Growing a new local business that helps farms restore native habitat

Posted 4/28/22

You can already find their products on the shelves at Weavers Way, Evergreen Cheese, Captain Andy's and Flourtown Coffee. 

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Growing a new local business that helps farms restore native habitat


Andy Carrigan is one of the many former New Yorkers for whom COVID changed everything. 

After 20 years in the Big Apple’s marketing industry, Carrigan picked up stakes in 2020 and moved his family back to his hometown - Chestnut Hill. He rented a house on the east side and moved in with his wife and their two girls. Then he and his partner Toby Lloyd, who had also grown up in the area, decided to start a business. 

And you can already find their products on the shelves at Weavers Way, Evergreen Cheese, Captain Andy's and Flourtown Coffee. 

Habitat Farms’ line of honey and jams is their product, but its purpose is to help farmers plant wildlife habitat on their land. Lloyd is handling operations, Carrigan runs the marketing and their newest partner, Doug Chen, is now head of financial operations. 

“We were lucky to be able to work remotely at our jobs, so we converted a spare bedroom into an office, and that’s where the business began to take shape,” Andy said. “Philadelphia's abundant trees and natural resources are the perfect backdrop for launching a nature-positive brand. There are great community-focused local stores and co-ops.”

We caught up with Carrigan for a brief Q&A about his new business. 

What is Habitat Farms, exactly, and why did you start it?

We have a passion for conservation, and we're creating products that can directly support our environmental mission.

These are small-batch products made from natural ingredients and harvested from local farms. When people buy them, they’re helping to support nature and an environmental cause that affects us all. 

How does the business work?

When you pick up one of our products, you'll notice it says, "This jam is for the birds" or "This honey is for the bees."

A portion of our proceeds directly goes to working with a Pennsylvania farmer to grow, say, a sunflower food plot for birds, or planting clover or wildflowers to help attract bees, butterflies, and other native insects that help production yields thrive. 

This growing season, we're partnering with Weavers Way Farm to plant wildflowers in their fruit orchard to attract native bees. We hope to partner with more local farmers as we get into more community stores, and generate interest in our model. 

We establish the habitat under our guidance to get the most out of each dollar spent and ensure it's planted, maintained correctly, and doing its job.  We hope to build out quite a few products that you can buy locally, all helping to support nature and the environment. 

Why are you here?

We wanted to begin locally because there is such a vibrant community of environmental supporters here, who understand the importance of conservation and how plants and vegetation can help keep our communities green and growing. 

Philadelphia has so many diverse neighborhoods developed a generation or two ago where farms once stood. Our goal is to partner with local farmers to increase natural habitat and put those beneficial grasses to work, so we can support pollinator populations, improve water quality, and directly help balance ecosystems through the sale of our products. 

What do we need to know that we don't know?

There's a natural balance that can exist between food production and conservation. Seventy-five percent of our food crop depends on birds, bees, and other pollinators to help grow the food we eat. That's why we need the two to coexist. 

Another vital component to planting beneficial grasses and habitat is it naturally helps with water quality by stabilizing soils and taking up excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus before it reaches water systems. The more vegetation we plant, the more we are able to capture carbon helping to fight global warming. 

How many acres have you planted so far? 

We've planted more than 20 acres of beneficial habitat across Pennsylvania and Maryland, and we're looking for new farmers to work with all the time. So as we sell our products and invest our efforts with new farmers, we expect to see that become 200 acres. Then 2000 acres. Then, hopefully, 20,000 acres. And so on. 

What would Northwest Philadelphia be like if you had completed your mission? How would it be different?

We want to put back what is being taken from nature and use beneficial habitats to improve the health of our farms, our communities and local ecosystems. And, we want more and more bees to call Northwest Philadelphia (and Pennsylvania) home! We're also eager to see more urban green spaces popping up across Philly with plants and vegetation that our community partners grow. 

Research shows that adding plants, grass, and trees to neighborhoods has direct and positive environmental impacts and helps reduce crime and violence. It's obviously great to see flowers naturally attract bees to our neighborhoods, but when adding vegetation can have a bigger impact on the values and health of our communities that's where you begin to see the awesome power of plants and nature habitat. 

Are you just interested in farms, or are you also interested in backyard gardeners?

We support small organic urban farms to large acreage conventional growers, but we need backyard growers and gardening enthusiasts too. Having people of all ages take up our mission to plant something green and flowering means a little adds up to a lot. 

We want kids experimenting with seedlings in egg cartons and the backyard gardener to plant more of those perennials. We want the person who may decide to let a portion of their grass and garden grow a little wild. There's no difference — it’s all beneficial. They're all Habitat farmers.