America has a huge problem with food waste, with close to 33 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables sent to landfill each year which generates around four percent of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions. It’s an issue Matriark Foods founder Anna Hammond is on a mission to fix.
Anna Hammond has always had a sense of social justice. “My parents had a strong social conscience and were always very clear that you should act in the world as a force for good,” Anna tells WorkforClimate over Zoom. “My parents were incredibly generous people who always made room for one more person at the dinner table, always stood up for the underdog.”
Anna has been the architect of many programs serving the public, from working with homeless children to developing intensive museum public education programs, to serving as a political speech writer. Food was always something she was passionate about, but not in the sense of making a career out of it.
Matriark provides healthy, low-sodium products to schools, hospitals, universities, food banks and other food service industries, and was established to utilise – or ‘upcycle’ – some of the enormous amounts of perfectly good fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be destined for landfill.
All that changed when Anna started managing a healthy eating program for kids and families living in public housing in New York City.
“We started working with about 300 children,” she says. “By the time I left eight years later, 25,000 youth and families had participated in healthy eating education and cooking programs where they learned how to cook healthy food on a budget for themselves and their families. Teens were also given culinary job training.”
Which leads us to Anna’s current role, as the founder and CEO of Matriark Foods, a certified Women-Owned Business and 1% for the Planet member. Matriark provides healthy, low-sodium products to schools, hospitals, universities, food banks and other food service industries, and was established to utilise – or ‘upcycle’ – some of the enormous amounts of perfectly good fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be destined for landfill.
Each year in the US, around 33 million tonnes of food is sent to landfill, generating four percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions. Of that, some 14 million tonnes of fresh produce never leave the farm gate, because they’re cosmetically imperfect. This sort of waste comes with huge costs – over $400 billion, to be precise, to grow, transport and then dispose of all this produce. Produce that’s good enough to feed people and provide income to farmers. That wasted food also creates methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Not to mention all of the land, labour, and water that are also wasted.
“For every pound of vegetables diverted from landfill, 2.2 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and 102 gallons of water is saved from being wasted. It's a maths problem: the more you do, the less waste there is, which is better for the environment.”
Today, Matriark is selling their products to Compass Group, the largest food service company in North America. Matriark has also just launched their first retail line of products – the first carbon-neutral, shelf-stable pasta sauces, which are now available online through Imperfect Foods, and available at Whole Foods Grocery from January 2023.
“All of our products are both upcycled and carbon-neutral certified, and each product has certified data attached to it,” Anna says. “So for every pound of vegetables diverted from landfill, 2.2 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and 102 gallons of water is saved from being wasted. It's a maths problem: the more you do, the less waste there is, which is better for the environment.”
Anna recently presented at a corporate lunch for one of the country’s biggest food service providers, and talked about the importance of encouraging cafeterias in workplaces to use products that are carbon neutral and/or upcycled to start reducing food waste. “If you’re an employee of a large company, you can put pressure on your cafeteria — ask what they’re doing, what their Scope 3 commitments are, what vendors they’re using,” Anna says. “There are so many things people can do that really will make a difference.”
Earlier this year, the University of Massachusetts Amherst started dishing up an 85 percent plant-based menu to students. “This is amazing for a school that feeds 50,000 people a day,” Anna says. “So imagine if we could take that and multiply it across 10 universities? That’s not even a tiny fraction of universities in the United States. I really feel that the tide is turning. Matriark is playing a role in waste reduction, and as we grow, I hope that we will inspire other businesses to do more in this space.”
One of Anna’s greatest strengths is seeing gaps in the ways things are done, and bringing the right people together to help fix those gaps. “My skill is seeing things that already exist: food, people, powerful organisations, buyers, funders,” she says. “It’s like the stars in the sky. There are millions of stars, but you can make constellations in a way that makes sense. What I’m good at is putting together new constellations in a way that has the potential for powerful change.”
Be a changemaker in your workplace. Sign up to WorkforClimate for news, advice and inspiration to help kickstart your climate journey.