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14 January . 2016

Farmer Pete recalls circus past at FishHawk Market Day


The first Sunday of the year the Farmers Market in Park Square at FishHawk Ranch was canceled due to early morning rain — but one vendor didn’t get the memo.


That would be Pete Wood, who by his account transports produce fresh from his 17-acre farm on Tucker Jones Road in Ruskin to “27 retirement home parks a week and 20 farmers markets a month.”


Included is the FishHawk market, which opens to the public 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Sunday of the month, and where Wood, despite the January calendar change, made sales to customers who also had not heard about the cancellation.


Others were there to support Wood, whose photo appeared on a Facebook notice asking people to support the lone vendor in Park Square.


“I look forward to the market every month, so I’m disappointed to find it wasn’t here today,” said customer Leslie Melendez. “I like the selection; there’s a nice variety of different things.”


 Scott and Barbara Moser said they go to the market every month, where they find fresh vegetables, good prices and a way, Barbara Moser said, “to support the fresh local farmers.”


Wood had more to sell than his peanuts, seedless watermelon, navel oranges, lemons and limes, pink grapefruit, mix-and-match apples, sweet corn, winter squash, strawberries, carrots, cucumbers, peppers and more, including fresh brown eggs.


“I’ve got 1,200 chickens, and I sell 400 eggs a month, mostly to my customers off the cart here,” Wood said.


Wood had a tale to trade in return for a customer’s interest, about his former life as a tamer of big cats.


“I’ve been all over Canada, all over this country,” he said. “I’ve been to Europe. I’ve been to Japan. I’ve been to Australia. I owned lions and tigers, and I used to perform with them in the big steel arena.”


Wood is a 20-year member of the International Independent Showmen’s Association in Riverview, a nonprofit association for members with ties to the outdoor entertainment industry, including employees, ride owners, concessionaires, manufacturers and suppliers.


Like many of his peers, Wood has settled near Gibsonton, known as “Showtown USA,” which for more than 70 years has been the winter home for a large population of circus and carnival sideshow performers and business people.


“My father and grandfather were all in the circus business,” Wood said. “My father had horses, ponies and dogs, and my grandfather had bears. I had a carnival show up in Canada for awhile.” He added that, over the years, “I sold out too many times, I retired too many times, and I always came back to the produce.”


Wood started selling produce in England, “going door-to-door with a pony cart in 1962,” he said. Fifty-four years later he’s still at it, he added, “because you got to do something, you can’t sit around and do nothing.”


“Something” for Wood includes helping the elderly with necessary travel needs, or helping them stock their pantries with medicine, cat food, paper towels and more.


Wood pulls out photos of his days at work with tigers and lions. By his assessment, the tigers “are more gentle and they have a better disposition.” The lions, he added, “are sneaky, you can’t take your eyes off them.”


As for how to train a wild lion, Wood offered his best advice.


“Very carefully,” he said, “it’s all reward.”