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My Farm Roots: She's her dad's 'son'

Courtesy Emily Robbins

Emily Robbins is a city girl now.

Well, I’m using that term as a cliché. Robbins, 27, lives in Kansas City and works as an engineer at a large firm. She is part of a profession that is made up of just 14 percent women.

Her choice of professions makes sense, though, when you know that she started out as her father’s “boy.”I am the eldest of two daughters, and since my father didn't have a son to help with farming, I became his replacement ‘son,’” Emily wrote to me as part of our Harvest Network call-out for “My Farm Roots.”

This series is one of the best parts of my job. I love that I get to talk to Midwesterners who have ties back to the farm, no matter where they may end up.

Emily grew up on her family’s farm in central Kansas, out near the towns of Overbrook (“Don’t overlook Overbrook!”) and Carbondale. They had another piece of land in Woodson County, which bills itself as “Prairie Hay Capital of the World.”

She eventually got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Kansas in 2009 and earned her master’s in 2011.

I hope you click on the audio button at the beginning of this story, because I sent a recorder with Emily when she traveled back to the farm last summer to help her father, Vic, who is also an engineer. That won’t surprise you when you hear them talking about their old tractor.

Credit Courtesy Emily Robbins
Then-two-year-old Emily Robbins in her father's wheat field in central Kansas.

“OK, what type of tractor is this?” Emily asks her dad.

“It’s a 1972 Case 1070 diesel tractor with a ten-foot Hesston disc mower and you’re mowing native grass on the Smith Place,” he replies.

Emily told me that she likes that start-up part of the work, when she can smell the diesel fuel and the noise gets louder and she has the best seat to a beautiful view most never get to see.

“The hay that we bale is the native prairie grass. Woodson County is known for that grass. It’s one of the few places where there’s pristine native prairie that’s never been turned into cropland,” she says.

“And so I think it’s really beautiful because it’s like the big blue stem and the Indian grass and there’s lot of wildflowers. I just kind of like sitting up high in the tractor and then being able to see out far and see the grass.”

She wanted to be outside and hang out with her dad, so getting to drive tractor was a natural thing.

“I think if I didn’t really want to, I wouldn’t have had to. I think he would have hired someone,” she said.

Credit Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media
Emily Robbins, 27, at a Kansas City coffee house.

“Even when I was really little I wanted to go along with him and ride with him in the tractor. When he would be working outside I just always was tagging along so I think it just happened that way. People that saw me riding along with him. I’d always be wearing older clothes and stuff and a hat. So they may have thought I was a boy. But no one ever mistook me for a boy to my face, so that was good, I guess.”

And now, when she has her city friends come back to the farm, like she recently did with some pals from New York, she has the best of all bragging rights.

"They were joking around that I was a badass because I could drive a tractor."

Share your story: What do you remember most about growing up on the farm? Share your Farm Roots story here.

Peggy Lowe joined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.