Dallas Center, a central Iowa town of 1,900 residents, has a steady stream of volunteers who show up to help with an array of projects, big and small, all aimed to improve the health and well-being of its residents.
“The town motto is ‘quietly progressive,’ which is another way of saying we are always making steady progress,” says Bob King, a community volunteer and leader. “We get an idea, we knock it around for a bit, and figure out who will take it on. The people are vested in making progress happen.”
As a result of its progress in making strong improvements in their community, Dallas Center received the 2022 Healthy HometownSMPowered by Wellmark Community Award.opens New Window Here are just a few projects Dallas Center completed in the last year that helped them earn this recognition.
Hosted a Pop-Up Produce location
To connect residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, Dallas Center began hosting a year-round Pop-Up Produce stand, which expanded in 2020. “Having access to healthy food has a direct impact on the health of a community,” says Abigail Chihak, community health administrator at the Dallas County Health Department. “It also helps residents living in low- and moderate-income areas, who might otherwise not have access to healthy food or large grocery stores.”
In addition to Pop-Up Produce, 60 Dallas Center families received weekly low-cost food boxes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This program was courtesy of the USDA Farmer’s to Families Program, the United Way of Central Iowa and Hunger Free Dallas County. Volunteers from Hunger-Free Dallas County run the program, which provides at least three fruits and three vegetables. The program has scaled up steadily since it started, and now has secured an indoor location in the new community room of the library, so it can operate year-round. Capital City Fruits also supported the program as a produce supplier.
“Pop-Up Produce has been very well received in Dallas Center,” says Chihak. “Community members want to keep it going.”
Launched a school-based gardening program
The Dallas County Health Department, with support from the Dallas Center Farmers Market, was also involved in a project that taught gardening skills to local third graders. The program, which was integrated into the school curriculum, involved planting and harvesting six garden beds with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
“The students were so excited about this project,” says Chihak. “They loved getting out of the building and digging in the dirt. There was just so much learning taking place. They learned about seeds and starter plants, spacing, what plants pair well together, how fast the plants grow, how to harvest, and more.”
Students harvested their first produce from the school garden in September 2020, and planned and replanted the garden in 2021. The produce was sold at the farmers' market, and the funds raised will offset supply costs when they continue the program in the fall of 2022.
Local grocer expands fresh produce selections
To feature more locally grown produce, the Dallas Center grocery store made big changes, too. “The Baker’s Pantry is the only grocery store in town,” according to Chihak. “It’s really the place to go for large quantities of baking supplies.”
Because of the focus on baking, the grocer had limited cooler sections. On their own, they tripled their cooling section so they could offer more locally grown produce for customers. The pantry uses local vendors to produce seasonal food and now averages around 100 pounds of produce per week in sales. Because of the program, approximately 60 families per week began purchasing produce from Baker’s Pantry.
Created an inclusive playground
To create spaces where children can be more physically active, Dallas Center took on several initiatives in 2020– 2021. “We needed a place where kids with limited mobility could play,” says King. The new park is within Mound Park, the largest park in Dallas Center. It includes a musical xylophone, a swing that rotates and allows for multiple seats, and more. It also has a new, safe surface and sidewalks all around, so that it is accessible from all directions.
There are other projects on the horizon, too, like adding a basketball court, expanding parking, plus new soccer fields. “The sidewalk is part of a bigger project over the next three years to connect the west side of town to the elementary school. This would allow the kids to bike the whole way without going through major roads,” says King. They’ll also be adding a new shelter to the list of improvements.
“The people of the community have been so supportive and appreciative of these projects,” says King. “And they are showing up to enjoy them, too.”
What’s next for Dallas Center?
“Whether you’re 9 or 90, Dallas Center is a great place to live,” says King. “And while the residents know how to show up to get work done, they also consistently support leaders who are focused on progress. That’s a major part of our community’s success, and why people love living here.”
The next major project on the horizon is a new outdoor swimming pool. “The bond issue on the pool passed with over 82 percent of the people voting ‘yes,’” according to King. “We are so excited to get this project going.”
“If you’re a community looking to get involved in Healthy Hometown, I highly encourage it,” says King. “Pay attention to what other communities are doing. Take a small step, talk to each other, take a bigger step, have a success. Then just keep the momentum going.”
“Our Healthy Hometown consultant has really brought us a lot of research, provided us with ideas, pointed us to resources, and helped us figure out how to get from here to there,” adds King. “We’re just so appreciative of their focus toward the future of our community. It’s just been a great experience, and I’d encourage other communities to take the leap, too.”
Learn more about Healthy Hometown
The Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award is an annual award that celebrates the successes of communities in Iowa and South Dakota that are working to make their hometowns healthier, more active places to live. If you want to follow in Dallas Center’s footsteps and make positive changes to your community, check out Healthy Hometown online opens in new window or email HealthyHometown@Wellmark.com Send Email for more information.