Boulder Lamb lives local |
The finer points of the local food movement come into plainer focus at a ranch just inside Longmont off Nelson Road. Founded 20 months ago, Boulder Lamb is an unambiguous 27 acres anchored by a one-story family home, and inhabited by a flock of sheep: Columbia/Ramboullet mix ewes and Suffolk and Hampshire bucks, as well as chickens, some horses and a lhama.
Boulder Lamb owners Clint and Mary Kay Buckner are endeavoring to succeed in the livestock industry’s sparse middle space. While enthusiastically embraced by restaurants, markets and people in general, a small local ranch is not an easy way to make a living.
“It takes patience and perseverance to sustain an all-natural flock, but that’s what people want. It’s certainly what local chefs want,” says Clint.
The Buckners have hit Boulder County’s culinary sweet spot. Their pasture-raised lamb is free of GMOs and antibiotics or hormones used for growth, and is featured on restaurant menus from Lyons to Boulder to Denver and spots in between. Natural, local conscious grocers like Alfalfas, Mary’s Market (Hygiene), Niwot Market, and St Vrain Market (Lyons) sell Boulder Lamb. Clients include a who’s-who of esteemed local chefs who want the freshest, cleanest foods they can get their hands on.
“We also farm fresh eggs and some vegetables,” says Mary Kay. “Our restaurants want everything we produce and then ask us for more. To me it really demonstrates an authentic enthusiasm for local and sustainable foods.”
Within both sides of the Buckner’s families exists a long history of farming and sheep ranching. The two met while working at the original Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder, at a time when the local food movement was a novelty. Clint – who grew up in Gold Hill, graduated from Boulder High and CU, and was a local mortgage broker in the years leading up to Boulder Lamb – welcomes visitors to the ranch.
“We want people to know where their food comes from,” he said. “We truly believe that what we’re doing is the essence of what Boulder County stands for – feeding local people with local products.
By observing, visitors gain an appreciation for just how challenging the venture of raising lambs can be. By asking questions, they discover that those challenges don’t end when the lambs leave the farm.
With no USDA regulated meat processors in Boulder County, the Buckners send their stock to a facility in Evans, Colorado for slaughter and production. The cuts then make their way back to the farm, where Clint and Mary Kay market, sell and deliver to restaurants and markets across the Front Range.
“We’ve been called by restaurants in the middle of the evening, making ‘emergency deliveries’ when a menu special is selling quickly,” Mary Kay explains. “It’s one of the benefits of us being right here. We can respond.”
The mission to be sustainable
The Buckner’s can and do sell their lamb directly to customers who seek it for their own tables. But selling to restaurants and markets requires USDA regulation – and thus the drive to and from Evans.
“We’re hoping that one day there will be a local processing facility that is USDA regulated,” Mary Kay says. “So much of Boulder County is making headway towards a sustainable local food model but there are significant barriers still holding us back, and this is one of them.”
The livestock at Boulder Lamb is raised for meat, not fiber or dairy. The animals’ are 100% on pasture and therefore their diet consists of locally grown, non-GMO alfalfa, hay and pasture grass.
The Buckner’s unique combination of Columbia/Rambouillet mix ewes with Suffolk or Hampshire bucks produces a wonderfully mild, rosy and succulent lamb, full of flavor but completely lacking in lamb’s sometimes gamey taste.
Boulder Lamb is producing the epitome of the freshest and finest quality meat, at a local ranch where you can see first hand the pastures the animals graze, how they are cared for, and the Buckner’s thoughtful approach to sustainable land management.
“This work can be challenging physically and in many other ways, but it’s what we love doing,” Clint explains. “There is a great deal of satisfaction in it.”