Driven by Love
We arrive at the Alihuen farm and check into the cabaña reciclada. The comfortable cottage is made of recycled materials, such as wood from a demolished building. Our host is the Belgian Jeroen Beuckels. He lives with his wife Grecia and their 6-year-old son Gabriel in the house they built just across the street. “We met over 15 years ago at the English lesson that Jeroen gave”, Grecia says with a smile. They fell in love and soon a shared dream developed: starting a family farm on the island where Grecia was born and raised. “We wanted to live off the land and at the same time take good care of nature”, Jeroen adds.
From Dream to Reality
Realizing that dream wasn’t easy, Jeroen explains. “In my younger years I did a lot of volunteer work at organic farms. That is where I learned how to do agriculture with respect for nature. I knew that one day, I wanted to have my own farm and apply those methods.”
“When this land came up for sale, we were both very enthusiastic. The property does not overlook the sea, so the price was reasonable. Moreover, the grassland, not far from a river, was perfect for bringing the forest back”. That purpose also explains the name: Alihuen means “big tree” in the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous people of southern Chile. “Our focus on trees meant that we needed to keep the cows out”, Jeroen continues. It meant fencing the entire property. “I still have nightmares about that colossal task”, Jeroen laughs.
Nature Restoration through Reforestation
Jeroen describes how the island must have been completely forested once. As more people settled, more and more trees were felled for building and heating, but especially to make way for grassland. Until recently, cows also roamed the seventy-hectare estate of what is now Alihuen for dairy and meat production.
Deforestation came at the expense of the original biodiversity. “I love the forest and the animals that live in it”, Jeroen continues. “Many of them need uninterrupted forest for protection, such as ground-dwelling birds. Expanding their habitat is my motive for reforestation”. In addition, trees are important for the groundwater level, because they absorb water and release it slowly. And of course, trees are indispensable in the worldwide fight against climate breakdown, as they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.