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This is Her Song

By Admin
In Center Block
Dec 9th, 2016
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April Clark Honaker and Photography by Martin G Meyers

Erin Martinez is known for seeing beauty in ordinary materials. As the founder of Lotus Farm Designs, she started making simple, yet graphically elegant journals designed to guide journalers through 12 months of prayer and gratitude. Now, she and her husband, Joel, are giving back to their community through their company. 

LOTUS FARM DESIGNS grew out of Erin Martinez’s desire to create beauty out of simplicity and to highlight the inherent beauty in simplicity. Erin graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, where she is originally from. While in college, Erin initially concentrated her studies on graphic design, but as she was nearing graduation, she took a ceramics class that changed her world. “I found that I loved clay,” she said, “and working with my hands instead of being on the computer all day.” After that first ceramics class, Erin was hooked and decided to add ceramics as her main concentration. She still loves graphic design, and continues to use her skills in that area as a freelancer, but she was inspired by the idea of turning clay—a simple, natural medium—into mugs, porcelain sculptures and other wares.

In the same way that clay can be transformed into something beautiful, the lotus flower, a beautiful symbol of purity, blooms out of mud. This notion, along with a childhood spent amidst farmland, inspired the name of Erin’s business. When she started Lotus Farm Designs after moving to Monroe two years ago, Erin’s thoughts were set on making pottery. She and her husband Joel bought the equipment necessary for her to do it at home, but in the midst of launching Lotus Farm, Erin and Joel found out they would soon be welcoming their daughter Alina Grace, who is now 14 months old. Because of the pregnancy and some difficulties during it, Erin resolved to return to pottery at a later date. “As my life changed,” Erin said, “I looked for different media to fit under the same name.” She took up home design, for example, and started creating specially designed journals. According to Erin, her Instagram is a good representation of her interests.

As her account reveals, Erin likes to create things that are not only useful but also “simply beautiful and beautifully simple.” Engaging with a variety of media is something Erin enjoys as well, because each one makes her feel like a different creator. “If something is not creative,” Erin said, “I find a way to make it creative.” In clay, paper, wood and other simple, seemingly ordinary materials, Erin sees beautiful possibilities. “To most people, paper is just paper,” she said, “but I see potential.” With that potential in mind, Erin used her skills in graphic design to create the journals that have become the primary focus of Lotus Farm Designs. “I love the process of making things,” she said. “I feel like the process is sometimes more important than the final product. I also like to focus on the things I’m passionate about and the things that allow me to be creative.”

When she made her first collection of journals, Erin hoped they would help others organize their lives and live intentionally. Most of the journals in her first collection were designed to guide journalers through 12 months of prayer and gratitude, but Erin also created a 12-month baby journal and a 12-month cooking journal. During the first year, Erin followed a traditional business model, aiming to make a profit, but then something changed.

One Sunday, the Martinez family sat in church at First West in West Monroe where they are members, and the message struck a chord with them. “We felt we weren’t doing enough as Christians,” Erin said. “We felt we needed to do more in the community and more to serve people.” After the sermon, she and Joel decided to begin donating the net proceeds for her journal sales to a different Christian non-profit each month. The change meant charting new territory for Lotus Farm, but Erin said, “If I want to learn about something, I just throw myself into it and learn as I go.” She and Joel are open to supporting local and global organizations. Those interested in applying to receive a donation can do so through the Lotus Farm Designs website. According to Erin, the mission of the donations is “to see to it that everyone knows the grace of God,” a mission that also aligns closely with the mission of First West.

This September Lotus Farm took its first step toward achieving that mission by donating its net proceeds to Project 41 Ministries whose own mission is “to rescue, value and transform women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking.” Then, in October, Erin chose to donate to Project Orphans, which is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Erin said the organization found and contacted her through her Instagram, where she has over 600 followers. They are now using the support of Lotus Farm to fund a new school that will share God’s love and empower the orphans of Uganda with education. Erin said, “It’s rewarding to give to organizations that give back. We feel like we made the right choice, and we love doing it.”

For Erin, two things continue to be incredibly important to sustaining Lotus Farm and its mission. The first is her faith. Erin considers herself fortunate to have been raised in a Christian family. Her grandfather and her parents were both major Christian influences, leading her to ask Christ into her heart at age 7. At the same time, Erin acknowledged that she didn’t fully grasp certain things about that decision until she was older. “One thing I do know,” Erin said, “is that God has been constant, consistent and true through everything in my life.” According to Erin, “Faith is at the core of the business.” She genuinely wants to impact people’s lives in a positive way. “One of the best ways for people to come to Christ,” Erin said, “is to be served by other people, which is why we’re trying to serve others through our business.”

The second sustaining force behind Lotus Farm is Erin’s family. “My husband is such an inspiration, because he’s so versatile,” Erin said. “He’s a businessman by day and a violin virtuoso by night. That’s just amazing to me, and I strive to be like him.” Because Joel is also an artist, he can relate to the creative side of Erin’s mission, but he also helps tremendously with the business side, despite being busy himself. “He’s my backbone,” Erin said, “because he’s very encouraging and always inspires me to keep going, even when I feel like quitting.” Erin’s daughter Alina also inspires her. “I want Alina to know the meaning of hard work,” Erin said, “and I want her to see the beauty in simple, ordinary things, not just shiny, flashy, expensive things.” Not only does Alina inspire Erin, but Erin wants to inspire Alina. “Hopefully, through this business, I can teach her something,” said Erin, “and maybe one day she can help me with it.” The Martinez family also have two Catahoula Curs, Mojo and Maggy, as well as 12 chickens whose eggs they sell. Erin said, “These animals are all part of our family.” Because the animals require care and attention, Erin hopes they, too, will teach Alina the value of hard work and discipline.

As the new year approaches, Erin is introducing her 2017 journal collection, which features some notable changes. The new journals are thinner and smaller but equally meaningful. Erin said she wanted to make them more affordable and to allow more proceeds to go to charity. In addition, for this collection, Erin decided to partner with Shannan Inman of Paperglaze Calligraphy in Ruston. Erin said one benefit of partnering with others is that she gets to meet new people. Erin’s printer, ABP Printing, which is a local company, is also very supportive of her mission and has helped make sure the new collection looks perfect. For those interested, this collection can be found on the Lotus Farm Designs website, at Woodstock in Monroe and at Christ Church in West Monroe. Another newly designed journal is also available at Project 41 Ministries, and a special Christmas journal was created for a specific event at First West. With covers designed by Shannan, the 2017 collection includes five journals: the Baby Journal, the Sweet Sabbath Journal, the Legacy Journal, the Covenant Journal Set and the Missioner’s Journal.

The Baby Journal is a 12-month journal that allows parents to document important milestones and memories from their child’s first year. It also includes monthly prompts and milestone cards that can be cut out and used for pictures. The Sweet Sabbath Journal was designed with Sunday morning sermons in mind. Erin said she realizes a lot of churches are now encouraging the use of apps to take sermon notes, and while she believes some of these apps are great, she prefers the more tactile, handwritten approach. “There’s something about writing words down that makes them feel more important,” she said. Plus, she believes the process keeps her more focused. After all, social media can’t be accessed through pen and paper.

On its cover, the Legacy Journal includes the words, “This is my story. This is my song.” Erin loves these words, which are part of the refrain of the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” She said the words fit the journal’s purpose, which is “to allow people to share their story—to gift it to others, to encourage and inspire.” Equally sentimental, the Covenant Journal Set comes with one journal for the bride and one for the groom. The journals can be used for vows or love notes. Either way, they make a beautiful keepsake. Erin said, “Even for traditional vows, having those words handwritten by your spouse is special.”

The final journal in the new collection, the Missioner’s Journal, is Erin’s favorite. She and Joel are very supportive of missions. “If you’re going on a mission trip, you’ve got to be flexible and embrace grace and give grace,” Erin said. “This journal can help you prepare for that.” The journal also provides plenty of space to document the experience, something Erin said she regrets not doing during her missions. She would have liked to have shared those in-the-moment thoughts and details with her daughter, when she gets older. According to Erin, another important part of missions is bringing home and applying what you learn. To help with this process, the Missioner’s journal also encourages reflection.

Looking ahead, Erin and Joel’s greatest hope for Lotus Farm Designs is that it will serve a higher purpose. “I don’t want the journals to just look pretty on a nightstand,” Erin said. “I want people to use them, to keep them as a keepsake and maybe to pass them down from one generation to the next.” Not only does the Martinez family hope their donations will change lives, they hope that when people buy a journal, it will change a life, too.