Meet our Supplier: Boulder Lamb and Meats

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This Saturday I drove up to 75th St. and Nelson Rd. to check out a new Ranch Stand selling organic produce, and sustainable pasture raised cuts of lamb, pork, and beef, including some of the best tasting breakfast sausage and bacon anywhere. It is one of the pleasures of operating our small restaurant, getting to know some great people along the way who have also moved on from their first careers to a life which better expresses their passion.

One such couple who I’ve had the pleasure working with since opening Zeal are Clint and Mary Kay Buckner, who started plotting their exit from 9 to 5 careers about five years ago and found themselves raising a flock of lamb on their property out near Hygiene. “When we started out we were just thinking of breeding for wool and milk,” explains Clint, but then through an acquaintance they met a chef who was looking for lamb to prepare in his restaurant. The funny thing, says Mary Kay, [the unnamed chef] “who was so enthusiastic about getting lamb from us never bought it, so we started calling around and found other chefs and discovered all this demand.” Word started getting around that there was local lamb being bred sustainably right here in Boulder County and quickly Boulder Sheep became Boulder Lamb, 9 to 5 became 24 hours, and the Buckners had a their Ranch up and running, that was 2013.

Boulder Lamb and Meats 2

This year they officially modified their name to Boulder Lamb & Meats because they have been raising pigs and cattle, all pasture raised, humanely cared for from birth to slaughter, and fed a diet that encourages the very best expression of their terrior and flavor. That of course means never using any GMO grains or confined caging. Speaking of his swine, says Clint as he nods over to the lowland near their pond, “our Berkshires absolutely live in Pig Heaven down over there, I’ve thought about joining them at times”. And it’s true, the animals are almost like pets for the short time they get to walk the land at the Buckner’s ranch and home.

Clint and Mary Kay met in 1990 when they were both working as cashiers at Boulder’s original Alfalfa’s. Clint grew up in Gold Hill and Mary Kay in Westminster but landed in Boulder to attend CU. Both passionate and early adopters of the organic food movement, it sounds like things clicked between them immediately.  Their first date was an outing to go hear Clint’s dad, local music star Daniel “Buck” Buckner play bluegrass at Connor O’Neill’s Pub on 13th St. (Buck’s Bluegrass Hotline is a calendar of events for bluegrass lovers named for Clint’s dad). Shortly thereafter, Clint made his new squeeze the “MK” mix tape , a blend of classic rock, blues, and jazz, and romanced her off the market for good.

Boulder Lamb and Meats

“How’s the Ranch Stand going?” I asked Mary Kay. “It’s starting to get noticed,” she tells me. “It will take a little while to develop a following because we are creating a market that isn’t as efficient for people as shopping at the grocery store”. And that’s the thing about Farm Stands and Ranch Stands in general, you can’t one-stop shop like you can at Whole Foods, and you’re probably not saving any money. But local agriculture isn’t ever going to be more efficient than modern supply chains, and that’s why it disappeared almost completely in the 50s as technologies looking for a market turned to domestic agriculture and away the military industrial complex after WWII. But where they will always reign supreme is in the quality proposition, particularly under the care of producers like the Buckners who care about quality and flavor above just about every other factor. Mary Kay makes another great point that to really embrace local food sometimes means approaching the organic farmer or butcher and asking them “what do you have today?” We have gotten very comfortable expecting that what we want to buy always be available.

Boulder Lamb and Meats enable us to justify what we do as a restaurant, which, frankly, isn’t always best for the “bottom line” either.  When a long-liner food delivery logistics company can promise to sell you everything in a single shot, and offer low prices we have to do the hard thing which is to say, no, we’d rather have 30 vendors delivering at all different times with multiple invoices and checks to write all to have a quality, locally sourced, low impact meat, vegetables, or fruit. That convenience and cost savings just isn’t worth it when it comes at the sacrifice of both the local community we want to support, and the freshness and flavor, and the intentional connection to the food and its artisan growers.

Can you always tell the difference in flavor? Mary Kay swears by it, she says her dad who grew up in Nebraska recently tasted their pork and proclaimed, “this is the way pork tasted when I was young!” Before pork became the ‘other white meat’ which is code for ‘mass produced as cheaply as possible’ pork really wasn’t even white, as Clint tells me. Its natural color is much darker than what you see in any super market case.  Right on, brother, I’ll take an extra pound for tomorrow’s Sunday Breakfast.

(Right now Zeal is serving Boulder Lamb & Meats product in our Lamb and Pork Bratwurst Plate, Bone Broth, and Bacon. This fall we’ll most likely bring back the Lamb Braise and some others, stay tuned)

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