The Way to Everyone's Heart: Clean Fresh Food

If you've been to the Four Lakes Café at University Hospital in the past 2-3 months, you may have noticed some colorful changes to the salad bar in the form of better, fresher lettuce.


What makes it so special? Ellen Ritter, UW Health executive chef, and Lisa Bote, UW Health sous chef, will be the first ones to tell you: This is no regular lettuce.


"It comes from an aquaponics farm," states Bote. "That means it's an environment that combines conventional aquaculture (in this case, raising fish), with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) - whereby the abundant and natural nutrients of fish are used to grow plants."


Clean Fresh Food, the farm that supplies University Hospital and the American Family Children's Hospital Farmer's Market, is located in Belleville - only 14 miles away - and provides pesticide free products and services. Not only do they supply high quality food products, they also help the environment with their centuries-old growing technique.

Executive chef Ellen Ritter (right) and sous chef Lisa Bote are committed to offering Clean Fresh Food to all UW Health employees, faculty, patients and visitors.


"Back in September 2015, the owner stopped by with a few samples for us to try," states Ritter. "It was amazingly fresh without any hint of browning or dirt. Definitely the kind of lettuce you want to eat."


Ritter and Bote reviewed the budgetary aspect and realized it wasn't much more than the products they had been purchasing from farther away and of lesser quality. They decided to move forward with Clean Fresh Food who started supplying lettuce to University Hospital late last fall.


"From a cost perspective, it's great," states Bote. "We get a huge yield because the quality is off the charts. We're starting to bring in more and more of this amazingly clean and delicious lettuce. And it's available all year long."


And patrons feel the benefits not only to their health, but cost-wise as well, after the salad bar pricing went from $8 per pound to $4.99 per pound in early 2016.


"Dr. Jeff Grossman stopped by to meet us and said he eats salad most days and wondered why we charged the same amount as an airport in New York that he recently passed through," states Ritter. "We agreed, sat down and after discussing it he gave us the green light to reduce the price – even with the addition of the new, pesticide-free lettuce."


"It was a great moment," states Bote. "Hearing the CEO of UW Health tell us that he supports our efforts and that our employees, faculty, patients and visitors deserve to eat healthy food at an affordable price."