Tower Garden Reaps Rewards

October 10, 2016

Tower Garden

Debra Cohn-Tempkins, RN and lactation consultant at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, knows you don’t need a green thumb to grow a good idea.

While teaching a class at Nova Southeastern University, she assigned students a community-minded project of their choosing. They decided to build a hydroponic tower garden, which Debra knew nothing about.

Together with the help of Virginia Carrol, RN and Linda Reesor, PhD, Director of Education at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, Debra procured the necessary funds through a hospital pie sale.

She then contacted the Clinical Ladder Group, who approved the idea and donated the remaining funds to purchase the tower garden (

Debra and her team quickly learned how to use the vertical system that nourishes vegetation with mineral nutrient solutions in water. Water and light are time-released, and soil is not required.

“We figured it out, and so then I thought, ‘Why can’t Joe DiMaggio be a part of that?’ So last year we put that plan into action. You’ve heard of farm to table? Well, now we’re going to do tower to table,” says Debra.

Employees, administrators and members of the Joe DiMaggio Clinical Ladder Group enthusiastically embraced the project. They liked the idea of focusing “on some very simple ways to help people begin to eliminate obesity and think of healthier ways to live,” says Linda.


The Clinical Ladder Group formed the Green Thumb Club to encourage pediatric patients to get involved. Kids make their own badges, plant seeds, tend and harvest the gardens, pick the food and eat it.

On Wednesdays, they make handmade, descriptive tags for the plants, which include a variety of vegetables and herbs, such as lettuce, rainbow chard, cucumbers, basil, dill, lavender, squash, tomatoes, spearmint, arugula and bell peppers. Recently, the kale gave its life to be turned into tasty oven-baked chips.

But the kids don’t just eat their greens, they learn from them. They learn about math, sustainability, nutrition, healthy eating and building community.

The project has been so successful, staffers from every corner of the hospital have joined the tiny farming network.

People take turns tending and partaking of the gardens, like cutting lavender to soothe little sleepers at home. Some employees have started their own hydroponic towers at home, and one hospital volunteer is writing a children’s book about them.

The hospital currently has two hydroponic tower gardens—one in the main lobby and the other on the third floor. Lovely to look at, these delicate sprouts represent so much more than meets the eye: health, life, community, education and the heart of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

“We want to show the whole world just how innovative we can be,” Debra says.

Green Thumb Club at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

Video: Patients use garden tower to learn about math, sustainability, nutrition, healthy eating and building community.