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6 local communities leading the way

Setting the bar for engaging, health-focused activities

Each local community — including your own — prioritizes health differently. And that's a good thing. Healthy HometownSMPowered by Wellmark External Site, together with Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative External Site, has recognized six front-of-the-pack communities that approach health and well-being in thoughtful ways as finalists for the 2018 Healthy Hometown Community Award.

On February 15th, three Iowa communities — Cedar Rapids Opens in a new window, Mason City Opens in a new window and Sioux City Opens in a new window — received the first Healthy Hometown Community Awards during the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative awards ceremony. The award recognizes their accomplishments in health improvement initiatives within their respective communities.


This central-Iowa community created and sustained a school-based garden—including an integrated curriculum—where students grew lettuce in garden pots and then took home the food they grew. Not only that, all Ames External Site third graders received walking and biking safety instructions along with a bicycle helmet. Outside of the classroom, Ames emphasizes social connections for seniors through coaching services and fitness equipment. And in the workplace, the city established a worksite wellness coalition that works together to improve the health of employees throughout the city.

Try it! Create your own worksite wellness team that focuses on what matters to your employees. Want to try walking meetings or make it easier to bike to work? Use this group to refine proposals and test out ideas.


A suburb of Des Moines with more than 17,500 residents, Clive External Site has made impactful changes to encourage healthy food choices. At mobile food-vendor sites, the city has incentivized healthy food through a reduced application fee for qualifying vendors. After removing the deep fryer from the aquatic center, 22 percent of overall sales are now healthy options! Plus, you'll find a new water-bottle-filling station at City Hall. On top of food-centric initiatives, Clive has expanded and improved locations for physical activities and social gatherings. Check out their new interactive playground equipment, resurfaced basketball courts, turf soccer fields, new pickle ball courts and enhanced shelter areas for people to gather.

Try it! Make the healthy choice the easy choice by stocking the vending machines with good-for-you options or emphasizing healthy hydration with bottle fillers.

Cedar Rapids

Iowa's second largest city, Cedar Rapids External Site, puts the focus on its Farmers' Market and began accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program External Site (SNAP) payments, which resulted in $1,300 in transactions! To increase access to the farmers' market, Cedar Rapids established a free shuttle that served people in areas considered food deserts External Site. On top of that, a total of 3,738 pounds of fresh produce was donated to a food rescue program through the season — resulting in more than 3,115 meals. Outside of the market, a survey of municipal concession patrons show that 65 percent prefer to purchase healthy snacks or food. Weekly, 50 or more people attended healthy Happier Hour programming, which included wellness talks, volunteer fairs, networking events and more. Cedar Rapids also implemented a Complete Streets Policy External Site that ensures streets are safe for all users, not just cars.

Try it! Host a volunteer fair in your workplace to make connections between employee interests and ways to help the community.


This western Iowa town of about 5,100 emphasizes locally grown food. This past year, Harlan External Site doubled the number of families participating in their community gardens and also added gardening classes. The Holiday Harvest Market grew to 31 local producers and 200 attendees. To help bring back "Christmas Light Capital of Iowa," 90 volunteers logged 380 hours. Harlan also implemented anti-bullying policies and programs, which resulted in the Intermediate Elementary School installing a "Buddy Bench" to foster friendship on the playground.

Try it! Check out local gardening opportunities and provide a list of resources for your employees to get involved. Or, host your own on-site garden at your workplace.

Mason City

Mason City External Site, in north-central Iowa, highlights healthy interactions through many different opportunities. The city established community gardens for plot rental or public access, which resulted in a harvest of 11,000 pounds of produce (that's double last year's harvest!). In addition to these urban agriculture activities, the city also implemented zoning regulations that allow land use for farmers’ markets, too. Mason City is also home to a bike share program, which includes three new bike racks and 12 new sponsored bikes. With bicycles on the mind, 400 third grade students learned about bike safety and 30-50 participated in the bike rodeo. Even more bike racks were installed throughout the city, along with two bike repair stations to encourage active commuting. New developments include walk/bike paths, and the city has improved gathering spots to encourage community and activity (like City Sculptures on Parade External Site and Kiwanis Park improvements).

Try it! Highlight the art in your workplace or community by noting its location, a bit about the artist, and why the piece was placed there. You can make a simple word document to share with your staff, or even use an interactive map like My Maps External Site from Google Maps.

Sioux City

This northwest Iowa city of more than 82,000 has taken a multifaceted approach to health. Sioux City External Site created and sustained school-based gardens with integrated curriculum at three schools and several day care centers. Six worksites also provide space on-site for growing food, too. By implementing a vending/break room policy which requires a portion of choices meet healthy guidelines, healthy food options increased 16 percent. In addition, four child care centers (impacting 600 children) no longer use food or beverages as a reward, and two hospitals and one college improved cafeteria offerings to include healthy options menus and healthy product pricing. Multi-housing units, organizations and Food Truck Fridays are now smoke-free! Sioux City has also completed two safe routes to school plans External Site and began six different trail expansion projects.

Try it! Do workplace celebrations rely a little too heavily on sugary treats? Try bringing in a healthy option, too, and see how your employees react when it's easier to make a healthy choice.

Feeling inspired?

Take the free online Healthy Hometown self-assessment External Site or reach out to an expert External Site to learn more about the initiative and how your community can get started. If you're in South Dakota, we also work with Good & Healthy South Dakota External Site to bring Healthy Hometown to your community. On October 17, we'll be awarding our first South Dakota Healthy Hometown Community Awards at the 2018 Annual Chronic Disease Partners Meeting/Better Choices, Better Health® Meeting External Site.