Edgerton Hospital chef creates garden, grows fresh produce for patients

EDGERTON, Wis. — When Joshua Ciafullo arrived at Edgerton Hospital two and a half years ago, most of the food he had to work with was canned or frozen. Now, he makes 85% of meals from scratch.

Ciafullo noticed an empty terrace outside the café and kitchen, and this May, he turned it into his own garden. Now, they grow hundreds of pounds in produce, sprouting more than 50 types of vegetables and spices.

“Food is the blessing of the soul, and it has to be fresh,” he said.

People can taste the difference, with some comparing it to a five-star experience.

“They can’t believe how good and fresh the food tastes, being in a hospital. That’s their worst thing is… coming to a hospital and expecting hospital food. Back in the day, and I used to hate it, but now my goal being a chef here is how can I make it better,” Ciafullo said.

They grow a variety of foods, including five types of tomatoes, oregano, lemon thyme, squash, cucumbers, habanero peppers, white eggplant, ghost peppers, basil, sage, lemongrass, chives and more. These items are used in many ways, including in salads and tomato sauce.

But they don’t stop there. Among their dinner options are Mediterranean salmon, surf and turf and Hawaiian pork. 

The food is so good that patients may dread it when they enter, but they don’t want to leave by the time they check out.

“And they are mad when they do get to go home, I’m like, ‘Hey, we are open to the public, feel free to come back anytime,’” he said. 

It allows for a farm-to-table approach that the hospital thinks is making a big difference with patients.

“We all know farm to table, this is literally terrace to café, so it’s 50 steps back and forth, so it truly is the freshest of ingredients,” said Mark Dwyer, the hospital’s garden manager.

The hospital’s goal is to nurse people to health, and this terrace-to-table approach has people tasting the difference.

“My reward is seeing smiles on peoples’ faces. If I can see that, and the compliments I’m getting from them, I know I’m doing my job,” Ciafullo said.