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Monday, September 28, 2009

Green Burial Coming Out Big in October

October of 2009 is shaping up to be the month that may very well prove, once and for all, that green burial is not only here to stay but coming, sooner than later, to a Main Street Funeral Home nearest you.

Consider these upcoming conferences.

First: the home funeral advocates at Natural Transitions will host a national gathering of green and home funeral advocates in Boulder, Colorado, this weekend (October 3 – 4). The Boulder-based non-profit convened the first ever green burial conference last year, a lively and inspiring event at which I joined Joe Sehee (of the Green Burial Council) in showcasing the movement to date.

This year's conference promises to be an even stronger and more spirited engagement with a movement that has clearly found its legs. Since then, the natural cemeteries I profiled in my presentation have more than doubled in number and the half page of home funeral providers listed in the hardcover issue of Grave Matters now runs to five full pages in the newer paperback -- and continues to grow.

Billy and Kimberley Campbell will keynote the Saturday session. The Campbells jumpstarted the green burial movement in this country when they opened the woodland cemetery at Ramsey Creek Preserve. A decade-plus later, Ramsey Creek continues to define the highest standard of conservation burial. If you're interested in learning more about green burial and, more particularly, about how to grow a natural cemetery from the ground up (and do it right), you'll get that and more from the best -- and wittiest -- in the business.

Another pioneer in home funerals, Beth Knox, will share her observations on this growing trend (which was featured recently on page one of the New York Times). Beth's the founder of the home funeral advocacy, Crossings, and as much as anyone has helped re-introduce the idea to an American public that once pursued it as a matter of course.

Rounding out the weekend are presentations on legal open-air cremations, serving Native American populations, creating meaningful end of life rituals, and working from within the existing funeral industry to bring green burial to families.

For more information and a complete schedule, click here.

The mainstream funeral industry was late to embrace cremation. The National Funeral Directors Association is not about to let natural burial slip from its grasp so easily. That this group of nearly 20,000 funeral professionals is jumping on the green funeral bandwagon is clear from a quick read of these workshop titles from the group's annual meeting in Boston at month's end (October 25 -28):

It Isn't Easy Being Green. A Green Funeral Home Isn't Just About Burial. Does Formaldehyde Cause Cancer? And then there are two others that look at more eco-friendly products and strategies, including AARDBalm (a formaldehyde-free alternative to embalming fluids) and resomation (a burn- and thus smokeless alternative to cremation).

That second presentation on the green funeral home will showcase one of the most earth-friendly businesses in the entire funeral trade: Prout Funeral Home, in Verona, New Jersey. Last year in this blog I profiled owner/operator Bob Prout, who will lead the discussion. As much as anyone in the trade, Bob's pursing the best in good, green practices and encouraging his colleagues to follow in his footsteps.

For more information on the NFDA conference, click here.

Finally, if you're going to be in southern New Jersey the third weekend of October (17 - 18), stop in at the Steelmantown Cemetery in Marshallville. The cemetery crew will offer tours and an open house of the small, historic site, which is surrounded by hundreds of wooded acres. Certified by the Green Burial Council, Steelmantown shows just how an existing cemetery can offer a natural return to the elements within its existing grounds.

Mark Harris
Author, Grave Matters (

Note on the photo above: This is the historic Caswell Cemetery on Star Island, New Hampshire, where I spoke about green burial at a week-long family conference this summer.

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Grave Matters

Facebook page for the book on green burial, Grave Matters, with updates on the growing movement.