Green Gator of the Month: Maddie Kowalewski

January 2024

Each month, the Office of Sustainability will feature members of the University of Florida community who are making a sustainable impact on a daily basis. Keep reading to meet our featured staff member for January! 

Meet Maddie Kowalewski

Maddie Kowalewski is the Sustainability Manager for Florida Fresh Dining at UF. 

Maddie Kowalewski, Sustainability Manager for Florida Fresh Dining at UF.

Maddie has a B.S. in Sustainability Science from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. 

Day-to-Day At Florida Fresh Dining   

In her position at UF, Maddie works on various sustainability initiatives related to on-campus dining. These initiatives include many different tasks designed to increase general sustainability awareness and implement change in the food systems, such as:

  • Food Recovery 
  • Sustainability Scorecards 
  • Sustainable Swaps (one example – DIY sugar scrubs!)
  • Sourcing local products for on-campus markets
  • Collaborating with the Marketing Team to host engaging student events 

Initiatives like the sustainability scorecard provide accountability and transparency by assessing and sharing food purchasing information with the university community. 

Visual sign representation of the Sustainability Scorecard from Florida Fresh Dining.

One of Maddie’s favorite aspects of her job is the people she works with who are unlike any others she has worked with before! She says, “I’ve tried and failed a lot in this role, and each time I am met with guidance, support, and understanding.” 

This added layer of support is helpful because Maddie notes that sometimes it can be difficult for sustainability changes to materialize quickly in the university setting. 

Maddie notes that it takes time and patience to get all stakeholders together, form an action plan, and then implement that plan. For that reason, it becomes essential to recognize the small accomplishments went it comes to sustainability. These small wins are what build up together to establish the bigger wins! 

The Impact Of Food Recovery 

An outstanding example of the ‘small wins’ adding up is the work that Maddie and Florida Fresh Dining do to support food recovery to address food waste and food insecurity in the campus and local systems. 

Maddie Kowalewski, Sustainability Manager for Florida Fresh Dining at the University of Florida.

Salvageable food is food that is still edible, but because of rules and regulations, it can no longer be served or sold. The goal is to divert salvageable food to feed people dealing with food insecurity. 

To do this, they partner with the Food Recovery Network to donate to the Field and Fork Pantry. The food recovery efforts on campus have led to the donation of over 220 pounds of salvageable food to Field and Fork!

The project required stakeholder involvement, research, education (for Maddie), and then training for new procedures. 

Sustainable Living and Local Business 

Maddie notes that a career in sustainability is engaging because it is still very much a developing field. There is a lot of space and opportunity for new ideas, growth, and innovation. That keeps work interesting but it can also be a daunting field! 

Maddie Kowalewski looking at a plant at work.

Maddie admits that sometimes she gets climate anxiety or paralysis when she thinks about the future. 

Her best solution for moving forward is to refocus on what she can control. Her examples include remembering that she can make the choice each day to support local businesses, carry a spare reusable bag, or avoid plastic water bottles. 

In her daily life, Maddie is investing as much as she can in sustainable living in the local community. When she accepted the job at UF, she navigated her first major move away from home. She discovered what it was like to have full autonomy over the decisions about how to run her home. 

Maddie explains, “I wish people could see the power their decisions have.” 

She refers to statistics about small local businesses, citing that, “For every $100 spent at a local business around $70 stays in the local economy compared to only $43 from non-local businesses.” 

Maddie takes the connection between sustainability and purchasing power seriously: “If I can find it locally, I will buy it.”

Maddie purchases plastic-free dish soap and plastic-free shampoo bars. She shares that she bought the dish soap a year ago for $7 and still has a year’s worth left! 

She buys most of her household essentials such as laundry detergent, hand soap, and shampoo from Life Unplastic, seasonal produce from the farmers market, and the rest of her groceries from Ward’s Supermarket

Slowing Down

Outside of work, Maddie says she has a new hobby every week! Currently, she loves puzzles, reading, crosswords, and her house plants. She also enjoys observing nature, pointing out the advantages of choosing to sit still for a long time. “You can really start to notice the little things like bees buzzing to the flowers or birds flying back to the nest.” 

House plants filling up a room.

 Submit your recommendation for a student, faculty, or staff member to be featured in a future Green Gator of the Month article!

Published: January 15th, 2024

Category: Green Gator of the Month, Highlights