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products.  This pilot program will allow the selected states to use some of their USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly, instead of going through the USDA Foods program.

“Providing pilot states with more flexibility in the use of their USDA Foods’ dollars offers states another opportunity to provide schoolchildren with additional fruits and vegetables from within their own communities,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.  “When schools invest food dollars into local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers.”

These states were selected based on their demonstrated commitment to farm to school efforts, including prior efforts to increase and promote farm to school programs in the state, the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the state on a per capita basis, and the degree to which the state contains a sufficient quantity of local educational agencies of various population sizes and geographic locations.

This pilot is designed to support the schools’ pre-existing relationships with vendors, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors, and increase the use of locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables in school meal programs. While the pilot does not require sourcing locally grown foods, the project will enable schools to increase their use of locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables from AMS authorized vendors.  Unprocessed fruits and vegetables include products that are minimally processed such as sliced apples, baby carrots, and shredded lettuce. For more information about the pilot, please visit the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables website.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7327

Governor Brown, Secretary Ross recognize December as Farm to Food Bank Month

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Farm to Food Bank Month

California is America’s most robust and bountiful agricultural producer. With over 81,000 farms and approximately 400 crops, agriculture in the Golden State is responsible for feeding much of the nation and world.

As California’s economy recovers amidst one of the worst droughts on record, farmers and ranchers across the state are also doing their part to prevent the spread of hunger and expand access to affordable, nutritious food in their communities.

We owe those within the agricultural sector our gratitude during these challenging times. I urge all Californians to recognize the contributions of California’s agricultural community, as well as the food banks and partner organizations they work with to provide nourishment to the most vulnerable among us.

Sincerely,

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.

December is Farm to Food Bank Month. Help increase farm to food bank donations to 200 million pounds annually by making a product donation or future donation pledge today – contact Steve Linkhart, California Association of Food Banks at (510) 350-9916.

For our friends and foodies– tweet, Instagram or Facebook  – #CAGrown with a pic of California Grown produce and a pound of food will be donated to a local food bank.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7273

Agriculture Emerging: a progress report at CDFA

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Positive. Productive. Creative, collaborative, cooperative … CDFA staff, from scientists and veterinarians to inspectors and technicians, embody these characteristics as they undertake a variety of projects and programs on behalf of the agriculture industry and the people of the Golden State. A new report, Agriculture Emerging : Balances Budgets, Big Decisions, Bright Future, is our opportunity to share our recent successes and provide updates on many ongoing efforts.

Agriculture has its share of challenges, starting with the drought. Looking ahead, though, global demand for California’s commodities is on the rise, and food and nutrition are front-and-center in the media and on the minds of consumers. Whether their crops, livestock and other products are headed for the produce aisle, the commodity exchange, international export or the local farmers’ market, California’s farmers are well-positioned to take advantage of these conditions.

Among the most significant changes at CDFA is the department’s addition this year to the governor’s Strategic Growth Council, which also includes agencies and departments within Business, Consumer Services and Housing, Transportation, Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, and Environmental Protection, along with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. This core group provides local assistance grants and coordinates activities that support sustainable communities by emphasizing strong economies, social equity and environmental stewardship. When diverse agencies embrace these fundamental values and goals, the results are powerful. The inclusion of agriculture in this process is an important step as we embrace the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.

With Governor Brown’s leadership, the State of California is again on the rise. The budget is balanced. Businesses are getting back on track. Slowly but steadily, confidence is being restored. Throughout this recovery, agriculture has been a steady fixture in the state’s economy.

This report is by no means a full account of the department’s activities, but it does take stock of many of our efforts and achievements over the past few years. Like the farmers we support, CDFA has earned a reputation for innovation and effectiveness. I am proud of the people here who make that possible.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7271

Yolo County farm wins prestigious conservation award

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Sand County Foundation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and Sustainable Conservation are proud to announce Full Belly Farm as the recipient of the prestigious 2014 California Leopold Conservation Award®. The award honors private landowner achievement in the voluntary stewardship and management of natural resources.

Full Belly Farm is co-owned by Andrew Brait, Paul Muller, Judith Redmond and Dru Rivers plus second-generation owners Jenna Clemens and Amon Muller. It has been a certified organic farm since 1985 and is a pioneer for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) marketing. Located near Guinda in Yolo County, Full Belly Farm produces a variety of crops sold year-round directly to consumers through their CSA program, at farmers markets, in restaurants and stores, and to distributors.

The owners are dedicated to exceptional land stewardship and strive to balance the farm’s bottom line with environmentally sound practices. They are committed to fostering sustainability on all levels, from soil fertility and care for the environment to stable employment for their employees. Full Belly Farm has an extensive education and outreach program, including popular on-farm tours, events, children’s summer camp and a farm internship program.

“When it comes to farming in ways that promote the long-term health of California’s land, water, wildlife and food economy, there’s no better example than Full Belly Farm,” said Ashley Boren, Executive Director of Sustainable Conservation. “They’ve pioneered a truly sustainable approach to growing food that prioritizes soil health, natural inputs, water efficiency, and wildlife-friendly practices. They also have a long history of inspiring new generations of California farmers to find innovative ways to balance a healthy environment with thriving agriculture.”

“Responsible care for our land and other natural resources has allowed California farmers and ranchers to sustainably produce the food and farm products we all depend upon,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said. “The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes outstanding examples of the stewardship that family farmers and ranchers perform every day.”

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

The Leopold Conservation Award program inspires other landowners through these examples and provides a visible forum where farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are recognized as conservation leaders.

The 2014 California Leopold Conservation Award will be presented December 8 at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in Garden Grove.

ABOUT THE LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD ®

The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. The award consists of a crystal award depicting Aldo Leopold and $10,000. Sand County Foundation presents Leopold Conservation Awards in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7287

Cost of Thanksgiving dinner rises, but is still under $50 for 10 people

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The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 29th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.41, a 37-cent increase from last year’s average of $49.04.

The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at $21.65 this year. That’s roughly $1.35 per pound, a decrease of less than 1 cent per pound, or a total of 11 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2013.

“Turkey production has been somewhat lower this year and wholesale prices are a little higher, but consumers should find an adequate supply of birds at their local grocery store,” AFBF Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said. Some grocers may use turkeys as “loss leaders,” a common strategy deployed to entice shoppers to come through the doors and buy other popular Thanksgiving foods.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers.

Foods showing the largest increases this year were sweet potatoes, dairy products and pumpkin pie mix. Sweet potatoes came in at $3.56 for three pounds. A half pint of whipping cream was $2.00; one gallon of whole milk, $3.76; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.12. A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery ($.82) and one pound of green peas ($1.55) also increased in price. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour) rose to $3.48.

In addition to the turkey, other items that declined modestly in price included a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.54; 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, $2.34; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.42; and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, $2.17.

The average cost of the dinner has remained around $49 since 2011.

“America’s farmers and ranchers remain committed to continuously improving the way they grow food for our tables, both for everyday meals and special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner that many of us look forward to all year,” Anderson said. “We are blessed to be able to provide a special holiday meal for 10 people for about $5.00 per serving – less than the cost of most fast food meals.”

The stable average price reported this year by Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks closely with the government’s Consumer Price Index for food eaten at home (available online at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm), which indicates a 3-percent increase compared to a year ago.

A total of 179 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 35 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey.

Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Another option for busy families without a lot of time to cook is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants for around $50 to $75.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

*via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7236

202 drought maps reveal just how thirsty California has become

It doesn’t take much to understand why California is so worried about drought. Reservoirs are ever-dwindling. Rainfall is sporadic at best.

More than 80% of California is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the state’s condition isn’t expected to improve in the near future.

The Drought Monitor, which collects data from 50 different weather indicators, have shown an increasingly red California since 2011, the last time the drought map was clear.

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* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog

Veggies on the roof: Urban farming in LA

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At the Jonathan Club downtown, not everyone took it well when an infrequently used paddle tennis court on a fifth-floor roof was sacrificed to gem lettuce, swiss chard and microgreens.

Executive chef Jason McClain, of course, was thrilled. His father, a retired landscape architect, flew in from Alabama to build the garden, installing neat rows of galvanized horse troughs in which vegetables and herbs now grow.

Club members walking on the artificial turf track nearby pass tubs filled with citrus and fruit trees. The dinner menu lists “our home-grown items”: broccolini, baby carrots, yuzu, blueberries, figs, snap peas and heirloom tomatoes.

“I mean, you cut a tomato and it’s like a real tomato. The juice runs down your arm. It’s never been refrigerated,” McClain, dressed in crisp fresh chef’s whites, said Tuesday morning to a busload of visitors on a daylong tour of urban agriculture and local food systems.

“It’s just magical. You’re in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. It’s really great at 5 o’clock, when the traffic’s going and you hear the obscenities, and I’m up here snipping arugula.”

The visitors — who included growers, urban policymakers, consultants, entrepreneurs and representatives of nonprofits — wandered around the vegetable beds and asked questions as they got a taste of the garden.

Waiters served a drink called an Autumn Escape, featuring garden-grown rosemary, fresh pressed pineapple, cinnamon, lime and club soda, and offered spoon-size tastes of lemon verbena crème caramel and dainty Warren pear financiers, decorated with leaves of just-picked arugula.

A serious, note-taking group, the visitors were interested in the practical ins and outs: That the garden yields as much as $150,000 worth of produce every year. That it cost about $40,000 to build. That it provides work for a local urban farming venture called Farmscape Gardens, whose farmers plant the Jonathan Club’s seeds, compost the beds and rotate the crops.

The tour was organized by Seedstock, a Los Angeles-based company that offers consulting services and disseminates information about sustainable food projects. It hosts an annual conference on sustainable agriculture, which begins Wednesday at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. This year’s theme is “Reintegrating Agriculture: Local Food Systems and the Future of Cities.”

As they left the 120-year-old private club and headed back to the bus, tour members talked about what they had seen. Didn’t the galvanized tubs burn up in summer? Did that tree really produce edible olives?

Niki Mazaroli, program officer at the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, said one of her foundation’s aims is to help struggling people reach self-sufficiency. She said she hoped Jonathan Club members with means might look at the garden there and get inspired to invest in the sort of urban agriculture projects that create livable-wage jobs.

That was the kind of effort underway at the next stop — a farm on the grounds of Pasadena’s Muir High School that was as wild and lush and loud as the Jonathan Club garden was tidy, crisp and quiet.

At Muir Ranch, roses bloomed and sunflowers blared and squashes bigger than bowling balls grew under enormous leaves.

Mud Baron, the goateed project director, wore flip-flops, sunglasses and a brown cap that said “GROW!” in big green letters. On the belt of his jeans was a leather holster keeping his pruners at the ready.

He spoke of the farm’s community-supported agriculture program, in which people subscribe to get weekly flowers or boxes of fresh produce. How much of what’s in the selection comes from the farm, but he also buys from other local farmers, thus helping support them. How, contrary to its reputation, Pasadena has many people in need, including many Muir families. How getting young people interested in the garden was one way to push them toward better futures.

Looking out over the rows of vegetables and flowers, he pointed to a young man who was helping set up a long table for lunch. Manny, he said, now 20, had gotten training in the garden, learning how to plant and install irrigation systems. He’d also learned about flowers and had just done all the flowers for a wedding, earning $20 an hour.

“At the heart of what I’m trying to do is to teach these kids to be entrepreneurs,” said Baron, who then talked of further plans — for a food truck run by students and a charter school centered on making things — that would teach kids how to grow vegetables, how to pickle, how to weld benches and how “to really do something.”

A catered lunch in the garden came next, featuring salads of kale and quinoa. Baron clipped flowers and arranged them like headdresses, which he got the visitors to place on their heads. He took photographs. Everyone laughed.

These two projects, L.A. Prep and L.A.Kitchen, certainly sounded exciting, but they were almost too much to process at once on such a bountiful day.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7180

December is Farm to Food Bank Month

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California produces one half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables and is also the largest dairy producing state. Yet in California, the nation’s largest agricultural producer, one in four children and one in six adults regularly go hungry. Join the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Association of Food Banks, and CA Grown in combating hunger. This is why December is ‘Farm to Food Bank Month’. It is an opportunity to not only recognize the great work that is occurring on an ongoing basis – Ag Against Hunger, Hidden Harvest, Young Farmers and Ranchers, and Farm to Family – but also provides a chance for California farm families to give back to their communities. For a look at how this helps needy families, please view a video from our Growing California series here.

CDFA is working in collaboration with its State Board of Food and Agriculture to try to increase annual farm-to-food bank donations to 200 million pounds by next year.

Help join the cause and participate at our upcoming Farm to Food Bank event on Wednesday, December 3rd from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Second Harvest Food Bank in San Jose.  Let’s work to end hunger in California!

For those within the agricultural family, please consider making a product donation or a 2015 future food pledge today – contact Steve Linkhart, California Association of Food Bank  at (510) 350-9916.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7118