ALMOST 15,000 Philadelphia students will gain better access to and education about locally grown food thanks to grants announced yesterday by the federal government.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was joined by Mayor Nutter and local entrepreneurs to announce more than $5 million in grants for 82 projects across the country through the department's Farm to School Program, which helps connect schools with local farmers. Vilsack made the announcement at Common Market, a nonprofit food hub in North Philadelphia, one of the grant recipients.

Common Market will use a $93,000 grant for its "Apple a Day" program, to brand apples from local farmers, provide education to students about locally grown food and provide access to fresh food at more charter schools.

"When the kids get these prepackaged apples in the classrooms as snack, they'll be able to identify what farm those apples came from," said Haile Johnston, co-founder of Common Market. "It's also going to produce other materials that tell the story of those farmers so that the kids in the classroom have the opportunity to connect more deeply with the people that grew the food."

Johnston and his wife, Tatiana Garcia-Granados, residents of Strawberry Mansion, started the business in 2008 as a way to connect people in so-called food deserts with fresh produce from local farmers.

The grants announced yesterday are expected to serve 39,000 students in Pennsylvania and 2.8 million students nationwide, nearly 51 percent of whom live in rural communities, federal officials said. Since 2012, the USDA has awarded $15.1 million in grants to 221 Farm to School projects.

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