CHICAGO (CBS) — When Chicago’s Humboldt Park community learned it had some of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the country, residents swung into action.

Now, several years after research revealed the epidemic, CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports that a change is in the air, and in the ground.

“The stores in this community – there are 11 and only one sells fresh produce,” said Carlos De Jesus, assistant principal of Pedro Campos Alternative High School.

De Jesus has put students to work on an urban agriculture program to combat the problem.

Teenagers are helping unearth part of the solution to a diabetes epidemic among Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park, blamed in part, on poor diet, and lack of exercise.

“It’s a big idea. It’s huge,” De Jesus said. “Quite honestly, we’re looking to transform a food desert into an urban oasis.”

“Let’s just say it’s easier to buy fast food, processed food or go through the drive through, than to pay $$ for three tomatoes at jewel,” said student Lourdes Matute.

To turn things around, the students are tending plants in a brand new greenhouse atop the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. The plants are then transferred to community gardens, where they’ll flourish and be distributed to residents.

“I’ve learned we’re going to run mcdonalds and burger king out of business,” Matute said.

The gardening initiative is in conjunction with the neighborhood “Diabetes Empowerment Center”, which is trying to transform the community, along with the group “Block By Block.”

Their door-to-door campaign led Jessie Fuentes to a frightening discovery. She has Type 1 diabetes.

“When my uncle had diabetes his legs were amputated. When my cousin got it he went blind,” Fuentes said. “So seeing people with diabetes growing up was never a good experience.”

But with help from Block By Block she got information and resources

“It’s helpful, supportive, and I don’t feel like I’m alone,” Fuentes said.

“Anytime we can get people engaged to take care of themselves, to assume responsibility for their own lives, for me, we’re on the right track,” said Humboldt Park Diabetes Empowerment Center project director Jaime Delgado.

The Block By Block program encompasses all 72 blocks of Humboldt Park. It offers nutritious cooking and exercise classes, free diabetes screening and other resources.

Delgado said the community response has been terrific.

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