Heidi lives on a farm in Frederick, South Dakota, and is the publisher and editor of Dakotafire, a magazine that “sparks rural revival.”
Name: Heidi Marttila-Losure
City/Town: Frederick, South Dakota
Where else can we connect with you online?
Who is your community?
I believe that the world’s rural places hold the possibility to help society as a whole to be more rooted to place, more connected to the natural world, more authentic, and more committed to community. My community is made up of the people who love rural places and who want those rural places to thrive, against the many forces in society that would push us in other directions.
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.
Every morning, I am thankful I get to wake up on the farm that has been in my family for 129 years, in the home that was once a granary. With the support and muscle of family and friends, I designed the home’s transformation, and my husband actually brought it to be. Creating this home is one of my proudest accomplishments.
I was gone from the farm for a dozen years. After my father and uncle retired, the farmstead was quiet for a decade. Since we moved back to the farm in 2008, my husband has been bringing the farm back to life with chickens, pigs and cattle. My role mostly includes marketing what we produce, but egg cleaning is one of my chores. I also occasionally have to leave my magazine work to help steer wayward livestock where it needs to be.
I have my office in a little corner of our granary home. From here, I do the work for Dakotafire Media, the company I own. Dakotafire Media’s mission is to spark a revival in the Dakotas and beyond by encouraging rural residents to rethink what’s happening and what’s possible. We do that through a bimonthly magazine as well as conversation-starting events. My work as publisher and editor involves keeping all the pieces of the network that is Dakotafire Media connected and working to keep that spark of revival going.
Dakotafire’s managing editor and sales and marketing director are both working from their own homes in other small towns in South Dakota. We connect through phone calls and messaging apps, with conversations going on much of the day. We are all moms who have carved out spaces for our work as the bustle of family life often continues around us. I am interrupted most days at 3:50 when my children burst in the door, demanding a snack and ready to tell me about their day. That interruption is good for all of us, I think, even though it means I’m often back to work after the kids go to bed.
The best moments of my workday are when I can see that rural spark flare up somewhere—when I learn about a new approach to a problem from a local expert during an interview, or I hear from someone who had a moment of insight based on a conversation at one of our events. I love knowing that we’ve created a little more possibility than had existed before.
What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?
With Dakotafire, I am working from what I know: I was a newspaper and magazine journalist for about eight years before starting this business. There may be better ways of reaching rural people than the magazine format, and they might be more likely to be self-sustaining. We’ve discussed audio as a possible way to reach more people where they are and when they have time to listen. I would love to be able to explore this idea. I’d also like to have Dakotafire on more sturdy financial footing so I can give more of my attention and energy to the idea-gathering, storytelling, and connection-building that I’m really passionate about.
If you could do any job, what would you do and why?
I have essentially created my dream job. The only thing I’d like to change about it (and it’s not a small thing) is knowing I have made the business sustainable so that I can continue to do this work.
What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?
There is ROOM here. It’s not unlike what the pioneers probably felt when they looked at the vast ocean of grass when they arrived in Dakota Territory—a space upon which almost anything could be built, with enough muscle and grit. (Of course, it was a little more complicated than it appeared, since there were already people who were using that land in ways the pioneers did not understand. But that metaphor holds for many new endeavors as well—we don’t always understand the world we’re venturing into.) Today, the space is more ethereal—it’s opportunity in markets and unconventional ideas. Muscle and grit are still required, but the possibility is there—in the spaces between.
At what intersection do you live your life?
I live at the intersection of rural and journalism.
Where do you think good ideas come from?
Author Steven Johnson thinks good ideas come from the collision of partial ideas in places where people from a variety of backgrounds gather. I don’t disagree with that, but those ideas will tend toward being unsustainable if there isn’t also a connection to the natural world and an understanding of the limits it places on us.
What’s one current trend you think will change the world?
Local food. It’s the clearest way to understand how we all fit into a bigger picture.
What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?
Just starting is always the hardest part of any project for me. I am just coming to realize that if I can take the pressure off myself to be any good at the beginning, I am less likely to procrastinate.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Leaving a secure job (with health insurance) to move back home to the farm where I feel I belong.
What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
One of my aunts led a very interesting life. I wanted to write a book about her experiences; I did several interviews, and she provided me with lots of background material. I did not get the book done; she died in 2011.
I can tell myself it didn’t happen because I had two small children at the time, but really, it didn’t happen because I feared I wouldn’t do it well enough. Had I just started, it would have eventually become good enough. No one else had the same high expectations I did—they just wanted a book that told the stories of the woman they loved.
My lesson: Perfectionism can smother action. Just. Start.
Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?
I hope I leave a legacy of real hope for rural places all across the region. But I will have failed if I don’t leave a legacy for my daughter. As I look at her, I can see she is more beautiful, more graceful, kinder, and more perceptive than me, and I’m sure she’ll eventually be wiser than me. Whatever good I’m attempting to do the world, I know she has the potential to do something exponentially greater.
I also know she is watching me. I hope I can live up to the unspoken, perhaps even unrealized, expectations in that gaze.
Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?
I didn’t have an immediate answer, so I took a look at my Facebook friends. Carleen Wild is my friend with the most friends. Some characteristics that might make her so well connected:
– She has lived in a variety of places.
– She performs with a band, which puts her in front of groups of people a regular basis.
– She has a variety of interests that connect her with different groups of people.
– Her career as a journalist brings her in contact with people frequently, and her name is in the public eye regularly.
– She is a genuinely friendly person who shows she’s interested in your life and your viewpoints.
– She is interested in building connections, and she often initiates those connections.
Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?
My friend Kelly Knispel has built a life for herself entirely on her own terms: She has a farm where she raises much of the food for her and her family. She has learned the skills necessary to preserve food and cook creatively and healthfully. She raises sheep and processes the wool, then dyes it (often from natural dyes she harvests herself) and spins it; sometimes she knits or weaves a cap or shawl from the final product. She sells the yarn and finished products in a small shop she and her mother own in the small town of Groton, South Dakota. She processes fiber of almost any sort for people who want, for example, to make a dog-hair sweater from the sheddings of their own canine.
She helps to organize events to bring together people who are interested in working with fiber, building a network of those people (who tend to think differently than the general public). Beyond that, she is a remarkably kind person who takes an interest in the lives of nearly everyone she meets.
I admire the authentic life she has created for herself.
Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?
Paula Jensen is absolutely committed to her community of Langford, South Dakota. She’s served as the town’s mayor, but more than that, she’s the unofficial cheerleader and doer for whatever would move the community forward.
Her diligence helped a community-supported retail and restaurant space become a reality on Main Street in Langford, a town with a population of about 300. I have no doubt that she was able to help the community navigate around the inevitable obstacles that happen with projects that involve many players.
In a variety of ways, Paula has also taken her focus beyond her own community to also help similar communities in the region.
Paula is a resource person. Tell her where you’re stuck, and she’ll figure out how you can pull yourself out of the mire.
What passion project are you working on right now?
Dakotafire is doing awesome things, but there is so much potential yet to be tapped in connecting with rural communities to spark rural revival. I want more people in more rural places to understand the forces that are making the communities as they are today and also to see their communities as places of worth and possibility.
I am a passionate learner. I ended up a journalist in large part because I could not decide among many favorite subjects; I figured as a journalist, I could constantly learn new things. I am driven to understand better and to find new connections between ideas and realms.
I am also an optimist. Maybe not quite the optimist I was before I ventured into journalism (a field with a healthy contingent of cynics), but an optimist all the same. I believe most people start out in life wanting to do the right thing, and sometimes a subtle tweak in the system can lead to big changes.
I also have a taproot into my Finnish heritage. Finnish people are stoically proud of a characteristic they call “sisu,” which means determination in the face of adversity; stubbornness; grit; and continuing on long after others would have given up. Many of my family members set an example of sisu. I aim to live up to the legacy as much as I can.