By Michele Chan Santos
Green Right Now

If you’ve ever considered joining a CSA, a community-supported agriculture group, now is the time to do it.  A CSA is an arrangement where people subscribe to get a weekly or bi-weekly basket or box of produce from a local farmer. January, February and March is when many farms encourage people to sign up to receive produce through the spring, summer and fall.

A box of locally-grown vegetables and fruit might seem like a simple thing, but CSA members say becoming a “member” or “sharer” in these farms has transformed what they and their families eat, making them more aware of their food, more connected to the process of growing and cooking, and improving their overall health. You can find the CSA nearest you at Local Harvest; enter your zip code to locate a nearby farm.

CSAs are increasing in popularity as Americans become more educated about the benefits of eating locally. According to Local Harvest, the number of CSAs in the United States in 1990 was only 50. Today, there are more than 2,200 CSAs all over the country.

Much of the growth in CSAs stems from increased interest in organic food. Most CSA farms are organic, and studies demonstrate that organic food is healthier for you. An ongoing study sponsored by the European Union and led by Newcastle University in England has shown that organically grown fruits and vegetables contained as much as 40 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.

Michelle Dixon, 40, is a speech-language pathologist who lives in Redlands, California. Dixon said membership in a CSA has led to more flavorful and healthful eating for herself and her elderly parents.

Dixon is a member of the Tierra Miguel Foundation and Farm in Pauma Valley, Calif., near the Cleveland National Forest, between Los Angeles and San Diego. (See picture above.)

Tierra Miguel is a large CSA with 500 sharers. The farm delivers to sites in San Diego, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties. Dixon joined in December 2006. Because she found six friends and neighbors who also wanted to subscribe, the farm was able to make Dixon’s home a “drop site,” where boxes are delivered weekly.

The 84-acre certified organic farm in Northern San Diego County has been in operation since 2000, serving as a sustainable, organic agriculture demonstration project, which is the purpose of the farm’s supporting foundation.

Tierra Miguel is currently taking new subscribers for its fresh, nutritious and organic produce. You can join by filling out a form online, or by calling 760-742-4213. The farm has 46 weekly deliveries each year or 23 bi-weekly deliveries.

Having the farm-fresh produce every week has “definitely” improved nutrition for Dixon and her parents, she said. “You have these vegetables, these beautiful vegetables, and you know where they are grown. They are fresh and they taste good.”

Dixon decided to join a CSA after reading Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which emphasizes the environmental benefits of eating locally.