When San Bernadino, Calif., Vietnam vet Richard Valdez was coordinating a rehabilitation group at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Medical Center, he noticed something that would change his community forever. Therapy sessions would leave many vets intensely stressed, but when they returned a few hours later, a few seemed more relaxed than the others. Valdez asked the veterans what had changed. “They would say, ‘I tended my roses or lemon trees and that calmed me down,'” he told Michel Nolan of The Sun. “So I thought, there are veterans out there who don’t have the chance to do gardening, and maybe we could make it available to them.”
Valdez pursued his vision of creating a healing community garden for veterans with the help of members of Disabled American Veterans, San Bernardino Chapter 12. They planted a three-quarter acre organic garden in Speicher Memorial Park called the Veterans Exploration Garden. For two years they’ve planted and harvested a variety of vegetables and herbs—1,000 pounds, which they give to veterans, community centers, and passersby who lend a hand with the garden—and also host barbecues for veterans.
Maintaining the garden is a lot of work, but now the veterans are getting a hand from Home Depot, the Incredible Edible Community Garden, and volunteers. 65-year-old Marine veteran Rudy Venegas told Nolan the garden is incredibly valuable to him. “This is an outlet to help those who have fallen, are injured or are disabled,” he said.