Close to the bone

Local meat producers and sellers keep ethics first


Since the days of Alfalfa’s, Boulder County has always been a community that has made a point of consuming high-quality, ethical food. And while phrases like locavore, farm-to-table and clean eating have all become buzz words, there are still big players in town that take excellence seriously. Lucky for the county, there are entire supply chains that are not only mutually beneficial to one another, but also make sure that good meat is still available across restaurants and butcher shops.


The Buckner family.

Clint Buckner of Buckner Family Ranch descends from sheep farmers. 

“Everyone says it was the biggest sheep ranch in the country,” he says of his grandparents’ former estate in Twin Falls, Idaho. But he started the Longmont-based ranch, where he and his family currently raise roughly 

300-head of ewes, close to 200 pigs and some cattle, while still a vegetarian. “My wife and I would not eat meat because we didn’t trust it. We got into it just to do it for ourselves,” he says. 

Since starting out in 2011, Buckner Family Ranch has grown to support roughly 35 restaurants in Boulder, Denver, Lafayette and Longmont, along with selling directly to consumers through a partnership with Locavore Delivery. It also sells whole lambs to Blackbelly, as well as providing cuts to Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe (3326 Tejon St.) in Denver and the Mountain Fountain (11809 N. 75th St.) in Hygiene. 

“If we can’t drive there in an hour, we’re not doing it,” Buckner says. The ranch also does a monthly meat sale, where customers who have 

signed up for an email list will be able to come up and buy directly from Clint’s supply.

Buckner Family Ranch has become a staple for good products built on strong values. 

Sheep at Buckner Family Ranch.

“The ethics part was really simple. All you have to do is look back a generation and do what they did,” he says, referring to the generation before Monsanto and Dow Chemical. “I don’t care what you’re pouring it on. If it’s poison, we don’t use it,” he continues, saying that along with using no pesticides, herbicides and DDT, Buckner meats are also free of antibiotics, with the animals being fed only grass without grain finishing.

Buckner has become a community fixture, working with chefs who share in the principals. 

“More important than the number of chefs we’re dealing with is that the chefs at these restaurants are buying really conscientiously,” Buckner says. “If they’re touting buying local, most likely we’re dealing with them. The strongest sentiment that we can convey is gratitude.”


Selection of meat at Blackbelly’s new, larger space.

Blackbelly’s Hosea Rosenberg built his restaurant and butcher shop with the point of showcasing good ingredients. Blackbelly sources beef from 7X Ranch, which recently moved its cows down to Texas due to issues with keeping the herd happy in the frigid winters, with other cows coming from Bootheel 7 in Lusk, Wyoming. Lamb comes from Buckner Family Ranch, and pork comes from heritage breeds raised at McDonald Family Farm in Brush, Colorado. 

“Our pork suppliers and beef suppliers haven’t changed much since we opened,” says Rosenberg. “Colorado lamb is some of the best in the world.”

Rosenberg insists that relationships are just as important as the meat they stock. 

“It’s not just the product. You’re doing business with other individuals,” he says, noting that kindness, both to the animals and to the customers, is a big factor in how he’s selected his farms. “They’re dependent on us just as much as we are on them.”

Blackbelly has always been known for its technique-driven fine-dining plates. The butcher shop is all about its whole animal butchery, and often stocks cuts that are less familiar to many customers. 

Butchering meat at Blackbelly.

“It’s really not a good business model to have an in-house butcher,” Rosenberg says with a laugh. “But I’ve always wanted Blackbelly to be a place of learning. I think one of the most important skills a chef can have is knowing how to break down animals. We’re also happy to provide instruction as to how to handle the weird cuts.”


The woman often behind the magic is Blackbelly’s head butcher Kelly Kawachi. Originally hailing from Oahu, Hawaii, Kawachi got her early start in fine dining at Alan Wong’s Honolulu, where she spent five years in the rigors of a world-class kitchen. 

“I did a lot of fish butchery,” she says. She moved to Colorado in 2016 with the explicit intent of taking a job at Blackbelly. She worked under head butchers Nate Singer and Isaac Sullenger before taking the role herself in 2021. 

“We source from ranchers we know. We know what they’re feeding their animals. We know their ethics and morals,” Kawachi says. “We’re not competing with the ranchers, we’re working with them. We’re just the go-between, we’re just trying to get the word out.”

In the whole animal butchery program, Kawachi and two other butchers will break down one pig and one lamb per week, alongside a cow per month. “We don’t have 10 tenderloins in the case, because that’s five cows.”

Though Kawachi says that one of her big contributions is that she can point customers in the direction of items they might not know but which can still fit their price range and cooking plans.


MYP Chef Samuel McCandless from Corrida.

Samuel McCandless is a lifelong chef who has lent his talents to kitchens across Boulder, including multiple stints at Frasca and heading up the kitchen at the now-shuttered Arcana. But it wasn’t until he started at Corrida (1023 Walnut St., Unit 400, Boulder) that he began to truly believe in beef. 

“I was a vegan for a year and a half,” he says.

Corrida is largely inspired by the famous Spanish house of beef El Capricho, a temple of fine meats that McCandless visits once a year. The chef is serious about his sourcing, relying on eight ranches, three of which are in Colorado, to supply a menu of aged steaks and Spanish tapas.

“What we’re really into in beef is the boutique finish,” says McCandless, noting that many of the cows he sources are raised on grass but are switched to either oats, barley, spent grains or organic corn for the last 90 to 180 days of their life. “It’s like returning to how food should be. I know I want to eat a healthy animal. I know I want to eat food with intention.”

While each place acts independently, they all have been part of a system that has grown together. 

“Samuel [McCandless] was the first guy who ever tried our lamb at a commercial level,” says Buckner, remembering when chef McCandless ordered some early pieces while still at Frasca. 

“And I buy my meat at Blackbelly,” adds McCandless. 

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