Tour the Italian Marketplace at NIAF Central – Mike’s Deli and The Italian Garden Project

In the weeks leading up to NIAF’s 39th Anniversary Gala Weekend, the Pensieri Italo-Americani blog will be giving you a peek at some of the personalities and events in this year’s celebration.

First up: NIAF Central is back! And this year it promises to be better than ever, with live music, samplings of Italian foods and beverages, products and services, and more! Think of it as our own Italian American neighborhood marketplace. Let’s start with the return of Mike’s Deli and welcome a new participant, The Italian Garden Project.

Mike’s Deli

Anyone will tell you their spot for a great sandwich, the perfect bread or amazing pasta, but if you want the BEST, you go to Mike’s Deli located on historic Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

Engulfed in decades of family tradition, the shop’s history in the Belmont community started back when owner David Greco’s maternal grandparents migrated to America from Naples in 1919, initially settling in Brooklyn, but then relocating to the Bronx. “Where it was considered to be country and ‘l’aria era piu fresca’ (the air was fresher) as our grandmother would say,” David writes, on the deli’s website.

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David Greco

David’s maternal Nonno (Grandfather) Gennaro, a trained butcher, opened his first shop on Arthur Avenue in 1922, with several others opened soon after. Jump ahead to 1947 when David’s father Mike, at age 17, migrates to New York from Calabria, and works in Gennaro’s grocery store on Arthur Avenue. Like the fairy tale goes, the new guy in town falls in love with the shopkeeper’s only daughter, they marry and have four children, one being David.

Mike decides to open his own retail market on Arthur Avenue – Mike’s Deli- and his hard work, persistence and insistence on quality food and products makes the establishment not only recognized regionally, but nationally.

From mouthwatering Italian specialties, meats, cheeses and breads, to high quality pastas, sauces and heavenly desserts (hungry yet?), you have an entire Italian marketplace at your fingertips.

All of the aspects of life that Italian Americans hold dear – food, family, love- Mike and David Greco have brought to this authentic Italian deli.

David Greco

David Greco

“On any given day you will see fresh mozzarella being stretched and shaped into twists or rounds, hanging from dowels to dry. Or perhaps it will be a day when Mike, breaks into an aria in a strong clear voice that at once identifies him as a Puccino aficionado,” David says on the store’s site.

Visit Mike’s Deli inside Arthur Avenue Retail Market at 2344 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY and for more information check out the website at www.arthuravenue.com. Also, plan on being at NIAF Central on Saturday afternoon during the Gala Weekend when Mike’s Deli will cater an old-fashioned sandwich lunch for all.

The Italian Garden Project

Long before the popularity of organic produce and utilizing those coffee grains for composting, there were Italian immigrants creating beautiful and plentiful vegetable gardens, using just their bare hands and knowledge of the earth.

“At one time, traditional Italian American vegetable gardens were so commonplace we took them for granted. Created by humble heroes of self-sufficiency with age old wisdom, these gardens are glimpses into the past that can lead us into a brighter more sustainable future,” Italian Garden Project founder Mary Menniti says in a video on the organization’s website.

Photo Source: The Italian Garden Project

Photo Source: The Italian Garden Project

Menniti said she founded the Italian Garden Project to showcase the methods of these immigrant Italian gardeners, in the hopes that current and future generations will learn from this lifestyle and carry it on. To do so, Menniti began to seek out traditional Italian American vegetable gardens throughout the country, capturing the gardens and their gardeners by photograph and video.

The Italian Garden Project website serves as a “repository of this gardening heritage,” she explains.

“Many of us grew up with immigrant parents and grandparents that live closer to the earth than we do today,” says Menniti. “They knew about such things as conserving resources and living lightly on the earth. They composted before composting was cool.”

On a personal level, this concept touches Menniti, as her grandfather Antonio was part of the first wave of Italian immigrants to America, coming to the United States at the young age of 16. “Even though he had no more than a third-grade education, he had wisdom about the earth and how to survive with his own hands,” she says.

Photo Source: The Italian American Project

Photo Source: The Italian American Project

Through her website, TheItalianGardenProject.com, Menniti said she hopes the tradition and wisdom of these gardeners lives on, adding that she feels a sense of responsibility and urgency to catalogue their knowledge for future generations.

“In these times of growing economic and environmental uncertainty, what [grandfather Antonio] knew is becoming increasingly relevant.”

For more information on the Italian Garden Project, please visit their website at http://www.theitaliangardenproject.com. Also, be sure to mark October 4 on your calendar, when Mary Menniti will be at NIAF headquarters from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., teaching a class on growing fig trees.

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