Going Green

“Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)”, 2013-11-24

Green burial options at Forest Rest include a biodegradable wicker-and-seagrass coffin and a linen burial shroud. Or the decedent can simply leave the living in the same condition in which the living were joined – naked as a jaybird.

Family members can ask that the grave be dug by hand, an alternative that avoids firing up fossil fuel-burning excavation equipment. And the family can help backfill the grave.

Forest Rest Natural Cemetery’s five wooded acres in Franklin County adjoin the conventional Mountain View Memorial Park off Grassy Hill Road. To date, surveying has established about 300 saleable burial spaces in Forest Rest, which opened last year. Ten have been sold. No one has been buried there yet.

For aging baby boomers who practice the principles of green living, a natural burial offers a chance for eco-friendly dying. And it provides an opportunity to embrace one last and ultimate act of recycling, according to the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization based in California.

The phrase “green living” refers to lifestyle and business choices that reduce the effects and costs of living, working and operating in a world of dwindling resources, rising energy costs and environmental perils.

Joe Sehee co-founded the Green Burial Council in 2005.

“I think Americans are finding less and less value in practices and products like embalming, concrete burial vaults and elaborate caskets, which explains why people have been drawn to green burial as well as to cremation,” Sehee wrote in an email.

Don Wilson is president of Roanoke-based Evergreen Memorial Trust, which manages Evergreen Burial Park, Mountain View Memorial Park, Forest Rest Natural Cemetery, Mountain View Cemetery in Vinton and the Green Hill Mausoleum in Buena Vista.

He said Evergreen Memorial Trust decided to develop Forest Rest after fielding inquiries about the availability regionally of natural burials.

“We realized that baby boomers want to do things differently than their parents and grandparents did,” Wilson said.

The same generation that launched Earth Day has begun considering how to leave life in an environmentally friendly way, he said.

Back to the earth

Like other natural cemeteries, Forest Rest forbids the use of burial vaults and chemical embalming. Its options for identifying grave spaces include tombstone-shaped markers made of cedar or inscribed native stone.

In conventional cemeteries, burial vaults help prevent the ground from settling as a casket and the body inside it decay. At Forest Rest, the dirt removed during excavation is piled in a mound atop the grave to help keep the space level as decay proceeds.

Lewis and Julia Woodford of Roanoke County, both in their late 70s, purchased two grave spaces at Forest Rest this spring. The Woodfords said they began looking several years ago for a natural burial cemetery and a friend told them about Forest Rest.

“We were looking for an alternative that was simple, ecologically sound and without fanfare,” Julia Woodford said.

Each will be buried in a simple, biodegradable casket.

“The idea is to go back to the earth,” she said.

Lewis Woodford said the couple long ago adopted practices now described as “green” that are tied to frugality, reuse, recycling and conservation.

“We’re doing things today that we did 50 years ago,” he said.

The Woodfords said their child, a grown daughter, supports their choice.

The National Funeral Directors Association offers members information about green funerals and predicts: “Eventually, you may be asked to explain or to offer ‘green’ funeral choices for some of the families in the communities you serve.”

The association suggests that “green funeral choices are expected to grow in popularity in the U.S.” And it advises that if a family wants to preserve a body for viewing, the alternatives to formaldehyde embalming include refrigeration and dry ice.

Sammy Oakey is president of family owned Oakey’s Funeral Service and Crematory, which traces its local roots to 1866. He said few people have inquired to date about green funerals and burials and that, aside from offering some green caskets, Oakey’s has not yet established pricing for what might be a green funeral.

“I think a lot of people don’t know about it yet,” Oakey said.

Oakey’s sells an eco-friendly wicker-and-seagrass casket for $2,095. Caskets available through Oakey’s range in price from $630 to $9,512.

Kenneth Kyger of Kyger Funeral Homes and Crematory in Harrisonburg and Elkton is president of the Duck Run Natural Cemetery in Penn Laird, about 5 miles east of Harrisonburg.

Duck Run, licensed in 2012, occupies part of a former dairy farm. Kyger said that about 600 grave spaces have been laid out. Duck Run, like Forest Rest, has sold some spaces. Kyger declined to say how many. No one has been buried to date.

“We have scattered cremains out there and we have buried cremains out there but we haven’t buried a natural body yet,” Kyger said.

He said cremation took a while to become accepted as an alternative to conventional burial. He believes green burial will follow suit.

“It’s a new concept,” Kyger said – but based, he said, on the ancient concept of in-ground burial of bodies in biodegradable coffins and garments.

“It’s actually come full circle,” he said.

Interest in green burial practices is increasing and people from out of state have inquired about Duck Run, Kyger said.

“Natural burial offers a very peaceful way to go,” he said.

Cost savings vary

Green burials are typically cheaper than conventional burials that feature concrete vaults, fancy caskets, chemical embalming and more.

“Compared to conventional burial, there are some obvious cost savings from green burial but it will never be as inexpensive as ‘direct cremation’ (cremation without a funeral),” Sehee said.

Oakey said the cost of a conventional funeral package available through Oakey’s can range from about $5,035 to about $16,000. Direct cremation at Oakey’s ranges from about $1,990 to about $5,023.

Cremation can be more environmentally friendly than a conventional burial but is not without impacts. Cremation burns nonrenewable fossil fuels, releases carbon dioxide and can also emit mercury when the person being cremated has dental amalgam fillings, according to the Green Burial Council.

The council has established a set of standards for natural burial and a certification program for cemeteries that meet those standards.

Sehee confirmed that the Duck Run Natural Cemetery was the first council-certified cemetery in Virginia.

Wilson said Forest Rest has completed the environmental impact statement required for Green Burial Council certification and is working to finalize a related plan for integrated pest management.

Ed Leonard, chief sustainability officer for the Holy Cross Abbey near Berryville, said he works to develop sustainable businesses that can help support the abbey and its Trappist monks.

The abbey developed the Cool Spring Natural Cemetery in 2012 on about 70 acres of the monastery’s 1,200 acres. Leonard said about 50 spaces have sold and the cemetery has buried 15 people to date. The spaces overlook the Shenandoah River and Blue Ridge Mountains, he said.

A “Blue Ridge Meadow” grave site at Cool Spring sells for $5,750, a price that does not include digging and backfilling the grave. He said the beauty of the site, the confidence buyers have in the monastery’s ongoing stewardship of the property and the spiritual ambiance of the location seem to appeal to buyers.

The Forest Rest grave spaces sell for $1,500 if the cemetery selects the client’s space and $2,000 if the space is chosen by the client. Pricing does not include digging and backfilling the grave, which adds $1,500 if machine dug or $2,000 if hand dug.

A burial space at Duck Run sells for $2,500. Opening and closing the grave adds $750.

Evergreen Memorial Trust has advertised Forest Rest in the Blue Ridge Edition of “Natural Awakenings” magazine. The ad describes Forest Rest as “a new natural cemetery for those wishing to leave a smaller and greener footprint when they pass.” Forest Rest has a website and a Facebook page, Wilson said, and most recently occupied a booth at the Green Living & Energy Expo at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Lewis Woodford said natural burial makes sense on a fundamental level.

“We come from the earth. We are of the earth. And we will go back to the earth,” he said.

Franklin Co. Cemetery Goes ‘Green’

Blair Graninger stands beside the Forest Rest sign.

Blair Graninger stands beside the Forest Rest sign.

by Jason Dunovant, Smith Mountain Eagle

There has been a growing trend in the last few years to simplify the burial process. As part of that trend, many cemeteries are beginning to offer a new, greener, option for those searching for their final resting place.

The Evergreen Memorial Trust dedicated the Forest Rest Natural Cemetery in Franklin County this past year. The natural cemetery is located adjacent to Mountain View Memorial Park in Boones Mill. It offers a different option for those who may not be interested in the modern burial process.
Forest Rest Natural Cemetery does away with many of the aspects of most modern cemeteries. Gone are elaborate caskets, expensive burial vaults, and large stone grave markers. Instead, Forest Rest provides a simple burial much like the ones performed over 150 years ago.

“There has been a resurgence of interest in going back to the way things used to be,” Evergreen Memorial Trust President Don Wilson said.

Those choosing to be buried at Forest Rest are given the option of natural, easily biodegradable caskets made of pine, wicker, or sea grass. There is even the option of using only a linen shroud.

Embalming is also optional. And when embalming is done, only natural and biodegradable embalming fluids may be used.

Grave markers are also small and unobtrusive. Cedar markers can be used as well as small stones with a person’s name and birth and death date etched on top.

Unlike most cemeteries, families are also encouraged to plant native trees as a memorial at the gravesite. This can help to give a more personal touch to a burial.

Wilson has been surprised by the interest in the natural cemetery since it was first introduced last year. He has noticed that many people are very receptive to the concept of a natural cemetery. Many people these days do not want the usual elaborate funeral.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls and inquiries since it was dedicated this past year,” Wilson said.
In addition to being a more environmentally friendly option, it is also a much cheaper option. The cost can be half of the normal burial costs that can be as much as $6,000, according to Wilson. Funeral home costs can also be reduced if no embalming is done.

Besides the cost, the look of Forest Rest Natural Cemetery is unlike any average cemetery. The natural cemetery is located on five acres of beautiful forest. The site is left mostly undisturbed except for the occasional marker where future graves will be placed.

Those buried at Forest Rest would seem to truly go back to nature. In a few months time, the only evidence that a grave is there is the simple grave marker.

Anyone interested in more information on Forest Rest Natural Cemetery can visit their website at ForestRestNaturalCemetery.com or contact them at 540-334-5410.

 

“New” burial tradition a return to the “Green” past

Boones Mill What’s old is new again. The rising trend for ecologically sensitive alternatives to traditional lifestyle choices is making inroads in end-of-life options. The idea of a “Green” burial is finding increasing interest among those seeking a more environmentally friendly way of final arrangements.

The ecological and financial benefits of a green burial will be presented at a meeting at Tharp Funeral Home in Bedford on May 20 in presentations by a funeral director and a natural cemetery family counselor. The program is free and open to the public.

Green burials eliminate chemical embalming and traditional caskets in preference to entirely bio-degradable body preparation and burial materials. Prior to America’s Civil War, and for much of the 19th century following the war, embalming was a rarity, if used at all, for family burials. The change from family arrangements to commercial ones in the late 1800s expanded, stimulating the development of private funeral homes, routine embalming, elaborate caskets and burial vaults.

Details on the differences of a green burial will be outlined by Funeral Director Marla Meek of Tharp Funeral Homes, and Family Service Counselor Sandra Ensor of ForestRestNaturalCemetery in Boones Mill. The joint presentation will take place from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Tharp’s location at 320 North Bridge Street in Bedford.

To reserve a place for the program, the public is invited to contact by email at bedfordoffice@TharpFuneralHome.com, or by phone at 540/586-3443 by Thursday, May 16.

Among the many casket options used for a green burial are a biodegradable wicker, seen here, or a linen shroud, plain wooden boxes, a favorite blanket or any other appropriate material.

Among the many options for a green burial are to wrap the deceased a linen shroud, seen here, encased in a wicker casket, in a plain wooden box, a favorite blanket or any other appropriate biodegradable material.

Forest Rest Natural Cemetery in Boones Mill is typical of the natural settings chosen for green burials. Markers, if used, are generally made of native stone, with simple engraving.

Forest Rest Natural Cemetery in Boones Mill is typical of the natural settings chosen for green burials. Markers, if used, are generally made of native stone, with simple engraving.

 

Forest Rest

Down a country road in Franklin County, a few miles outside Boones Mill, there is a neatly manicured cemetery, Mountain View Memorial Park.  The site occupies both sides of the road in this mostly agricultural landscape engagingly cupped by the verdant Blue Ridge Mountains.  Unnoticeable from the road, though, virtually hidden in a small forest at one side of the cemetery, is yet another cemetery.  No marble headstones, decorative bouquets, mausoleums or other distinguishing marks of a “traditional” burial site are visible. 

Welcome to Forest Rest Natural Cemetery, the only “green,” public burial ground available between Harrisonburg and Raleigh.

Forest Rest’s almost unique advantage is that it gives environmentally-conscious individuals the opportunity of returning to what was once the “traditional” family way to deal with the death of a loved one.  The rise of funeral homes/embalming was an outgrowth of the American Civil War.  This path evolved and grew in popularity through the latter half of the 1800s and into the early 1900s until embalming, vaults and funeral parlor arrangements became “the norm.”  (Wide use of the term “living room” arose after families no longer used the home “parlor” for viewing deceased relatives.)

Because of the multitude of regulations that still attend to the death of an individual, the services of a licensed undertaker continue to be recommended to assist a family through the various steps of preparing an individual for a natural burial.

Many advantages still accrue to those who wish to take the “green” path to their final resting place.  Since there is no chemical embalming, no vault, no expensive casket (options include a linen shroud or plain wooden box, both bio-degradeable) – all of which minimize a burial “footprint” on the environment – most of the major costs attendant to “traditional” funerals/burials are eliminated.  Another carbon-emission reducing step would be to opt for the grave site to be dug by hand.   Further, at Forest Rest and many other natural burial cemeteries, in order to sustain the natural setting, elaborate grave markers are shunned.  If families wish some site identification, these usually consist of stones natural to the grounds, with simple memorial sentiments etched into them.

While the natural burial option is still relatively rarely used, as the general population becomes more familiar with its existence and environmental and cost benefits, natural burials are expected to regain much of their former status as the choice for many individuals.