My favorite Ag in the Classroom unit is called Pizza Party. I created it my first year as the county’s ag literacy coordinator in a desperate attempt to get in front students and teachers. My grand plan was to offer food in exchange for three consecutive weeks (one day a week) of lessons about pizza and its connection to the farm. The final lesson would be delivered in a pizza box. Who wouldn’t love a pizza party?!
Everyone thought I was crazy. Three years later, two and a half months of pizza lessons in front of 16 classrooms, kindergarten to 8th grade, I just might agree. When students see me in town, I hear a loud whisper, “Mom, that’s the pizza lady.”
The 5th graders at Amboy Jr. High (located in the small town of Amboy, IL) are lucky enough to have teachers who welcome this crazy pizza lady in on a regular basis. As a bonus, the school is located just a few blocks from Maria’s Pizza, owned by Joe Mazzarisi and family. After year one of parties and three pizza deliveries to the school, Joe said, “Why can’t the kids just come to the pizza place?”
So, I asked and a tradition was born.
The students arrive at the pizza place and circulate among tables of activities, games and a kitchen tour before sitting down for a slice of steaming pizza. Then Joe emerges from the kitchen, and on cue, the students give him a resounding, “thank you”.
“Any questions?” Joe asks.
“How many pizzas do you make in a week?” “What’s your favorite pizza to make?” “How long have you been making pizzas?”
Joe’s family has been in the pizza business for years. He started throwing dough at nine years old in his dad’s pizza place, and has been in and out of the restaurant business ever since.
“Who inspired you to open this restaurant?” A profound question from a fifth grader.
Joe paused. Stood up. Hunched over a chair. Shifted his weight and said, “Five years ago, my wife and I were standing over there listening to a concert at Depot Days.” He motioned to the parking lot across the street, referring to the concert area for the town’s annual summer festival.
“I looked at this empty building and said to my wife, ‘that’s going to be our restaurant.’” His eyes narrowed and a stern look shadowed his face.
“Kids, I don’t care what you want to be – a singer, a baseball player, an actor, a pizza pie maker. Don’t let anyone tell you no. Don’t let anyone say, ‘You can’t.’ Follow your dreams. Do what you love. I love this.”
Joe spread his arms wide with a giant smile. “I. Love. This.”
And we thought we just came for pizza.