Featured photo: Irma Marrero and Hayley Figueroa started Dig. a few years ago during the pandemic. (by Shannon Cox Photography)

Hayley Figueroa almost always has dirt under her fingernails so she spends a lot of time cleaning them.

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As a natural gardener, there’s hardly a day that goes by without her planting something, pulling weeds or at least thinking about gardening. And these days, she’s encouraging others to get their hands dirty, too.

Figueroa is one half of the local start-up Dig. Garden Gift & Subscription Box, a business which started in 2021. She and her business partner, Irma Marrero, connected a few years ago and used to daydream about starting their own gardening venture while sipping coffee and eating baked goods at Savor the Moment bakery.

Both shared a love of planting — Figueroa with vegetables and Marrero with flowers and microgreens.

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“We like to say that we’re like a Reese’s commercial,” Figueroa jokes. “Your peanut butter is in my chocolate. Now, we grow all the things.”

That’s how the idea for Dig. was born.

Cocooned in a medium, compostable box, every month to two months, subscribers get a variety of seeds, a growing medium, plant markers, a tool and an accessory or self-care item. Everything from fruit and vegetables to edible flowers could be contained inside. And because customers plant at different times of the year depending on where they are located, the box works for everyone.

courtesy photo

The idea started in 2018 during the duo’s coffee chats but really blossomed during the pandemic. They had previously entertained the idea of starting their own community garden but soon realized that prices for land were too expensive. Then they thought of flipping the concept.“We couldn’t take people to the garden, but we could bring the garden to them,” Marrero says.

Plus, with a subscription box, they could reach people beyond just Greensboro. Now, the business is shipping to 24 states and counting. Many of their customers are located along the coasts, especially in New York, where both Figueroa and Marrero were raised. Their common upbringing doesn’t stop there. Both the co-founders’ families are originally from the Caribbean, something that Figueroa says informs the way they think about their business.

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“In the islands, it’s not really even gardening; it’s just life,” she says. “You go outside and there’s a mango tree; it’s just natural. I was born here, but my parents held on to a lot of that. Growing up, my father turned most of our property into a garden. That bonding was very important to me and it jump-started my curiosity not just about plants but science.”

That act of bonding through growing is something that the Dig box aims to foster for other families, too.

In addition to its popular premium box, the business also offers Dig Jr., an option for kids. Like the premium version, the kid’s box has seeds, markers, a tool and a growing medium, but it also includes a book or activity. In themed boxes like the one for Black History Month, a little insert explains the foods eaten by enslaved Africans and the importance of foods like okra, black-eye peas and watermelon. In the past, the duo has offered a diaspora box that represented their backgrounds. Offerings included things like calabaza, aka pumpkin or culantro, a perennial herb that’s not dissimilar to cilantro.

In addition to explaining the background of some of the seeds, the inserts in the boxes explain how to plant the seeds and when to harvest. A private Facebook group specifically for Dig customers allows for planters to regularly communicate with each other about their new seeds and share their progress.

The point, the duo says, is to plant the seed of curiosity no matter how old the gardener.

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“A lot of kids have no idea where their foods came from,” Figueroa says. “They don’t know that tomatoes grow on a vine.”

photo by Mia Figueroa

Figueroa says that there’s a mental and emotional benefit to gardening, too.

“There’s a physiological benefit to getting kids out in the dirt,” she says. “For all of us, the microbes in the dirt are healing.”

Figueroa, who used to work in public health, believes that part of the reason why there are so many diet-related illnesses in the United States is because people don’t know about nutrition and food health. The pandemic just made all of that worse.

“Our food system leaves a lot to be desired,” she says. “I feel like if you can grow it, you should.  If you can be less dependent on the food system, you should be…. We saw in 2020 how easily our supply chain broke down. It doesn’t take more than a week to see serious issues. If you grow your own food, you have an insurance policy.”

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People might not be able to feed their whole families, but the key is to start small, Figueroa says.

“It doesn’t have to be anything but one small raised bed,” she says.

In fact, part of the reason their business has become so popular is due to apartment dwellers who don’t have access to land but still want to plant and garden at home.

“They get so excited that we have things for them,” Marrero says.

Plus, the more people garden, the more sharing can occur.

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“If you have a small garden at your home, and you’re great at tomatoes, but you suck at lettuce, but your neighbor is good at growing tomatoes and your other neighbor is good at pumpkins, you guys are gonna have a lot of pumpkin and tomatoes,” Marrero says. “You can share and not be as dependent on the food chain.

“We want all the people to grow all the things,” Marrero adds. “Even if you don’t grow with us, we want everyone to grow all the things.”

Learn more about Dig. at thedigbox.com. Follow on social media at @thedigbox.

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