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A real farm family

Cates Farm is a place where the passion for the land is passed down through generations.

Sharon Cates took over the farm in 1992, after the death of her husband. She was faced with the decision of whether to rent her land out and sell the family's farming machinery or farm the land herself. She chose to do it on her own so that her son, Ab, who was 11, would have a chance to farm when he got older.

Farming is a difficult way of life. Farming doesn't provide a steady paycheck. A farmer doesn't receive benefits, like health insurance and retirement. This year, a drought crippled the pumpkin crop and Sharon had to buy pumpkins from another farmer and carry them out to her own pumpkin patch for visitors to pick.

"I'm not sorry that I did what I did.... I'm satisfied," says Sharon.

Ab, who knew how to drive all of the machinery by the time he was 11, gave up football in high school to work on the farm. While going to Western Kentucky University to study agriculture, he came home on the weekends to help work the farm.

"[Farming is] mostly in my blood, I guess," says Ab. "It's something I love to do."

Sharon took on the role of planner and bookkeeper for the farm and in 1992, she hired John Pruitt, a factory worker turned farmer, to help. John, who watched his little brother struggle with the loss of their father at a young age, became a close friend of the family.

"[John's] helped me out and taught me things," says Ab. "I guess I've taught him things too. We all teach each other."

In 2006, Sharon, Ab, and John opened the farm to the community as a family gathering place. Some weeks as many as 2,000 visitors come to discover the 11-acre corn maze, pick pumpkins, and sit by the bonfire. "It's important that children have knowledge about how food is grown," says Sharon, who taught school for many years. Sharon tries to treat everyone who comes to the farm like family.

"Some school kids have never been on a farm," says John. "They've never been on a hay ride, they've never been in a pumpkin patch. They don't want to leave."

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A boy picks up a heavy pumpkin in Cates Farm's pumpkin patch. After finding many pumpkins that were too small or too large, he finally settled on one that was just right.

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Sharon Cates, owner of Cates Farm, carries pumpkins to a John Deere Gator utility vehicle so she can drive them out to the pumpkin patch. A drought during the summer crippled her pumpkin crop, which forced Sharon to buy pumpkins from another farmer to place in her pumpkin patch for visitors to pick out.

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Sharon Cates explains how a pumpkin grows to a group of students from Evansville (Ind.) Christian School. Sharon says teachers enjoy bringing their classes to Cates Farm because they know that their students learn valuable lessons about farming while having a good time.

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Sharon Cates, owner of Cates Farm, loads pumpkins into a John Deere Gator utility vehicle. A drought during the summer crippled the pumpkin crop, which forced Sharon to buy pumpkins from another farmer to place in her pumpkin patch for visitors to pick out.

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A rubber ducky floats in the duck race game at Cates Farm in rural Henderson County.

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Sharon Cates works on Cates Farm in rural Henderson County. A former schoolteacher, Sharon assumed responsibility for the farm after the death of her husband.

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A child explores a tunnel on the playground at Cates Farm in Henderson County. Sharon strives to create an atmosphere where children can explore and play, and learn in the process.

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Michelle and her daughter Rebecca, 3, enjoy their time together at Cates Farm in Henderson County. They are part of a group of pre-school students from Evansville, Ind., and are visiting the farm for the first time. Farm owner Sharon Cates says Cates Farm is family oriented, and that she tries to treat all of the visitors who come to her farm like family. Many visitors come to the farm simply to spend time outside with their family and friends.

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A girl plays with a piece of straw at Cates Farm in rural Henderson County. Many children have the chance to discover nature and agriculture in a way they do not typically experience at the farm. "Some school kids have never been on a farm," says John Pruitt, who works at the farm. "They've never been on a hay ride, they've never been in a pumpkin patch. They don't want to leave."

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A girl runs down a row of the corn maze at Cates Farm. The maze is open during the day and evening during the fall. Many people enjoy cutting across rows of corn to pop out and scare their friends and family.

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The top of a silo affords a view of the 11-acre corn maze at Cates Farm south of Henderson. Ab Cates, the son of Sharon Cates, used GPS mapping technology to create a design for the maze. This year's maze features a barn, a farmer, and chickens. He then cuts the corn in the pathways down with a mower when it is about a foot high and continues to mow the maze as the remaining corn grows.

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Luc Jenkins sits beside a bonfire on a chilly autumn night. Jenkins began working at Cates Farm after graduating from high school. He studied agriculture in high school, but isn't sure what he wants to do in the future. Jenkins says he enjoys working at the farm and helping out with the pumpkin patch and corn maze. "It's a good way for people to see what farmers do," says Jenkins.