How potatoes, Spanish and gymnastics shaped this eastern Idaho girl


AMERICAN FALLS — Three things have shaped Abby Rowe into the person she is today — potatoes, gymnastics and Spanish. A seemingly unlikely combination, but those three things all take passion, dedication and hard work — key components of Rowe’s personality.

Rowe grew up on her family’s 2,500-acre farm in American Falls so she’s no stranger to hard work. Her dedication to gymnastics spanned 15 years and culminated in medals at world championships. And her passion for Spanish came from her mother, an immigrant from Mexico.

Her passion, dedication and hard work also led to her degree path at the University of Idaho. Rowe will graduate Saturday with bachelor’s degrees in horticulture and urban agriculture, international studies and Spanish.

“Growing up on a farm, doing gymnastics and being the daughter of an immigrant, those are probably the three things that shaped me and helped me decide what I was going to do in life,” she said.

Discovering New Cultures

Rowe’s love for travel began when she was selected to compete in tumbling and trampoline for the USA Gymnastics Junior National Team at age 15. She traveled to Texas monthly for training and participated in competitions nationally and internationally. She competed in World Cups in Bulgaria and Belarus, finishing in second place, and in 2012 she placed first in tumbling at the Pan American Championships in Mexico.

“Being exposed to other cultures really opened my eyes,” Rowe said. “Coming from a small town of 4,000 people to competing with and being around people from all over the world, it gives you a different perspective on life.”

Rowe retired from gymnastics as a senior in high school and turned her focus towards college. Her older brother, Bill, was majoring in agribusiness in U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Rowe made the decision to join him in Moscow.

“He always talked about all the opportunities at U of I,” Rowe said. “I decided, if I wanted to have anything to do with the farm, I can stay in Idaho and see a whole different part of the state while getting an ag degree and a good education.”

Looking Toward the Future

Rowe knew that she eventually wanted to join her brother as the fifth generation to run the family farm, so she decided to choose a major that would complement what Bill was studying.

“My brother and I have talked about coming home and integrating multiple skillsets into managing the farm,” she said. “I chose horticulture out of all the plant science degrees because I had some high school dual credits that were going to transfer quite easily and considering I was doing two other majors I knew I didn’t have time to do more.”

Rowe’s Spanish degree will also be helpful when she returns to the farm.

“The ability to cross-culturally communicate to your labor force is something that’s really important today,” she said. “I know most farmers in Idaho depend on H2A migrant labor and so being able to directly communicate with the people who make your operation run is a huge skill that I’ll definitely be bringing back to the farm.”

International Agriculture

As a triple major, Rowe had many opportunities at U of I to expand her skills and explore her passions. In 2019 she received the Erasmus+ scholarship to study agronomy in Pamplona, Spain for a semester. Not only did she study plant science internationally, but all of her classes were taught in Spanish.

“I was enrolled in 12 credits. I thought 12 credits was going to be a breeze, I’d never had that few credits,” Rowe said. “But they were all in Spanish and it was really a challenge. As a kid I spoke Spanish with my mom, but it was very home-central language and it was nothing academic so making that transition to academic language and even just that transition to European Spanish was really, really difficult. But after six months I think not only did my Spanish skills improve by my perspective in international agriculture really broadened.”

Rowe gained additional experience in international agriculture as part of the Global Agricultural and Life Sciences System course. In 2018, Rowe traveled with other CALS students to Jalisco, Mexico where she learned about tequila production, hydroponic lettuce production and dairy production.

“Looking at agriculture from a different perspective and totally different crops that I’m not accustomed to was really cool,” she said.

Advocating for Others

As part of her international studies degree, Rowe took the Model United Nations course and spent a semester learning about and representing the Food and Agriculture Organization as a delegate of Zambia. The class traveled to New York to compete against other universities and Rowe and her partner were awarded the Lewis Award for Excellence in Position Papers by the U of I International Studies Program.

“In a lot of my classes I have hands-on experience in agriculture and then in this class to get to do more policy was a totally different perspective from what I’d been doing in class,” she said. “It was a good way to apply everything I had learned in the College of Ag to more of a policy perspective.”

As a freshman, Rowe was approached by her international studies advisor with an opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to learn more about the ONE Campaign, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Rowe returned to Moscow and immediately established a ONE Campaign at U of I. In the chapter’s first year, Rowe helped collect nearly 200 letters from Idaho citizens, calling on Idaho senators and representatives to sustain the foreign aid budget.

“It all relates back to my experience on the farm,” she said. “Growing up in American agriculture, I never had to worry about what meal comes next or where my food comes from. I was passionate about advocating for others who didn’t have the same opportunity.”

A Culmination of Skills

Rowe has an opportunity to tie her three degrees and her passions together with a job at a potato processing plant in Argentina, pending COVID-19 restrictions, before returning to the family farm.

“That’s a culmination of all the skills I’ve gained through the University of Idaho,” she said. “Working abroad in Spanish and dealing with potato production.

“I think U of I is a university that has so many opportunities from so many different areas of study. If you come to U of I and you choose to study agriculture, you can also choose to study a language and public policy and integrate it all into your experience at U of I.”

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