Monday, November 13, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Two Birds Doing the Two Cowboys Production Van Fit-Out With Reclaimed Barn Wood from Alberta, Canada

Cabin In A Van

How many people can say that they've built a cabin in a van and that they did it with wood that is a hundred years old?

Clinton Pigeon and his team at Two Birds Furniture in Okotoks rose to the occasion to help the Traveling Cowboys with the final step in the build of the Two Cowboys production van. The brief was to create a comfortable work and living space within our Ford Transit that can accommodate our travels in all-weather circumstances. We want to take our studio on the road as we crisscross North America to feature destinations, communities, makers, and entrepreneurs all over the continent. The van is an essential item in our fleet that includes a Sprinter van from Leisure Vans, and an A-Class RV from Holiday Rambler that we purchased from Guarantee RV.

The objective of the construction of our production van was that it should allow for enough storage for all the production gear. It should be comfortable for long trips away from home. Ultimately, the project should showcase some of the best of Alberta's craftsmanship and the rich history of our area. We think the Two Birds succeeded in doing it!


The Two Cowboys production van is a project that's been in the works for most of 2017. It started with the support of Cam Clark Ford helping us to procure a Ford Transit 350HD van in the early parts of summer.

The next big task was to install the required solar and battery power for the studio's equipment. Bucars RV stepped in to install solar, controllers, inverter, batteries and ventilation for charging our high-end camera gear and for operating our sensitive computer equipment, while on the road.

A business' vehicle is an ideal billboard for advertising. Spy Designs in Okotoks helped with an eye-catching branding design and applied the vinyl graphics so that everyone can identify the van on the road.

Canada throws all kinds of weather at you and the van needed to be insulated and heated for weather that can go between extremes of -35C and +40C. The insulation task fell on the shoulders of resident Cowboy, Braam Compton, who spent weeks researching the ideal solutions and several weekends installing it over the hot summer months. A vital part of the insulation journey was getting the required window coverings to trap heat inside or keep the hot sun out. We sourced custom window screens from Solar Screen in Australia.  The Espar Airtronic gasoline heater installation was done by Polar Mobility Research in Calgary.

Once all the "invisible" installations were out of the way, the Two Birds had a chance to work with us on the layout. Wood framing provided the structure for the arrangement. The framing was then clad with reclaimed timber sourced from an old Alberta barn. The design accommodated a work desk, fridge, shelving, closet, drop-in storage and a single bed for when a day gets too long.


A van is an invaluable business tool for our line of business. A well-designed and properly-constructed vehicle makes our day easy and allows us to reach the many destinations we cover and to work on the road while away from home base. We learned a lot with the build of this first one and did not doubt that there will be subsequent projects with improvements in our design and construction approach.

The most significant lessons we've learned from our project is how valuable the people are that committed to helping us with it. All of the businesses that contributed are patrons and supporters of the Two Cowboys mission. We gladly promote them at every opportunity we get. We appreciate their help to keep us on the road for telling the stories of our people and inspirational businesses in our local communities.

We are extending a sincere word of thank you in particular to the Two Birds for putting in days, nights and weekends to finish the project before winter finally arrived. We can now look forward to many miles and many more inspirational stories on the road.

If you want to know how exactly it was all done, then please consider becoming a friend of ours on Patreon. We will give you all the details of what to do, and what to avoid if you contemplate a similar endeavour. We may even help you with your project if you ask nicely.

Hendrik van Wyk
Van Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us gain from our work. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other stories.


It starts with a plan...

Insulation Done

Framing Done

Stress Test!


More Cladding


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Two Cowboys: Connecting with Our Food at the Olds College National Meat Training Centre in Olds, Alberta

Where's the Beef?

What we eat and drink determines who we are. It is a big part of us and integral to what we do each day. Throughout our evolutionary journey, as it is for every other animal on earth, our food ultimately determined and enabled our species, homo sapiens, to claim its place and standing on this planet.

For humans, our involvement with food goes a little further. It also plays a large part in determining our identity. It defines our relationships with our environment and our fellow man. One can deduce a level of cultural and moral sophistication from civilization's connection with its food. It plays a pivotal role in defining a society.


For a person, food is nourishment. Without food, famine is inevitable. If we don't eat well, we face disease. For a group, it is also a source of expression that influences and displays cultural convention, ritual, and perception. Families come together for celebration meals, heads of state dine together, and a nation's geopolitical and economic welfare is determined by its food production abilities. Food is security. Competition for resources to produce food is the principal source of revolution and of war. For eons, individual, tribal and national identities have been recognized through uniquely crafted dishes, ingredients, and meal preparations. It is fair to say that as humans, we have a fascinating love affair with what we eat.

Humanity now produces more food than ever before in history. Unfortunately, we are also more disconnected from our food now, than we've ever been.  Food manufacturing and industrialized levels of production have slowly been eroding our link with, understanding, and the role of our food, beyond the simple provisioning of sustenance. As a result, we may also be losing our sense of who we are, and in large part, of our societal identity.

We are also losing our ability to recognize and work with our food.  The art and production of food through baking, butchering, brewing and cheese making are falling by the wayside as our butchers, bakers, and cheesemakers depart, to be replaced by corporations with large processing facilities and factories focussed on a uniform, compliant output contributing to the bottom-line.

Even our chefs are spoiled by these companies, with pre-prepared manufactured products that merely requires heating and plating. The elementary art of cooking is under threat in the average meal preparation facility in North America. Fast Food is not food in the true sense of what it could and ultimately should be.

To illustrate my point further, we should only take a look at the degree of effort we put into making food unrecognizable. Celebrity chefs are beating a path to creating mouses, gels, pearls, pills, and pellets that is entirely void of resembling source ingredients. Meals come ready-made. Molecular Gastronomy, which should have remained a fascinating experiment, now trailblazes a departure from the familiar in favor of concepts such as multi-sensory cooking, modernist cuisine, culinary physics, and experimental cuisine.

The result is that we can now eat a perfectly looking, uniform, sterile, mostly synthetic, manufactured sandwiches containing the resemblance of meat, bread, and condiments, that is morally and culturally acceptable and available to the masses, across the planet. This is now our idea of "food"!

Should we be loving it?

Because food has always been closely linked with who we are, losing its origins and our linkages to what we eat have the inevitable result that we just succumb to also losing our sense of identity.  We mistakenly claim a false pretense of cultural "progress" and moral high ground when misguidedly people succumb to disorders, become vegan, or allow vegetarianism to take hold.

Human evolution did not result in equipping people to only eat plants, and unfortunately, no amount of moral or spiritual convention will change our biology in the short term. Maybe it is time again that our children know that milk comes from cow's teets? Chickens lay eggs. Renin and bacteria make cheese and meat come from dead and butchered animals. Substances like blood make for great sausage!

When we rediscover food, we may find our true primal selves again void of pretense, and stripped from our delusions of civility. When we have the pleasure of eating what we always ate, the way we did, with the people we treasure, we may then also have the joy of re-discovering who we truly are.

That is why we seek out great food, places to find it, and why we celebrate the stories of the people and producers connecting us with ourselves - with our true primal being - homo puretus!

The Last Butcher School

The Olds College Meat Processing Program is one of only two remaining in North America that offers an educational certificate in the whole process stream of meat, from slaughter, processing, preserving to retail. Where big plants once dominated the industry, we are glad to say that the revival of the art is back in Alberta!

Olds College teaches hands-on practical techniques and age-old science of meat processing for the highest premium quality cuts. Successful graduates gain the experience needed to start their own entrepreneurial business ventures or take their skills to Canada’s third largest industry.

Olds College is the National Meat Training Centre for Canada. Three times a year its program takes in a wide range of students from all over North America and as far away as Africa. They teach techniques for professional meat cutting, trimming, boning, breaking, wrapping, sausage-making and curing with professional sanitation and food safety applications, including HACCP. It is Alberta’s training site for humane handling and stunning, and the only program in North America that teaches slaughter skills and techniques such as skinning, eviscerating and carcass preparation.

The College boasts an extensive multi-purpose facility that is fully equipped to teach the value-added skill sets and knowledge for the meat industry. Its services are expanded to cater to large and small industry, from sausage making and dried, cured hams to the installation of an industrial canner. It also boasts a favorite retail counter where students learn applied retail merchandising and customer service skills in explaining the attributes and benefits of various products and cuts.


We are saddened by the fact that Olds College is one of only two remaining programs of its kind in North America. On the other hand, we are encouraged that it still exists, is more popular than ever, and a mere hour's drive from our home base in the Rocky Mountains. The retail shop is a favorite stop for our monthly meat purchases.

Alberta is famous for the quality of its agricultural produce and its rich heritage in producing quality feed for animal husbandry. We are convinced that Alberta boasts the best tasting beef, pork and, dare we say it, lamb (sorry, New Zealand)!

What we need now, is a supportive regulatory food production climate and consumers that invite our producers back to rearing fantastic animals and our butchers again into our towns. The Old-World fostered an appreciation for its producers, and the food that resulted for our ancestors were just incredible. In the New-World, we have the opportunity not only to re-rediscover this rich food heritage but cherish it more than ever. It is where we come from, what we can do, and who we ultimately are.

We are meat-loving Cowboys.

Hendrik van Wyk

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us gain from our work. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other stories.





How It's Made


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Two Cowboys: Discovering Alberta's Own Cheese at Sylvan Star Cheese in Red Deer, Alberta

It's the Cows

There is an old saying that money doesn't grow on trees. It also doesn't sprout when you put it in the ground. In today's age of mass food production, processed and manufactured produce, we sometimes forget where food is supposed to come from.

At places like Sylvan Star Cheese, we are reminded of the principles of quality food production. It is as simple as this. Good seeds are planted in fertile soil to sprout beautiful fields. Fields feed happy dairy cows. Dairy cows produce delicious milk and milk make fantastic cheese. Happy cows eating well is the key to world-champion winning cheese. It all depends on the cows according to John Schalkwyk, who's been making cheese for over fifty years.


When the Schalkwyk family from The Netherlands wanted to start a farm with more space and more of a future, they decided to take a look at Canada. Dairy has been in the family for generations. However, it became too hard as small entrepreneurs in The Netherlands to survive in the restrictive regulatory climate that favors large corporations in the European Union.

The Schalkwyks traveled all over Canada and found that Alberta has space and scope for dairy. Quebec and British Columbia may be known for dairy production and Alberta for its barley and oil. However, what Alberta lacked were a few healthy and happy dairy cows. According to John, you can make cheese wherever you can produce dairy, and there are not many places in the world where you cannot milk a cow.

In 1995 they found a nice place between Sylvan Lake and Red Deer where they settled and started their dairy farm with a herd of Holstein's. It sounds idyllic. However, within Canada's restrictive supply managed dairy environment it is probably one of the hardest business in the country to start and grow. Alberta doesn't have many dairy farmers. Not because it is cold. Because someone in Government decided that Canada has enough dairy and new entrants to the industry are discouraged.

While launching their dairy farm, the Schalkwyks had a hard time finding an excellent piece of cheese in Canada, so they decided to go back to an old family tradition, making good Gouda cheese. John has a long history of Gouda making which he inherited from his mother. He's been making cheese in The Netherlands for 30 years prior to coming to Canada. The next natural progression was to add value to the dairy they produced, and in 1999 they ordered equipment from Holland and started Sylvan Star Cheese.

Now 16 years later Sylvan Star Cheese is renowned for its farm-made Gouda. They have won numerous Canadian awards as #1 Gouda, Extra Aged Gouda and smoked Gouda. Their extra aged gouda, also known as "Grizzly" because of its bite and power, is ranked #4 in the world. Clearly, John followed in his mother's footsteps. In 1952 she also won first prize in The Netherlands with her Gouda for which she received a prize from princess Wilhelmina!


Today the next generation is taking over. Son, Jeroen runs the dairy farm with a herd of about 240 Holstein's, while John and his wife are devoted to making cheese.

Regardless of their success, you will find John at the local Farmers' market where he sells directly to his customers. As a small producer and entrepreneur he continues to survive and grow because, according to him, it's all about happy cows.

According to me, it is because of the hard-working pioneering and persevering spirit of someone that wakes at four in the morning to take care of his first love, his cows, regardless of what some bureaucrat, lawmaker, and tax collector, somewhere in the doldrums government decide about his future.

Makers have no choice. They are compelled to continue to produce. If it becomes too hard in one place, they will move elsewhere. We have no choice but to keep telling their stories. We are proud to support the Schalkwyks, and we enjoy our Sylvan Star cheese.

Hendrik van Wyk
Dairy Cowboy

We earn our livelihood from producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to help us earn from our work. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other stories.


Making Cheese 
Poutine Ingredients


Everyone Helps


Spicy Cheese

It's the Cows

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