Lassiter family grows, sells unique crop
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007
LASKER – For the Lassiters of Northampton County, farming is a family business.
Several years ago, after obtaining B.S. and M.S. degrees from N.C. State University, Donny Lassiter returned to Lassiter Farms to carry on the farming tradition.
Donny’s parents, Bobby and Debbie Lassiter, have been farming for 37 years and his grandparents, Earl and Elma Lassiter, also used to farm.
Today, Bobby and Debbie and two of their sons, Donny and Mark, farm around 5,500 acres.
When Donny came back to Northampton County, he knew that in order for the farm to be able to support an additional household, he needed to come up with another source of income.
Donny said he was looking for a niche, not a commodity crop, and he wanted to try the direct market.
Chufa ended up being that crop.
A college friend originally told Donny about chufa, a bunch grass of African origin with a peanut-like underground nut that is used for food plots for turkeys, deer, waterfowl and other wildlife.
Chufa’s tubers have a sweet almond taste that attracts the wildlife.
In 2001, while he was still a graduate student, Donny’s dad let him experiment and grow his first two acres of chufa.
“Dad has been a lot of help to me,” said Donny.
“He let me experiment and gave me the opportunity to grow a different kind of crop.”
This year will be the sixth that Donny has grown chufa.
Today, Donny and his wife Jamie, a UNC- Chapel Hill graduate and speech pathologist, own their own business, Cyprus Knee Chufa.
“Jamie has also been a big help with the business,” he said.
“She helps sell, goes to hunting shows and arranges orders; she helps people when they have questions about chufa.”
Their business started small, but they have been able to grow a little more chufa each year and increase their business.
The Lassiters raise, harvest and package their unique crop.
Donny said when he first started growing chufa, he thought the crop would be similar to peanuts, but he found it was actually more like corn.
According to Donny, there are very few domestic chufa sellers in the United States.
Most of these businesses sell their chufa to larger seed companies.
Cyprus Knee Chufa is one of the few businesses that actually sells the product directly to the customer.
The chufa companies in Spain are Cyprus Knee’s biggest competition.
Chufa has a growth cycle of 90 to 100 days.
It works best if planted in May and June.
The Lassiters harvest their chufa in the early part of September.
Chufa is high in carbohydrates and protein, so it makes an ideal food source for over-wintering waterfowl.
The wildlife start digging up the chufa nuts once they mature, usually in late fall when other food sources are scarce.
The Lassiters also have other products to go along with the chufa.
LabLab is a high protein, drought- tolerant food source for deer and other wildlife.
Spring Forward is a premium all- purpose blend of various seeds that attract deer, turkey, dove, quail and other wildlife.
Magic Carpet is a nutritious blend of soybeans, iron and clay peas that can be mixed with chufa to attract deer.
Donny said that the most time consuming part of the chufa business is the marketing and selling, not the growing of the crop.
He said that a lot of hunting shows are not about selling; instead they are about making contacts.
Cyprus Knee Chufa is concerned about the quality of their products.
Both Donny and Jamie try to be available to their customers to answer questions.
Donny said they have been fortunate enough to retain customers over the past years and add customers as the business grows.
The Lassiters also try to stay in touch with their customers.
They send them Christmas cards and newsletters.
Donny said his favorite part about owning his own business is that he is given the opportunity to talk to people, especially those who may have no ties to farming.
“I get to meet new people from different backgrounds,” he said.
“I have met a lot of good friends; yes, this is a business, but we have a relationship with our customers.”
Donny added that farming is a lot of trial and error.
“I have been allowed to make mistakes and learn from them,” he said.
Chufa is a little different compared to other crops.
Donny said that if farmers have questions about other crops, they can call an extension agent or researchers at N.C. State.
People who grow chufa have nowhere to go for answers.
They have to do much of the research on their own.
Donny chose to name the business Cyprus Knee because the Lassiters have many cypress trees on their farm and his dad always wanted to call the farm Cyprus Knee.
Donny and Jamie feel strongly about giving back to the community.
For the past two years they have sponsored a kid to go to Camp Woodie.
The Waterfowl Association in South Carolina hosts the camp, one that teaches children tactics about duck hunting and basic survival in the woods.
It also educates them about the value of wildlife conservation.
The Lassiters are hoping to hold a field day soon to educate people about food plots.
The exact date is undetermined, but those interested should contact Donny and Jamie for more information.
The office number at Cyprus Knee is 252-539-4434 and the website is www.cypruskneechufa.com.