Spotlight Series: Gregory Herrera
October 8, 2021
Gardening is much more than a hobby. There are many benefits of gardening that people enjoy – exercise, access to nutritious produce, a sense of purpose, and the list goes on. But gardening can also help support mental health.
After serving 20 honorable years in the military, Gregory Herrera turned to horticulture as a way to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I retired from the U.S. Army in January 2015 and am 100 percent permanently and totally disabled due to injuries sustained in Iraq,” said Herrera. “Since then, I started watching and learning how to clone and graft fruit trees on YouTube because it helps me with my PTSD.”
Herrera’s interest in plants led him to Palo Alto College, where he enrolled in the Landscape and Horticulture program and subsequently Viticulture and Enology courses.
“[The classes have] been a great thing for me. I’ve been working with all these different varieties of grapevines,” said Herrera.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Herrera took class field trips to several wineries in the San Antonio area, where he received hands-on learning pruning stocks and canes and asked the owners and workers about their experience.
As part of an internship, Herrera has used his knowledge of propagation to help a local nursery replenish its supply of grapevines, typically stocked from California. Due to rampant wildfires, many companies have lost a lot of their product.
Attending Palo Alto College has also brought him into contact with other veterans who understand his experiences.
“I know a lot of veterans that go to Palo Alto College. Some have severe PTSD, and for some, it’s mild. The VA system it’s a work in progress; it’s not perfect. They’re taking care of us, but there are alternative ways to seek treatment,” said Herrera. “[When I’m doing plant work] that’s my safe haven when I’m feeling stressed. It’s helped me personally these past couple of years.”
After graduation, Herrera hopes to find a good chunk of land to plant a small vineyard and orchard, where veterans and the general public can discover the mental health benefits of gardening and learn about growing and making wine.
“My wife and I talked about it. We’re looking for at least 30 acres of property,” said Herrera. “I want to experiment with making wine out of different fruits, like persimmons. I would love to make it with peaches, loquats, and blackberries to see how it tastes. I have gained all this knowledge, and I’m trying to do good with it.”
Palo Alto College regularly hosts Community Garden days to support growing food for the community while teaching community members how to grow and maintain a garden. For more information, contact Student Life at email@example.com or 210-486-3125.
To learn more about Palo Alto College’s Landscape and Horticulture program or Viticulture and Enology program, visit alamo.edu/pac/pte.