About FoCuS

Foothill Collaborative for Sustainability

FoCuS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the principles of sustainable living, community self-reliance, and well-being through education and collaboration in the Sierra Nevada foothill region. We are at a pivotal time in human history. At FoCuS, we choose a path of broadening horizons, moving toward systems that are sustainable, all-inclusive, empowering and that honors all life and our relationship with it. Through Community, Education and Collaboration, our goal is to help build resilient communities in our area.


Building local resiliency makes our community stronger and provides an example to everyone around us.

Meet the Team

Frances Kessel


After 30 plus years of city living in Southern California, Frances retired and came back home to Northern/Central California.  She was in the business sector, but her roots were in farming, and she had always cherished the great outdoors.  Frances had the great fortune of meeting her future husband and moving to Tuolumne County where they live a simple life with their gardens, goats, and dogs.

She has learned much about growing, preparing, and preserving food, and takes great pleasure in gaining more knowledge.  She loves working with people and helping them learn how to live a more sustainable life.

Kurt Dambacher

Vice President

Kurt has been a board member for FoCus since 2011, disseminating the principles of sustainable living. He worked with Tuolumne and Calaveras counties in establishing the Potato Patches, helping the Wildcat Ranch become an agricultural training center, and preparing the community for a more resilient lifestyle through events such as the Seed Share, the Plant Starts Festival, and public educational classes in self-reliance. He also helped initiate the Dambacher Family Farms, which is now one of the leaders in Permaculture farming in Tuolumne County.

Even though Val and Kurt moved to Oregon, they are still currently on the board and support the goals and activities of FoCuS. Kurt has been applying the practices learned in Sonora to their current farm because being more self-reliant has given him the confidence to take responsibility for his future.

Cooper Kessel


Cooper has been involved in sustainable design since his graduation from Cal Poly in 1972. As a practicing architect, the design of structures to reduce man’s environmental impact has been a priority. Cooper joined the FoCuS board in 2010 and was instrumental in offering educational activities related to the environment, energy, and economics called the Crash Course. (authored by Chris Martenson) In 2014 he presented a Permaculture Design training program through FoCuS and three local people received their Permaculture Design Certificates from Geoff Lawton.

Cooper continues to educate people in his community and has hosted the Potato Patch on his property since 2016.

Val Dambacher


Val has been a farmer and writer in Sonora, California, where she volunteered with her husband Kurt as a FoCuS board member. They have since moved to the small town of Merlin, Oregon, but remain active with FoCuS events and continue to serve on the board, maintaining their connection by phone, Zoom board meetings, and in person when possible. They still practice sustainable living, gardening, and land management on their rural property.

Before moving to Oregon, Val organized the Sonora seed library, helped with the annual FoCuS Potato Patches, Seed Shares, and other FoCuS events for several years to help promote local self-reliance. She currently spends her time as a Master Gardener, practicing Permaculture principles, and saving every seed possible from the garden.

Bob Haff

Board Member

Bob has had an interest in gardening since he was in elementary school. From an early age he grew corn and other vegetables. When he met and married Kathleen in 2011, he was able to once again revive his childhood interest in gardening on a much larger scale. Currently, Bob and Kathleen garden on 3 acres and have 40 fruit and nut trees, goji berries and a small vineyard. They grow year round veggies in their 60′ x 60′ raised bed garden.

When not outside working on the property, Bob is the senior partner at Carlson & Associates-CPAs, contributes as a Board member for Sierra Repertory Theatre, and has been a member of the FOCUS Board since 2019.

Kathleen Haff

Board Member

Like Bob, Kathleen has been interested in growing veggies since she was a child. She has had several summer gardens throughout her adult life. When she moved back to Tuolumne County in 2000, she soon found the FOCUS group and began attending the seed share events. When Kathleen and Bob got married, Kathleen was finally able to practice gardening on a larger scale. She learned how to do her own seed saving, grow indoor plant starts, and create a more efficient drip irrigation system.

Kathleen has spent half of her career in the private sector as a business owner and/or manager and the other half in the public sector as a public servant. She is currently serving a 4 year term on the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and has been a Board member for FOCUS since 2019.