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Returning to the earth

‘Green’ cemeteries offer a natural alternative to traditional burials
Saturday, July 19, 2008 | 6:41 p.m. CDT; updated 4:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Sugar Creek Cemetery sits across the street from Green Acres, a planned green cemetery west of Columbia off Route UU.

The first green cemetery in Missouri is being developed west of Columbia by Bill Goddard and Chuck Worstell to offer cheaper burials and an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burials.

Green Acres will follow burial criteria established by the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization based in Sante Fe, N.M. These include no embalming, no vaults and a requirement that the body be buried directly into the ground in a biodegradable and nontoxic shroud or coffin.

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By the numbers “Dying to be Green,” a National Geographic article in July, reported that each year in the U.S.: — More than 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are used, more than enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool. — 90,000 tons of steel — more than was used to build the Golden Gate Bridge — goes into caskets. — 1.6 million tons of concrete are used for burial vaults. — 30 million board feet of wood are used to make caskets. Pushing Up Daisies — Pushing Up Daisies plans to build Columbia’s first pet cemetery. — Burial spaces start at $75 for a cat or small dog, $145 for a 3-foot-by-2-foot space and $195 for a larger space. Internment costs start at $55 and run to $125 for a graveside burial. Pushing Up Daisies also offers a removal service from home or a veterinary clinic for $50. — Chuck Worstell, co-founder of Pushing Up Daisies, said the service is designed to appeal especially to people who live in apartments or who don’t have access to a suitable area to bury a pet. — The International Association of Pet Cemeteries, based in New York, reports that there are more than 600 active pet cemeteries in the United States. New York is home to the oldest operating pet cemetery, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, founded in 1896, and the biggest, Bideawee, which has more than 5,000 graves, according to the association.

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Cemeteries often require a coffin, embalmment and a vault even though they’re not required by state law.

Goddard said two types of people will be interested in his business model: Those who see green burials as the ultimate way of returning to a natural state, and people who can’t afford burials with coffins and vaults or think that spending thousands of dollars on a funeral is too much.

“Imagine buying a brand new car. You spend thousands of dollars, buy the nicest one in the lot, look at it for three days and then bury it,” said Goddard, a former Chevrolet dealer and family service counselor for Memorial Park Funeral Home. “Cemeteries try to equate how much you love someone by how much you spend on them.”

Through Goddard and Worstell’s cemetery business, Pushing Up Daisies, a person can be buried for a minimum of $1,185. Burial plots at Green Acres start at $585 and run to $1,985, depending on the location. The opening and closing fee is $600 for graves and $200 for cremations on weekdays with an additional $200 on Saturdays.

The Green Burial Council estimates that the funeral business in the U.S. totals $15 billion a year.

Green burials, also known as natural burials, are increasing in popularity. But they are not new. They were once common in the United States and are practiced by Muslims and those of other religious faiths in many countries throughout the world. There are already more than 200 green cemeteries in England, and the trend is gaining traction in the U.S. Some were introduced to the idea by the television show “Six Feet Under” when Nate Fisher was buried in a shroud at a grave site in the woods.

In a survey of 1,087 people 50 years and older issued in November by AARP, 21 percent expressed interest in a green burial. When American Cemetery conducted a survey in June of about 400 people 50 years and older, 57 percent said they would consider a green burial.

olumbia Cemetery has offered natural burials for more than 100 years. Tanja Patton, superintendent of Columbia Cemetery, said most natural burials have been conducted for economic or religious purposes. The cemetery doesn’t have plans to start advertising this type of burial, she said.

Green and traditional plots cost the same at Columbia Cemetery, though the price depends on the location of the grave. The cheapest plan possible for one burial plot with opening and closing fees is $1,850.

Bruce Rice, owner of Parker Funeral Service, said his funeral home offers burial preparation without embalmment and a casket. “If people want to do it, we’ll do whatever people want us to do,” he said.

Clay Vogl, funeral director and embalmer at Parker Funeral Service, estimated the price for a green burial at $5,000 with services; Rice said it could be done without services for a minimum of $2,500.

Memorial Park Cemetery requires a vault and that a person be buried in a casket; Nilson Funeral Home and Warren Funeral Chapel don’t conduct natural burials.

While Pushing Up Daisies continues to wait for its first customer, Goddard said he’s prepared to put his burial service into practice.

In the meantime, Goddard continues to design his new cemetery, located on South Hickory Grove School Road off of Route UU, and hopes that work will be completed in September or October.

Goddard plans to selectively cut down trees to clear space for graves and pathways. Trees, plants and flowers that are designated by the Missouri Native Plant Society as native will be grown without the use of herbicides or pesticides, he said. For each plot sold, a tree will be planted.

“We want the land to look like it did when Lewis and Clark walked across the state,” Goddard said.

For grave markers, native stone with a maximum size of 400 square inches can be carved to be situated at ground level. Other plans include building a split-rail fence made from native wood, gravel parking, a gazebo with a plant garden to scatter ashes from cremations and a boulder to engrave the names of those cremated.

Pushing Up Daisies will also conduct traditional funerals in Sugar Creek Cemetery, which holds graves dating to the beginning of the 18th century. On the opposite side of the road is the 4-acre site for Green Acres. It contains one acre of an old slave cemetery, which will be preserved.

GPS and a satellite mapping system will be used to track plots. Any natural markers the family chooses may be used.

Joe Sehee, founder and executive director of the Green Burial Council, has been traveling throughout the U.S. recruiting and certifying green cemeteries and green funeral service providers. Individuals who inquire to the council are usually in their 40s, 50s and 60s, Sehee said, pointing to the future of the industry.

“This is not a blue state, red state thing,” Sehee said. “It has appeal among religious traditionalists as it does with the eco-conscious set. A lot of Americans don’t see the value in a burial vault, but they do see the value in having their last act help heal the planet.”

tates with cemeteries certified by the Green Burial Council are New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Ohio and New Jersey. States with cemeteries in the process of being certified include Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and Texas, Sehee said. The closest one to Columbia that is in the process of gaining certification is Oak Hills Cemetery in Lawrence, Kan.

Goddard hopes to be certified by the council and has spoken with Sehee, who said that as long as Green Acres is following the council’s criteria and shows a commitment to being a green cemetery, certification shouldn’t be a problem. Sehee said certification shows customers a promise of eco-friendliness and security concerning the cemetery’s stability.

Pushing Up Daises was licensed in June by Missouri’s Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries to provide non-endowed care on the eight acres of land. A non-endowed cemetery is a cemetery or a section of a cemetery for which no maintenance care fund has been established in accordance with state law.

State regulations allow a funeral home to offer green burials as long as the funeral director or cemetery is licensed.

“Any individual can choose to bury their loved one as they choose as long as it abides by local health codes,” said Emily Kampeter, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration.

While the traditional burials at Sugar Creek will be for-profit, Green Acres is going to be a nonprofit cemetery with funds donated to the Foundation for the Higher Good, an organization founded by Worstell that he said raises money for a milk program, classes that teach livestock raising and the delivery of food and medicine in lesser-developed countries.

The process began more than three months ago. When he worked as sales manager for Energy Solutions, owned by Worstell, Goddard realized the company needed another product to sell. After Googling the word “green” and finding green burial in the results list, he began researching the topic. He liked the idea because he said that working for Memorial Park Funeral Home made him realize that funerals could be less expensive.

Worstell liked the idea, too.

“You can live green; now you can even die green,” he said. “And for those who do not want to leave a big footprint on Mother Earth, this is the best and most economical way to go.”

Goddard has made presentations that include the Rocheport City Council and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce as well as to hospices and pastors in Columbia, Rocheport, Fayette, Sturgeon and Mount Pleasant. He said that he hadn’t talked to someone who didn’t think it was a great idea.

“This is not something I expect everyone to run out and do,” Goddard said. “But it is something everyone should know about.”

More online

Green Acres Cemetery:

Mo-greenburial.com

greenburialcouncil.org

Biodegradable caskets and urns:

Oregonwoodcaskets.com

Kentcasket.com

Earthurn.com

Green cemeteries with Web sites:

naturalburial.org

foreverfernwood.com

ethicianfamilycemetery.org

glendalenaturepreserve.org

memorialecosystems.com


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Comments

Mike Salisbury January 12, 2009 | 3:39 p.m.

Natural Burial Around the World

The modern concept of natural burial began in the UK in 1993 and has since spread across the globe. According the Centre for Natural Burial, http://naturalburial.coop there are now several hundred natural burial grounds in the United Kingdom and half a dozen sites across the USA, with others planned in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and even China.

A natural burial allows you to use your funeral as a conservation tool to create, restore and protect urban green spaces.

The Centre for Natural Burial provides comprehensive resources supporting the development of natural burial and detailed information about natural burial sites around the world. With the Natural Burial Co-operative newsletter you can stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the rapidly growing trend of natural burial including, announcements of new and proposed natural burial sites, book reviews, interviews, stories and feature articles.

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