ASHLAND -- In a few months, a dreary vacant lot on busy Mission Boulevard could be transformed into a bustling educational community garden, with high school students sharing growing tips and teaching cooking, residents tending crops and leading tours, people exercising, and maybe even young "Iron Chefs" storming through a saute.

"I've been trying to get a garden on this lot since 2009," said Shanale Allen, who has worked on several projects to bring fresh produce and health education to the neighborhood. Allen and the Alameda County Office of Education are working to transform a corner of the lot at Mission and Paradise boulevards into a community vegetable garden.

The garden will hire students from "farms" at Tennyson High School in Hayward and San Lorenzo High School through a county education office program that uses gardening to promote nutrition education and physical activity at schools.

"Initially we'll have 30 to 60 young people trained," said Christine Boynton of the Alameda County Office of Education.

Residents would help out in the afternoon and evenings, gardening, teaching classes and leading tours.

"It will be a safe place for people to come, for the community to gather. Maybe we'll have yoga classes; we have a lot of ideas," Allen said. "It's a great place with high visibility, since it's right on Mission."

Boynton plans cooking demonstrations and "Iron Chef" competitions, drawing young people from throughout the county.

She envisions the garden encouraging residents to start their own food-related businesses and a community market selling locally grown produce and products such as Ashland jam or Cherryland salsa.

Work could start in March, after the Office of Education gets the go-ahead from county planners. The county Redevelopment Agency bought the lot after Chrysler closed its Jeep dealership in 2008, and it has sat empty ever since. When Allen heard about the education office idea, she quickly let people there know that residents had been wanting to develop the site for years, and she proposed the joint venture.

Earlier, Allen and others were working with county Supervisor Nate Miley to build a grocery store on the other end of the lot, at Mattox Road and Mission. That came to a halt when Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved redevelopment agencies.

Allen became an advocate of urban farming about the same time the Jeep dealership was folding.

"I wasn't a gardener," she said. But she and another woman, Susan Beck, were named Koshland fellows in 2008, and the nonprofit foundation charged them with devising a sustainable plan to improve the standard of living in economically depressed Ashland and Cherryland.

"Susan talked about how it's an equity issue; we don't have access to healthy food in this community," she said. "There's also a lack of information about nutrition and where our food comes from. A child will say, 'I don't like chicken, but I eat McNuggets.'"

Inspired by Beck, Allen took gardening classes and started promoting urban agriculture. Working with others, she has helped start gardens in blighted areas and educated neighbors about healthy eating. Her experience as a caseworker with the Alameda County Public Health Department helped her find grant money.

She also learned an important lesson: Starting a project takes a lot of energy, but you need someone committed to keep it going. When Beck moved out of Cherryland, her neighborhood's small community garden fell into disrepair.

That's why Allen is hopeful and enthusiastic about this garden -- a lot of groups are taking part, including residents; the Alameda County Office of Education, Social Services Agency and Public Health Department; Miley's office; and Kaiser Permanente.

"It really is a joint project," Boynton said.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473. Follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.