Adria Focht is the former president and CEO of the Charlotte Museum of History. Previously, she served as Director and Curator at the Kings Mountain Historical Museum and worked as a Museum Technician at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Currently, Focht, a self-identified Queer woman, now spends her days feeding her passion of gardening and farming using sustainable eco-friendly methods many might envy. 

While sipping green tea and eyeing her healthy crop of tomatoes through a nearby bay window, Focht shared her thoughts on retiring from the business of museums, finding a new livelihood and the blessings of sharing her life with her loving partner of 15 years. 

L’Monique King: Are you a native Carolinian? Where are you from?

Adria Focht: No, I am from a small town outside of Redding, Pennsylvania and lived there until I was 17 when I came to Charlotte to attend school at UNCC [University of North Carolina-Charlotte]. Charlotte is where I’ve lived the longest. I have also lived in DC and Atlanta but Charlotte is where I keep coming back to.

LMK: Why do you think you keep returning?

AF: A friend of mine had a bumper sticker when we were kids, “This is the least shitty town I’ve lived in.” So, it’s sort of like the Goldilocks zone for me. I don’t want to live at the beach and have to move my potted plants every time it floods. We have fewer natural disasters like floods, fires and ice storms here than many other places. But it’s more than that. I have a lot of friends and family here, I’m happy here. 

LMK: Would you tell our readers a little bit about the farmhouse you live in?

AF: Yes. It’s an old 1925 farmhouse that’s been renovated every 20 years, so it’s not immediately obvious that it’s been here since 1925. It’s a single level two-bedroom home and sort of the centerpiece of the block. In 1925 it was a poultry farm. In the 1960s the owner sold much of the surrounding land; we live on the three acres that remain. 

LMK: I noticed you said we. Care to dish some of the tea you’re sipping on your personal relationship?

AF: We just celebrated 15 years together. My partner Jessica works at a bank and has just returned to playing billiards. She’s very good, is training again and staying active. She really is my complete support system. I wouldn’t be who I am without her. I just planted blueberry plants. They are the prettiest of all the plants I put in, probably because I think they look just like her. They’re blue (she has blue eyes), they have delicate pale flowers with a blush to them (like her skin) and they are simply beautiful, just like her.

LMK: Is gardening what you now do for a living?

AF: [It is now.] Most people know me for working in the Museum field. I did that for about 21 years and was able to follow a passion, to fill a pull to something and achieve heights in having a museum career. Now [having left working for museums] I am able to have an opinion and looking forward to being an advocate. But, last year I retired and did a 180. I took a Permaculture Design course through Oregon State University online. Then I spent the past year installing my design here in Gastonia. It’s a complete leap of faith. 

LMK: Permaculture? What exactly is that?

AF: It’s a merger of [the words] permanent and agriculture. There are a lot of definitions [for Permaculture], but the simplest is: it’s a design system for holistic living. It focuses on efficiency and looks at how you move around your house and planting structures. It’s trying to build your food systems and your ways of life around your local ecosystem. How you get your food, how you get your energy and cycle it is all based on modeling your local ecosystem. It’s a fairly new system. My degrees are in anthropology so there’s an overlap [for me] because permaculture looks at indigenous cultures and how they organize sustainably on landscapes and local environments. 

LMK: Now that you’re living in a farmhouse, what is life like for living in a rural area with your partner? 

AF: Life is good right now. Jessica is working permanently full time from home and that’s pretty much what I’m doing also. So, in terms of work-life balance, life has never been better. 

LMK: What prompted you to make such a move?

AF: I just turned 40 and have always been a renter and career motivated. I’ve followed jobs around. But after this last job, I was ready to put down roots and couldn’t afford to live in Charlotte. I also knew I wanted fruit trees, to grow my own food for sure and room to grow [personally]. You can grow food to feed a family on a quarter acre, but I wanted enough space to grow food to share. 

LMK: What are some of the benefits and challenges to rural living?

AF: Pluses, affordability. I was able to get my three acres well under my budget, can still drive to Charlotte for food and performances. Two, there’s just something about a small town where, because everyone knows everyone there’s accountability. I like that about a small town and I think it’s just breathable in a way, because there’s not the traffic and constant chaos of the city. 

As for minuses, we have many of the same problems in Gaston County as other small towns. Problems like affordable housing, equity and environmental issues. At the end of the day, it comes down to education – the root cause of all those issues. We don’t have the best high school graduation rate in Gaston County so that [lack of education and awareness] for me becomes the underlying cause of many issues. 

LMK: What’s the best thing about having a farm for you?

AF: The ability to be able to just go outside and pick fruit is very attractive to me. It was during the pandemic that I felt like it was really important for me to have sustainable food that I grow. I also wanted to be able to walk and be outside on land that I know is stable without having to worry about park closures.

LMK: Aside from tomatoes, what are some of the things you grow on your farm?

AF: Right now, this is my year one. This year I have just installed my annual garden. I put up a cattle panel fence to enclose my tomatoes that I was previously growing outside. Permaculture focuses on permanency so that’s perfect for me. I love to plant perennials. This past year I’ve planted blueberries, raspberries, fig trees and paw paws (a fruit tree native to North America).

LMK: Recognizing the importance of climate for agricultural growth, how would you say your area’s political and cultural atmosphere impacts your life in Gaston County?

AF: I think it’s fair to say that it’s not always welcoming. There’s a lot going on right now and I’m trying to advocate for the museum right now and don’t want to be disparaging. It is my home. I grew up in a small town that was not welcoming to LGBTQ people so I’m familiar with the concept and I’m trying to be that change from the inside. I want our community to feel welcome. I’m trying to build a community with my neighbors; trust, familiarity and family. I want to be that type of neighbor where you might not agree with me or like my lifestyle but you love me and are my neighbor. 

LMK:  Sounds like an awesome start to fostering community, equity and compassion. What do you think you’ll be doing 20 years from now? 

I’ve always had a mission of preserving and sharing natural resources. I think staying mission-focused helps me sleep at night knowing we’re doing the good work that we’re doing – doing what we’re supposed to do. So, hopefully 60-year-old Adria is still right here, with a mature food forest, strolling around sharing food with neighbors and our local schools. At that time, my partner and I will both be retired, enjoying our food forest and each other. 

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