With a population of less than 2,200, Fort Pierre, South Dakota, may not be considered a buzzing metropolis. But, two things it is buzzing with are heart and community pride. And, when the town began exploring ways it might become healthier, it decided to focus on its strengths and use the power of community to make a difference.
“One constant in our community is quality of life, and our plans and efforts really focused on that,” says Gloria Hanson, mayor of Fort Pierre.
Having previously created a community park and having already established a weekly downtown farmers’ market, the town knew it was on a path to better health. But, the residents of Fort Pierre and the Healthy Hometown committee knew they could do more to build on these features and take on new projects that would enhance residents’ quality of life and encourage healthy lifestyles.
And, their efforts paid off. In recognition of all their work to encourage healthy living, the city recently received the inaugural 2018 Healthy Hometown Community Award, which will allow them to continue the important work of improving the physical, social and emotional well-being of the community.
"Communities like Fort Pierre never have enough resources to do these things ourselves, so we appreciate what Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark has done to help us as we take a look at who we are and who we want to become,” says Hanson.
A garden that grows community
Residents of Fort Pierre had long talked about creating a community garden, but the project never took root. With the town’s recent commitment to becoming a healthy hometown, Hanson says the time was finally right to make it happen. Committing to the project was one thing. But, actually getting it done would take a community effort.
The space for the garden was previously occupied by houses and did not have soil suitable for growing. Making the garden viable would mean clearing the lot, creating and installing raised beds, piping in water, bringing in compost and topsoil, and getting plants in the ground. And given the quickly changing South Dakota climate, this all had to be done in less than two months.
“It took a lot of work,” says Hanson. “It was a process that really brought the community together and people are amazed at how quickly we did it.”
A team of construction workers volunteered their time and skills in assembling 24 raised beds out of 36-foot-long, galvanized steel. Each bed took 6–8 people to move into place, which required even more volunteers from the community.
But with the combined effort of its residents, Fort Pierre completed the task on time. Some of the beds were used by retirees and community groups for children and teens, which fostered interaction and communication between the generations that would not have otherwise taken place. Additionally, an organization that delivers food to local senior citizens used the beds to grow produce used in meals that went to more than 150 residents every day.
“They were able to add fresh produce to their meals,” says Hanson. ”They had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and other vegetables — things you don’t normally get in a food delivery program — and the recipients were very grateful for the addition.”
Farmers’ market improvements
Fort Pierre’s farmers’ market was already a success, but with the help of Healthy Hometown, the community knew more could be done to increase the number of vendors and visitors, and to be more effective at getting healthy food into people’s hands.
“We wanted it to have the atmosphere of a street festival,” says Hanson. “We hoped it would be a place where you brought your family to enjoy live music, food and drink, sunset paddleboat cruises and other entertainment.”
So, over the past year, the team expanded the farmers’ market to the space of an entire city block, which is blocked off to make it safe for children and add to the festival feel. They added horse-drawn carriage rides, children’s activities, live music, and recruited additional vendors who are all local producers. And, vendors at the market now accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards — one of the only farmers’ market in South Dakota to do so.
Having already rehabilitated a trail, installed a bike repair station, and resurfaced 5,300 feet of recreational trail, the city plans to continue work in this area to encourage residents to get outside and move more.
“Accessibility for bicycling is going to be an ongoing effort,” says Hanson. “We lack sidewalks in a lot of places, and we want to keep our bicyclists and walkers safe. We also want to create and expand trails and walkways along the river, and that’s going to be a challenge.”
Because of the work Fort Pierre accomplished to achieve the Healthy Hometown Community Award, they received funds as part of the award that can be used to further enhance the community garden, which has only grown in popularity since it was established. Fruit trees added to the garden have been discovered by local wildlife so protective fencing will likely be needed as well.
The community is also working with local businesses, especially convenience stores and restaurants, to encourage them to make healthier options more readily available in their places of business. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, with several locations immediately responding by placing healthy foods in more prominent and visible locations.
“Our intent in undertaking all of this was to create awareness and some experiences that could lead to a healthier community,” says Hanson. But, it’s gone way beyond that and has really worked to bring the community together in a lot of different ways.
“We went toe to toe with communities with more resources and it means a lot to us to have won the Healthy Hometown Community Award. It has really given our community a boost to continue making this a healthy and welcoming place to live.”
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