By Kristina Houck
A former art instructor and high school teacher, Andi MacLeod has always enjoyed teaching others. From children at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito to her peers in the Solana Beach Garden Club, today MacLeod spends her time teaching others about gardening.
“I love the feeling of sharing knowledge,” said MacLeod, a resident of Solana Beach for 27 years. “I wouldn’t call it imparting knowledge so much because someone always comes up with something that adds to the day for me.”
Although she always had a passion for gardening, MacLeod didn’t truly learn the tricks of the trade until she took a compost class at the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation five years ago.
“I learned so much,” she said. “When I learned how easy it was, I got all excited.”
MacLeod shared her excitement with Katie Pelisek, president of Seaweeders, the local garden club. Also the landscape architect behind the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Center for a Healthy Lifestyle, Pelisek encouraged MacLeod to share her gardening skills with children at the facility.
“A week later she had a row of kids in front of me,” MacLeod said. “That’s the way it’s been ever since.”
Opened in April 2009, the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle at the Harper Branch features a teaching kitchen, classroom space and an interactive garden, offering after-school programming and summer camps for children, as well as classes for adults. MacLeod spearheaded “Garden Ambassadors,” an intensive six-week organic gardening program for children in second through sixth grade at the center.
“Kids come to the garden for different reasons,” said MacLeod, who served as garden education coordinator at the center. “Some come in because it’s beauty and that’s what they want in their lives. Some come in because they’re like junior scientists and they study the bugs. Some come in because they’re excited about the food. They’re all excited about growing things. It’s still that fresh miracle for them.”
After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis last year, MacLeod shifted gears. She is now an active volunteer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s La Colonia Branch, which opened its own garden in November 2012.
“Ever since I helped put the garden in here, I have just been pulled in this direction,” she said. “It’s an adorable design, and it’s very easy to use and manage for someone who is recovering from something.”
From an hour or two to several, MacLeod spends five days each week tending to the garden. She works alongside children of all ages, who plant fruits and vegetables, which they get to eat during Garden Snack Wednesdays.
“When the kids built it, I was just awestruck,” she said. “There were kids of all ages who built these beds. They did it themselves.”
The Garden Ambassadors program has since been incorporated into the branch’s leadership program. Through the program, older kids develop their green thumbs and share their knowledge with younger kids.
“It’s a natural for kids who are already looking for ways to take charge and make a difference in their community,” MacLeod said.