Planning a Green Funeral at Home

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Mildred, age 86, wanted a home funeral, just like her folks back in Iowa, so her children obliged. Mildred's decorated casket rode to the crematory in the family's camper van.
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Family and friends of Mari, age 45, who died of breast cancer, decorate her casket.
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Learn how to plan a green funeral at home for your loved one. Death midwife Jerri Lyons sits with Jasmine during her three-day wake.
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Our guest experts Dr. Billy and Kimberley Campbell

Learn how to plan a green funeral at home that provides a dignified passing and an earth-friendly burial for your loved one.

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Here’s how to ensure your final resting place is earth friendly and priced right.

A typical, no-frills funeral and burial in the United
States costs from $6,000 to $10,000, uses formaldehyde in
embalming, non degradable steel caskets and concrete vaults
placed shoulder to shoulder in established cemeteries.

Burial in a green or natural cemetery, on the other hand,
can cost half as touch, and embalming mortal caskets and
concrete burial vault’s are prohibited. Instead,
biodegradable caskets, usually made of wood or cardboard,
or burial shrouds of natural fibers are used. Green
cemetery graves are placed randomly throughout a woodland
or meadow, and marked only in natural ways, with the
planting of a tree or shrub, or the placement of a flat
indigenous stone, which may or may not be engraved. Burial
locations are mapped with a GIS (geographic information
system), so future generations can locate an ancestors
final resting place.

There are more than 200 green cemetery its in Great
Britain, and the idea is beginning to catch on here in
North America. Lisa Carlson is executive, director of the
Funeral Consumers Alliance in South Burlington, Vermont,
and author of Caring for the Dead, which
tackles the topic of funeral law state by state. She
reports embalming, expensive caskets anti concrete vaults
are: not required by law in any state. Bodies can be kept
cool until burial rather than being embalmed and cemeteries
require vaults only to prevent soil settling and facilitate
grass mowing.

The leader in the emerging green-cemetery business in this
country, Carlson says, are Dr. Billy and Kimberley Campbell
of Memorial Ecosystems, founded in 1996 in Westminster
South Carolina. Their idea is to Use green cemeteries to
preserve open space. You can be buried at the Campbells
first green cemetery, Ramsey Creek Preserve, in
Westminster, and visitors can walk on trails through 32
acres of mixed Woodlands and open fields there.

In Florida, a green cemetery called Glendale Memorial
Preserve is being established to save a 350-acre family
farm from development. And groups in several other states,
inducting Colorado, California, New York, Washington and
Wisconsin, have efforts under way to established green
cemeteries that center on land preservation. In Canada, the
Memorial Society of British Columbia also has a formally
funded green-burial initiative under way.

The first burial at Ramsey Creek Preserve occurred in the
fall of 1998; to date, 17 more have taken place. Another 50
persons have purchased sites. A casket burial there costs
about $2,500. Burial of cremated remains is only $500;
scattering of cremated remains is $250. Stone grave markers
and engraving are optional; the stones are $25; engraving
ranges from $125 to $300. Caskets are not included. (For
instructions on building your own casket, see Learn How to Build a Handmade Casket.)

Dr. Campbell says people seem to want to be buried there
because of the site’s natural beauty, the lower cost and
the land preservation effort. Bodies usually arrive for
burial at Ramsey Creek Preserve via a local, independent
funeral home, whose owner has agreed to hold them under
refrigeration until delivery to the preserve. The nature of
any graveside ceremony is determined by the families.
“Whatever spiritual bent you bring to the preserve, our
natural landscape is very healing,” Kimberley Campbell
says. “What we do is very simple, but there is something
very, very special about the simplicity of it.”

Sherrill Hughes buried her husband, Roland, at Ramsey Creek
Preserve. She says she knows without a doubt that was what
he would have wanted. His body was placed in a simple pine
box — a preference he had expressed — and buried
under a dogwood tree; her grave site is right next to his,
and she says her children all want to be buried there, too.
“Roland’s funeral was so personal. In most funerals there’s
no emotion, but at Ramsey Creek, you can do what you want.”
She played his favorite songs, Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always
Love You” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her
Today” — and placed the first spade full of dirt in his

Following her lead; their children shoveled too, “and
before we knew it, the boys-my two sons-in- and nephew –
had nearly finished tilling in the grave.”

Hughes, who lives in Atlanta, says she wouldn’t describe
herself or her husband as environmentalists. Rather. they
always just tried to take care of what God had given them,
“and that included the Earth.” She plans to move to the
Westminster area soon, where most of her family already
lives, and she plans on building her own casket and helping
out as a volunteer at the preserve.

Dr. Campbell says folks buried there so far fit a range of
descriptions, and the majority are not
environmentalists — which is exciting to him. Going
through a green burial process helps people get beyond the
“nature as wallpaper” mentality, he explains. The only
medical doctor in Westminster, he has a longtime interest
in the environment (in 1986, he helped found the South
Carolina Forest Watch, a group that monitors the well-being
of the state’s forests) and he has been dealing with death
since his medical school days; his wife thinks it’s a
reassuring combination to their patrons. She also says
Atlanta’s suburban sprawl is fast encroaching on their
area, so they feel a sense of urgency.

Dr. Campbell says, “My idea is that we need to link land
conservation with ritual and with people in a very
fundamental way. When the economy is not quite what it
should be, money is a problem (for groups dedicated to land
preservation), but if Mamma and Grandmamma are buried some
place, you might look at it differently.”

Establishing the preserve seemed simple, but it proved a
daunting task, according to Kimberley Campbell. In 1992,
the state cemetery board was legislatively disbanded; as a
consequence, determining which authorities to contact about
the project proved a challenge.

To help build the site’s status as a nature preserve, an
inventory of plants has been taken, and Dr. Campbell says a
“site appropriate” native plant — the smooth-leafed
coneflower (Echinacea laevigata) — is being planted
on some of the grave sites to take advantage of the
disturbed soil. Tripartite violets and the crested coral
root, uncommon native plants, also have been found.

A visitor’s center, staffed by Kimberley’s parents, sits
near the entrance, and an old chapel has been moved onto
the grounds to be restored for use by people of all faiths.
Life histories of those buried at the site will be archived

The Campbells also have provided assistance to others
interested in following their example. Dr. Campbell says he
is willing to work with any entity with large land holdings
that might want to set up a similar preserve — complete
with ethical oversights in both financial and environmental
areas. “We’re building a socially responsible for-profit
business,” he says of Memorial Ecosystems.

Of the other green burial initiatives under way in the
United States, the closest to being operational is the
Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve near Glendale, Florida.
It is owned by brothers John and Bill Wilkerson, and now
can accept burials but not yet legally charge for them.
John, the family’s spokesperson, says that’s because he and
his brother still are negotiating with the state of Florida
over a $5,000 nonrefundable cemetery application fee, plus
a $50,000 trust fund required to ensure maintenance of the
nature preserve but which duplicates a fund to be
established under Memorial Ecosystems guidelines. Until an
agreement is reached, in lieu of a formal burial fee,
donations were being accepted; as of early 2003, no burials
had taken place.

The Glendale preserve was established, John says, because
he and his brother took their father seriously when he
said, “Boys, this is a beautiful piece of property. It
would be a shame to turn it into a mobile-home park.” The
entire 350-acre farm, where the elder Wilkerson grew
peanuts, corn and soybeans, and his sons now grow chufa, a
specialty wildlife seed crop, will be the preserve.

In addition to providing grave sites, the Wikersons make
simple coffins from native woods, using an on-farm sawmill,
and have gathered a selection of flat indigenous stones,
which a local stonemason has agreed to engrave.

John says he and Bill handled their own parents’ burials,
including making the coffins — pine for Dad; poplar for
Mom — and digging the graves. Their father died in 1996
and their mother, who wanted her funeral and burial to be a
simple affair, “and never missed a chance to remind us of
that,” died in 2000. The couple is buried in a little
church cemetery that lies adjacent to the farm, on land
they donated earlier to the church. Digging those graves
was “a very powerful thing to do,” John says. “It really
facilitated the grieving process.”

Dr. Campbell, who is on the Glendale Preserve’s board of
directors but not involved financially in the project, has
attended meetings between the Wilkersons and Florida state
officials to help explain the memorial preserve idea. He
says he thinks Florida’s financial requirements are
“oppressive” and notes an Ohio group also trying to
establish a memorial preserve is dealing with a similar
situation. Such fees are designed to help ensure “perpetual
care” for grave sites in a new cemetery, says Carlson,
but in a green cemetery, traditional maintenance practices,
like large scale lawn mowing, do not occur.

The rules at both Ramsey Creek and Glendale Preserves are
simple: No embalming, no casket unless it is biodegradable,
no vault and no stone that that can be pushed over.
Kimberley Campbell says they advocate natural burial as the
best choice and cremation as the second best because
cremation uses energy and re leases toxins into the
environment. Natural burial really isn’t a new idea, she
adds. “It’s thousands of years old, and the reason is, its
a very natural effective way to dispose of a person’s
remains. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to visit a loved
one’s grave site along a beautiful prairie trail, in a
towering England forest or other quiet place of natural

Read more about building a casket: Learn How to Build a Handmade Casket.

Funeral Statistics: Each year in the U.S. we bury:

• 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid, which includes formaldehyde
• 180,544,000 pounds of steel, in caskets
• 5,400,000 pounds of copper and bronze, in caskets
• 30 million board feet of hardwoods, including tropical woods, in caskets
• 3,272,000,000 pounds of reinforced concrete in vaults
• 28,000,000 pounds of steel in vaults

Statistics compiled by Mary Woodsen, vice president of
the Pre-Posthumous Society of Ithaca, New York, and a
science writer at Comell University.

Join the Green Funeral Experts Online

Learn more about green burials and home funerals, and chat
with guest experts Dr. Billy and Kimberley Campbell, Lisa Carlson, John Wilkerson, Mary Woodsen and
Jerri Lyons on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website at

For More Green Funeral Information

Funeral Consumers Alliance
Lisa Carlson
South Burlington, VT

Final Passages
Jerri Lyons
Sebastopol, CA

Memorial Ecosystems, Inc. and Ramsey Creek

Dr. Billy and Kimberley Campbell
Westminster, SC

Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve
John and Bill Wilkerson
DeFuniak Springs, FL

The North American Woodland Burial

An information exchange:

The Memorial Society of British

Vancouver, British Columbia V6J 1Y6

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368