From Coraki to Kenya – evokeAG. Future Young Leader Alumni George Chapman
Two years on from being named an AgriFutures evokeAG. Future Young Leader, George Chapman reflects on what the opportunity offered him, and how it still impacts his life at the forefront of regenerative agriculture today.
Despite now being permanently based on the edge of the Nairobi National Park in Africa, at his family’s tourism safari lodge and small farming operation, George Chapman still considers the Northern Rivers of New South Wales home.
“I absolutely still call Coraki home – it’s where I grew up and learned the ways of the land and gained that passion for farming and Australian agriculture. But I was also fortunate to travel a lot and have an upbringing in Africa, and that’s an experience that really shifts your focus,” said George.
“It’s a wild place over here and I’ve always been attracted to that aspect of life which has kept drawing me back here.”
George’s application for the AgriFutures evokeAG. 2020 Future Young Leaders Program was focused on soil health and why Australian farmers need to make it their focus too.
“When there’s attention on the health of the soil, then that increases the health of the plants, and the plants help the animals – and healthy animals’ equals a healthy society,” George explained.
“The video worked – despite having to do about 50 takes of it – and I was selected to travel to Melbourne for evokeAG. 2020 and it’s been an experience that has served me well ever since.”
In that time, George has studied a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security at the Royal Agricultural University in the United Kingdom and has been instrumental in the development and growth of the ‘farm’ element of his family’s business, Ololo Safari Lodge & Farm.
“The restaurant at the lodge feeds guests from all over the world and we gave a lot of thought about how we were best going to feed them, and the obvious answer was to establish, in the first instance, a vegetable garden.
“I was really interested in driving the organic and regenerative farming principles over here and to start from a clean slate. That was back in 2014 with just a little farm at the back of the lodge but it’s really evolved from there.
“We now have 2,500 broiler chickens on pasture farms that are certified organic and will soon have an operational processing plant on site too.
“We’ve got laying hens, as well as ducks, and a dairy herd. We have now built a fairly large-scale mushroom house on top of the expansive vegetable garden, so it’s evolving one step at a time – and it’s all underpinned by regenerative agriculture principles.”
The power of evokeAG. networking
George’s passion is undeniable, and he said the desire to continually grow the operation in Kenya is underpinned by the support and knowledge garnered through the AgriFutures evokeAG. Future Young Leaders Program.
“In the first instance, feeling a part of a young network and having that connection, is really quite powerful,” he said.
“It also opens up conversations that you wouldn’t have really considered. It tests your own thoughts in a rapidly evolving industry, so there’s a lot to gain from it.
“The evokeAG. opportunity is a real confidence booster, and then being able to network with leaders across Australia is incredible.
“I consider myself grateful to have that experience and get that opportunity to really see what’s going on in the industry, not just for farming, but also in the food technology scene and how they’re accessing global markets. It was a deep dive into a lot of interesting things happening that I still reflect on now.”
‘Have a crack’ – apply now
As a previously successful applicant who doubted his own ability, George said anyone considering the AgriFutures evokeAG. Future Young Leaders Program should put their doubts aside and get their application in.
“You have absolutely nothing to lose by applying,” said George.
“Doing these applications, regardless of the outcome, really helps to improve your communication skills which is so important. I think communication is probably one of the most overlooked things for young professionals, and as long as you can communicate well, then lots of opportunities will open. And that’s what the agricultural industry is all about – having a go,” he said.
“I know it sounds cliche, but just have a crack. We are in a rapidly changing time, not just in agriculture, but across all sectors and I think young people have a lot to bring to the table and there’s still a lot they can learn from older generations as well.”
Sponsorship of the 2023 Future Young Leaders program is a collaboration between Australia’s 15 Research & Development Corporations (RDCs) through the Council of RDCs.
Thank you to Australian Eggs, Australian Meat Processor Corporation, Australian Pork, Australian Wool Innovation Limited, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Dairy Australia, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Forest & Woods Products Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation, Hort Innovation, LiveCorp, Meat and Livestock Australia, Sugar Research Australia, Wine Australia and AgriFutures Australia.