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STATUS REPORT: BILL H.3 HAS PASSED!!! The Governor has signed the bill and it is now known as Act 19. The law will go into effect July 1st. Watch this space for news of the future of green burial in Vermont. Thank you ALL for your interest and support.

This is a website for those interested in learning more about green burial in Vermont. Scroll down to see information about a new bill that impacts green burial and find out what is happening with starting a conservation cemetery in Vermont. On our blog you can find entries about how to support changing the required minimum burial depth in Vermont to at least 3.5 feet, our community education event schedule, facts and resources about green burial and the Vermont law, and how to hold an event in your community- please check it out!

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“Bill H.3: An Act Relating to Burial Depth”

A bill is currently being weighed in the State Senate that would change the required minimum burial depth from “at least 5 feet deep” to “at least 3.5 feet deep.” Vermont is one of only two states to have a required minimum burial depth at all. Please help this bill pass so that the most eco-conscious form of green burial is an option in Vermont.  Over 150 cemeteries in 29 states have green burial cemeteries- it’s time for Vermont to join them.

Why is burial depth important to green burial?

Proponents of green burial believe that burial should minimize the negative impact to the environment while maximizing the positive impact to the environment.

Our current conventional burial practices include embalming, caskets made of rare wood, graves lined with concrete vaults, and cemeteries maintained with regular mowing. All of this releases toxic chemicals into the soil while at the same time cutting the body off from the natural process of decomposition.

Many cemeteries in Vermont do allow for burial without embalming (which is never required by Vermont State law), in natural, biodegradable containers, in unlined graves. Some are even trying to cut back on the use of pesticides. All of this goes a long way towards minimizing the negative impact burial can have on the environment.

In order to maximize the positive impact to the environment we must change the burial depth. By decreasing the required minimum burial depth to 3.5 feet the body is placed in the active layers of the soil, where the combination of oxygen, heat, insects, and microbial activity quickly break the body down into its composite elements. Those elements are then  efficiently taken up by the soil and used to nurture the surrounding environment.

Green burial can take place in a special section of a municipal or church cemetery, called hybrid cemeteries, or on a designated piece of land managed by a non-profit called a conservation cemetery. In either case ecological sound land management practices, such as reduced mowing and no pesticides, are the goal.

What does green burial look like? Well in a municipal cemetery it might look like a pollinator meadow- an area that, instead of being mowed, is planted with wildflowers. A conservation cemetery in Vermont will most likely look like a forest. The graves are interspersed with the trees so as to not disturb the ecosystem of the forest. The natural process of decomposition protects and improves the forest environment.

Vermont Conservation Burial

 

Introduction

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature and its beauty.”      Thich Nhat Hanh

When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

Quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh,  Buddhist  monk, teacher, and peace activist, and from John Muir,  naturalist, environmental philosopher, and writer seem an apt way to introduce the topic of Conservation Burial Grounds.   These amazing and transformative places inspire us poetically, artistically, and spiritually as much as they awaken our curiosity about science and our social norms.

A Bit of History

Conservation Burial Grounds are not just green cemeteries, though they are that.  In fact, they are as much about new life and rebirth as they are about end of life and interment.  These natural preserves are beautiful places.  At Ramsey Creek Preserve, the first Conservation Burial Ground in the US, people often choose to have new baby celebrations, weddings, and other joyous events at the preserve.  They are also places for quiet, contemplative remembrance and cathartically grieving and honoring the loss of those we love.

 

 

 

Photos from Ramsey Creek Preserve and Greensprings Natural Burial Ground: http://www.memorialecosystems.com/ and http://www.naturalburial.org/

 

In founding Ramsey Creek Preserve, Billy and Kimberly Campbell really energized a movement whose time had come.  Soon the green burial movement was gaining traction in the U.S.  It quickly became apparent that a set of standards that could describe what a ‘green burial’ is, and could differentiate between facilities that provide them, and those that don’t, was critical.   The possibility for ‘green washing’ loomed large.   Joe and Juliette Sehee, with input from the Cambells and others, formed The Green Burial Council (GBC).

Per their website, GBC  is an independent, nonprofit organization (501(c)(6) working to encourage environmentally sustainable death care and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas. The Green Burial Council established standards for funeral homes and cemeteries willing to offer eco-friendly death-care, as well as for manufacturers of green burial products and supplies.

Definitions

The Green Burial Council recognizes three distinct forms of green cemeteries, or burial grounds, and has established standards and a framework of best management practices (BMPs) for each.  The three categories are as follows:

Hybrid Burial Grounds: are conventional cemeteries offering the option for burial without the need for a vault (partial, inverted or otherwise), a vault lid, concrete box, slab or partitioned liner. Hybrid Burial Grounds shall not require the embalming of decedents and must allow for any kind of eco-friendly burial containers including shrouds.

Natural Burial Grounds: require the adoption of practices/protocols that are energy-conserving, minimize waste, and do not require the use of toxic chemicals. A Natural Burial Ground achieves GBC certification by prohibiting the use of vaults (partial, inverted or otherwise), vault lids, concrete boxes, slabs or partitioned liners, and by prohibiting the burial of decedents embalmed with toxic chemicals, as well as by banning burial containers not made from natural/plant derived materials. It must have in place a program of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and be designed, operated and maintained to produce a naturalistic appearance, based on use of plants and materials native to the region, and patterns of landscape derived from and compatible with regional ecosystems.

Conservation Burial Grounds: in addition to meeting all the requirements for a Natural Burial Ground, must further legitimate land conservation. It must protect in perpetuity an area of land specifically and exclusively designated for conservation. A Conservation Burial Ground must involve an established conservation organization that holds a conservation easement or has in place a deed restriction guaranteeing long-term stewardship.

Taken from GBC’s website:  http://greenburialcouncil.org/

More About Conservation Burial Grounds

Conservation Burial Grounds may be the preeminent example of green cemeteries, but they are by no means the most common.  These are exemplary landscapes, beautiful places that have high ecological value.  They are either large enough parcels to be considered landscape scale on their own, or they are contiguous with other tracts of conserved land.   Third party oversight, via a Land Trust or other conservation group ensures protection in perpetuity, through the sale of development rights and easements.

Often these preserves are landscape mosaics, comprised of multiple natural communities and cover types.  There may be mature second growth forest, regenerating forest, open field and meadow, scrub-shrub old field, and other cover types/habitats.   Burials may occur in any of these locations where soil type, depth to bedrock, and hydrology are favorable to interments.

In a conservation burial ground, only some of the available land is used for burial.  Proceeds from the sale of interment plots are used to protect and conserve the balance of the preserve.  Juxtaposed with other conserved lands, these preserves can play an integral role in conservation, perhaps providing connectivity between conserved lands, or increasing the amount and diversity of local conservation parcels.

 

 

Photos from naturalendings.co.uk & arborytrust.org

 

By the way, both conservation burial grounds and natural burial grounds might include working lands where hay is cut, maple syrup produced, and/or timber is selectively harvested.   The land might be managed to promote wildlife habitat, such as pollinator meadows, fields for grassland birds, early successional habitat for eastern cottontail rabbits, grouse and woodcock, etc.   This varies from preserve to preserve, and is customized for each unique landscape.

Why Vermont?

Vermont has long been a leader in the fields of conservation and environmental protection.  We’ve also led the country in areas of transformative social change.  Vermonters are passionate about the land we live on and love, and about maintaining a holistic and sustainable social network.  So it’s surprising that we are behind the curve on creating and offering viable green burial options for our people.

Traveling around Vermont and disseminating information about the topic, it’s clear that many Vermonters want a green burial option.  Quite likely the first publically available option may be in the form of hybrid cemeteries.  (Green burials have always been possible for private citizens creating burial plots on their own land, though the minimum burial depth of 5 feet has diminished its effectiveness).  A few cemetery operators around the state are beginning to research how they can provide green burials in a section of their cemeteries.

 Where?

Currently Calais Cemetery Commission has supported bill H.3, and wants to expand their cemetery to provide a green burial section.

Conservation Burial Grounds are also in the works.  These preserves are more complicated to start, as they require the creation of entirely new burial grounds.  This involves both logistic and funding challenges that will take time to work through.   For this reason, hybrid cemeteries that are already existing, permitted, and funded may come ‘online’ before conservation burial grounds.

If you’d like to know the status of the Conservation Burial Ground efforts, are interested in supporting the creation of a Vermont Conservation Burial Preserve either financially, or with donated services, please contact us at  Carl Anderson here, or Michelle Acciavatti here, or on this site here vermontgreenburial@gmail.com.