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Friday, May 23, 2008

Seeking Eternal, Green Repose in Redwood Country

If you've got a piece of land in northern California that you'd like to donate to a good cause, Georgianna Wood wants to talk to you.

Georgianna is an environmental activist, administrator, and green burial enthusiast in Arcata who's spearheading an effort to site the first natural cemetery somewhere in this coastal redwood country. And what she needs most, at this point, is land.

Goodwill she's got, in spades. Local enthusiasm for dust-to-dust return is high here, which is not surprising, given Arcata's natural green leanings. This is the town, after all, that treats its waste water via marshland and elects Green Party candidates to city council. Environmental organizations flourish and are bullish on protecting area wilds, some of them redwood forests, from development and logging.

Even the regional officials Georgianna has spoken to about the green cemetery have been supportive of the concept. The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Humboldt, an active pro-consumer organization, has offered its support, as well. And the environs of northern California, with their rugged, bucolic lands hugging the coastline, couldn't be more inviting for that final rest.

Still, as Georgianna is finding, getting a green cemetery off -- and in -- the ground is no easy feat. There's no single template for getting it built, no one-size-fits all model to work from. The forces behind every existing natural cemetery have had to research their own state and local cemetery laws, navigate their individual bureaucratic channels, and, as Jim Wood and Beth Collins discovered in their struggle to launch Summerland Natural Cemetery in central Georgia (as we saw in last week’s blog post), deal with the neighbors. Among other challenges.

Georgianna's efforts are, thus, local in nature. But they're also instructive to those looking to start a natural cemetery in their own backyards. Here's what she has done and is doing in northern California:

• Forming a team. After investigating cemetery laws and requirements on her own, Georgiana enlisted the help of a former publisher (and kayaking enthusiast) to shoulder the load.

• Seeking alliances. She has contacted local land trusts and conservation/environmental organizations, and reached out to the FCA of Humboldt. These organizations could offer funding, (wo)man power, and services. Their members are also those mostly likely to put a green cemetery to good use, for themselves or family members.

• Meeting with the State Cemetery and Funeral Board. To see if any green cemetery she starts would need to be licensed and, if so, how arrangements to do that need to be made.

• Scouting out land. Georgianna would prefer to partner with a land-owner rather than purchase land herself (for cost reasons, mostly). One of the options she's looking into involves approaching state park officials to talk about the feasibility of establishing a green cemetery on state land. That approach is compelling, offering a win-win, for the state (which would gain a unique funding mechanism: the fees from burials) and locals (who could find final rest in local lands).

That said, Georianna would be happy to hear from anyone in northern California who has land and is looking to preserve it. She's got just the plan for it.

Contact Georgianna at:

In an upcoming blog, we'll look at how other would-be cemetery builders are hiring outside green burial experts to help them get it done.

The photo above of a redwood forest just north of Arcata I took during my visit with FCA Humboldt last month.

Mark Harris, author
Grave Matters (

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