Part-Time College Job Led to Life-Time Passion
We’ve all come to that proverbial fork in the road where there are two possibilities, and the direction you choose charts a new path in your life. That’s what happened when Bob Foley was growing up in the rolling hills of beautiful Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
As a regional director covering five states for General Motors, Bob’s father was spending more time traveling for business than he was at home. Bob’s mother was a registered nurse. Together they decided to raise kids and corn, in that order, full time. Bob, the third of four boys, was ten when his parents decided to become full-time farmers. They grew grain corn and had a small dairy. Later they added a mid-sized beef operation.
“My father was constantly experimenting with feed ratios, planter spacing, fertilizer placement, seed variety trials and grain handling systems,” says Bob. “We were always encouraged to look outside the box. I guess that’s why seed research came easily to me and captured my interest.”
Bob and his brothers gained experience working with seed at Jacques Seed Company while they were attending University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF). Interestingly, Bob also learned about Latham Seeds while working in research at Jacques Seed. Jacques had soybean plots in Alexander, Iowa, so Bob frequently drove past Latham headquarters. Ironically, Bob didn’t meet John Latham until July 2016 when they traveled to Cuba on a USDA trip. That Cuba trip also is where RFS Global was conceived. RFS provided project management, client reach, and field-testing platforms to clients, including Latham Hi-Tech Seeds.
Working to pursue his next goal has been Bob’s mode of action since he was young. It has continued to serve him well throughout live and business.
“Jaques had a 30-hour per week full time/part time option that meant working full time during the summers and on weekends, and part time during the college school year,” explains Bob. “Living at home meant lodging, meals and laundry were covered. College and work were in different directions. So while it was a road warrior’s way to an undergraduate degree, it worked well for me and my three brothers. We each chose different undergrad disciplines in agriculture. Our farm backgrounds combined with several years of work in research at Jacques found us each pursuing master’s or doctorate degrees in Plant Breeding disciplines.”
After graduating from UWRF in 1984 with a major in Ag Business and a minor in Farm Law, Bob moved to North Dakota State University (NDSU) for graduate school. He earned his master’s degree from NDSU in 1987.
“Having research experience in four different crops – corn, soybeans, alfalfa and sunflowers – while at working at Jacques was a big benefit when I applied for grad school. I wanted to take an applied, or hands-on, approach to research rather than computer experience, so I chose to work with sunflowers. There was almost zero corn or soybeans grown then in the Red River Valley. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services was funding the study of traits in sunflowers that prevent blackbird feeding. Hence, my thesis was, ‘The Inheritance of Bird Resistant Traits in Sunflowers,’ which is fancy way of saying how many genes control it and how we could breed sunflowers with it.”
Although Bob has been a corn breeder by trade, he always has considered himself just as much an entrepreneur and businessman.
“I love dissecting and analyzing processes, systems, or businesses,” says Bob. “I have always thoroughly enjoyed building a system/concept or business from scratch; adapting/changing it as it grows; and working with the people with whom I become involved with while doing so. It has been the source of some good ideas and some great friendships.”
Bob has embodied this entrepreneurial spirit throughout his career. In fact, RFS Global was entirely built on providing services where they were not being offered. I worked to help clients view a puzzle from a different angle.
“Latham Seeds holds a special place as it was my first RFS client. The company’s values align with my own. I really enjoy helping Latham Seeds bring families together. There needs to be a way for the wonderful inventions to find their way to family farms without diminishing the very values the farm was built upon. I believe Latham works to thread that needle every day.”
Charting a New Path
Although Bob’s work has always meant more to him than a paycheck, he has reached a stage in life where fulfillment outweighs drive.
“My wife, Michelle, and I try hard to stop to smell the roses, as they say. Open heart surgery certainly alters one’s perspective. I have come to appreciate the little things in life, learned to not sweat the small stuff, and try not to take anything for granted.”
After having open heart surgery, Bob made a two major life changes last year. He and Michelle were married, and he also brokered a deal with CRD Advisors to acquire RFS Global. Bob stayed with CRD through the spring of 2020 to ensure a smooth transition. He recently joined Latham Hi-Tech Seeds as Pre-commercial Development Manager.
“Michelle grew up on a southeastern South Dakota farm and is still a farm girl at heart. Her passion has always been agriculture. She has devoted most of her career to that sector, spending most of it in the seed industry herself. That has served as a natural bridge to our continual travel. We have covered thousands of miles across the country together. This year we have made it Chile and Mexico. We have driven to Montana, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee in addition to visiting every Upper Midwest state within Latham Country.”
The couple has seven adult children between them, and they live from coast to coast. All of their children have completed college, and Bob says their careers are as diverse as their addresses.
When traveling to visit Latham plots or family, they combine it with their other interests. They enjoy attending baseball games, camping by lakes, cooking meals over an open fire, riding horses and driving backroads. Bob also enjoys Civil War history and has recently taken up woodworking.
Bob has always been an avid baseball fan. Growing up so close to Minnesota probably meant he was predisposed to following the Twins.
“We have been lucky to take in many of their games at Target Field,” says Bob. “In 2019, we attended the longest game in Target Field history as they beat the Red Sox in 17 innings. Ironically, that record was broken nine days later when they went 18 innings. Last fall we also took in our first playoff game. We’ve watched games at Wrigley and Fenway, two iconic stadiums that are definitely highlights if you are a baseball fan.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping fans out of the stands, Bob and Michelle have been enjoying watching games from the comfort of their living room and fixing more meals at home. Today they’re sharing with us one of their favorite recipes for Baked Spaghetti.
- Prep 25 min
- Cook 1 hour + standing
- 1 package (8 ounces) thin spaghetti pasta (or thickness of your choosing)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 oz can mushrooms (optional)
- ¾ c. chopped red, yellow and/or orange peppers (optional)
- 1 jar (24 ounces) pasta sauce, whichever brand you like
- ½ t. seasoned salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 5 T butter, melted
- 2 c. cottage cheese
- 4 c., shredded mozzarella cheese
- Chopped fresh basil, optional
- Preheat oven to 350°. Cook spaghetti according to package directions for al dente. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until beef is no longer pink and onion is tender, breaking up beef into crumbles; drain. Stir in pasta sauce, mushrooms, peppers and seasoned salt; set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, parmesan cheese and butter. Drain spaghetti; add to egg mixture and toss to coat pasta.
- Place half of the spaghetti mixture in a greased 13x9-in. or 3-qt. baking dish. Top with half of the cottage cheese, meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers.
- Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake until cheese is melted, 20-25 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Cut into pieces. Sprinkle with basil.