Forget ballroom dancing, violin playing, or poetry slams: The latest trend for boosting inner-city kids’ self-esteem is getting them into the kitchen and out on the farm. Jumping into the story of the four-month-old Mission Pie café, San Francisco Chronicle writer Janet Fletcher digs what she dubs “Pie Power.”

At the café, learning disabled students from Mission High School get job training and a paycheck, but the real education happens at Pie Ranch. This farm and sustainable-agriculture center is thriving on a pie-shaped, 14-acre wedge of land along the Pacific coast about an hour south of San Francisco. There, partners Nancy Vail, her husband Jered Lawson, and Karen Heisler work on the land with the students one day a month, giving them hands-on experience with farming, sustainable agricultural practices, baking, and nutrition.

Converting the kids to healthy eating took a little work, but the results were worth it. Talking about a couple of the students she works with in the farm’s kitchen, cook and Nextcourse coordinator Megan Hanson says, “Da-Ron’s saying is: Healthy food looks nasty but it tastes great. Midget used to sneak in Doritos and Cokes. Now he’s kind of a fruititarian.”

Besides the expected berries and pumpkin, the farm even produces a small amount of its own wheat, ground into flour and used in “symbolic amount[s]” by Destination Baking, a San Francisco pastry shop that bakes the bulk of the Mission Pie pies. Eggs come from the farm’s pasture-raised chickens, and a dairy cow’s on the wish list.

Now, someone send Hilary Swank an apron!

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