AGvocacy through Pizz-A-Thon

Before the word “agvocacy” was coined, Eldon Weber embodied the term as an affiliate instructor in the Department of Agriculture Education and Studies.

Weber, who came to Iowa State in 1987 and retired in 2001, is perhaps best known for developing the Pizz-A-Thon program, which uses the child-friendly fare to teach kids where food comes from. In a program designed for all learning styles, teams explore, discover, create and market a pizza. In the process they trace ingredients back to the soil through hands-on experiences and career exploration.

The idea was born while Weber was working his way up to assistant state conservationist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service before joining Iowa State. He was concerned with how many children didn’t know the origins of their food, or the importance of soil and water conservation, especially in an agricultural state like Iowa.

“I thought, ‘What food do kids like the best?’ And I thought of pizza and all the different ingredients and kinds of pizzas,” Weber says.

Weber launched Pizz-A-Thon (www. in 1997 with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation through its VISION 2020 program. He is grateful it has continued for more than 20 years with support from Happy Joe’s Pizza and the Farm Bureau. The Ames Breakfast Lions Club, with support from Smokin’ Oak Pizza, sponsors the local Boys and Girls Club Pizza-A-Thon.

In addition to the agricultural literacy program, Weber developed curriculums and in-service workshops for agriculture teachers while at Iowa State. During his tenure, he used his background in soil conservation to write a book, Earthworm Empire: The Living Soil—A Teacher’s Aid… Linking Agriculture to Science, History, Language Arts and Mathematics, published in 1996.

Pizz-A-Thon has reached more than 8,000 young people, and Weber’s goal is to reach 10,000 by 2020.

“Over the last 20 years, I have witnessed the judging of 800 to 1,000 team-created pizzas in the Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Des Moines schools and the Boys & Girls Club of Story County,” he says.

“I’d love to turn Pizz-A-Thon over to an organization or an educational group that would take it and run with it, as there is room for growth,” he says.

Mike Retallick, chair of the agricultural education and studies department, has helped Weber spread the word to potential school participants because he sees value in the program.

“It’s a fun and real-world way to help students think about agriculture and where their food is sourced,” Retallick says. “Eldon has been very creative in developing lessons about the various aspects of agriculture using a topic everyone understands.”

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