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Green Family Cemetery  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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My new project is to create a Green Family Burial Ground on our land.  Texas is very open to the concept of family cemeteries.  http://www.txca.us/Resources/Documents/ESTABLISHING%20A%20FAMILY%20CEMETERY.pdf

I used to think I wanted to be cremated, but I have since learned that is a very resource-intensive method of body disposal and that Green Burial is the least damaging and simplest of choices.  So my goal is to establish a Family Cemetery on our 20 acres and prepare to bury myself, possibly my husband, and any other family members who wish to be interred there.

I have found this website to be incredibly helpful:  http://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/about ; (beware - some graphic corpse imagery in many of the videos)

I will update this thread as this project progresses.

 
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I will watch this thread with interest. I know my mother is very unhappy with most of the burial practices in this country. She would like to be buried in a deep hole under a tree to become part of the soil. I'm lucky enough to be in good health, so if I die before I wear my body out I hope my spare parts will be of use to someone else. I don't care what they do with the excess.
 
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Thank you, Tyler for sharing this.

This is something I need to look into also.
 
pollinator
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Family burial plots in Maine are actually pretty simple to set up here in Maine.

As for burial, my father has a casket and urn company and makes "green" versions of them, the lumber all coming off our land here. He also makes standard versions as well as Jewish versions which have no metal hardware. The dimensions have to be just so on the caskets because by law a person has to be placed into a concrete vault due to disease containment, but such is life. If the size is off, they just won't fit and the cement vault is pretty darn confining. There is like a half inch on each side of casket/vault which is just enough to slide out the web strappings at internment. Urns are not as critical, but there is a standard box the ashes go in and the average body is made up of 17 cups in volume.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Travis Johnson wrote: by law a person has to be placed into a concrete vault due to disease containment



Such laws are unusual.  There is no significant danger from disease posed by a corpse.  Concrete vaults are used over caskets to prevent soil subsidence, and this is usually a cemetery rule, not an actual law.  

Ask a Mortician- Are Dead Bodies Dangerous?   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw7bsNKsABQ

Caskets and vaults aren't used in green burials.  The body is placed in a shroud or a woven basket and buried relatively shallowly to facilitate rapid decomposition.

Ask a Mortician- Traditional v. Natural Burial   


                      -   ECO-DEATH TAKEOVER: Changing the Funeral Industry  
 
pollinator
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I don't think there's anything specifically not green about being buried in a box, as long as that box itself is sustainably made.

I would personally want the casket inoculated with relevant fungal spore, and I have been toying for a while about burial garments containing seed of different kinds.

I think that the concrete vault thing is a real downer.

One approach that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is encouraged natural decomposition by insects. I must admit that this is the option that appeals least to me on an aesthetic level, basically a bioreactor of decompositional macrobiota into which a body is placed. I don't know why it gives me the existential willies, as it's just an accelerated version of what happens when a body is buried within the biologically active layers of soil, but I figured I would bring it up.

Hell, a really permie approach would be to do the bioreactor approach, or the shallow natural burial approach, and have chickens penned in a toroidal paddock with the decomposing body in the doughnut hole under a layer of healthy soil. Bugs eat body, chickens eat bugs, humans eat eggs and eventually chickens too. Or, for those to whom reincarnation appeals, what about the idea of having a rooster and a bunch of broody hens in the doughnut paddock, with all of the eggs laid being fertilised by the rooster and raised for eggs or meat?

If I were truly concerned about the pathogenicity of dead bodies, I would personally favour the bioreactor or shallow living soil grave over concrete entombment. I mean, it probably gets the job done, but cycling biomass through the digestive tracts of multiple unrelated species in a soil environment without room in the soil biome for pathogens to take hold sounds like a more certain path than sequestering everything away where it's of no use to anyone.

I am glad people are talking about this subject in a permacultural context. I think modern burial processes, that basically turn bodies into subterranean soap cakes, are one of the great wastes of the day. I don't think for a minute that reverence for the remains of the deceased should be lessened, but I think that I prefer the idea of living monuments in the form of trees and living plants, and the cycling of nutrient and mineral resources into the soil and the environment.

-CK
 
Tyler Ludens
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Chris Kott wrote:I don't think there's anything specifically not green about being buried in a box, as long as that box itself is sustainably made.



The main idea behind the shroud or basket is to speed decomposition.  Any kind of container will slow decomposition, so if the family is ok with placing a naked body into a hole, that would speed things up.

Composting!  
 
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Chris Kott wrote:

chickens penned in a toroidal paddock with the decomposing body in the doughnut hole under a layer of healthy soil. Bugs eat body, chickens eat bugs, humans eat eggs and eventually chickens too. 



It would be safer to have an extra animal in the sequence Chris has outlined. When I looked at Black Soldier Fly decomposition, it was clear that larvae that ate chicken should not be fed back to chickens, but could be fed to fish. Human to bug to chicken to human might be a large enough gap, but there are definitely diseases that can be carried forward.

Two of the reasons why humans are buried as deeply as they are is 1) to stop the local scavengers from digging the body back up (dogs, raccoon, rats etc) and 2) for control of the odor. Decomposition of animals has a *very* distinctive aroma!

I will watch some of those videos as soon as I have time, because I really don't want my final donation to the planet to involve fossil fuels or poisonous chemicals. I don't see any reason we can't be composted responsibly, but I've had to plant many elderly laying hens in my time and bodies are a high nitrogen, high fat source that benefits from being balanced by high carbon in the planting hole. The earlier comment about saponification (the fat turns into a soap-like substance) is something I've encountered when too much moisture is present and too low a temp (think winter on the wet coast). I think some sort of an insect-based decomposition is the way to go - it's definitely fast and bugs are better able to deal with the natural fats than most "composting" microbes and it's not as if there aren't plenty of composting microbes that would still be hanging around. The human "ick" factor may stop some from participating, but that shouldn't stop those of us who recognize that microbes are just as much a living creature as an insect - our remains are being eaten, that's what decomposition is all about, it's just the size of the "eater" that differs!

The part of the body that takes the longest to decompose (judging again from chickens) are the bones. This is why there are ancient collections of human bones (ossuary - https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/sedlec-ossuary). Consider that if human bones are left without a permanently marked location, they could create confusion/expense if accidentally dug up 100 years from now and the police have to investigate. There are reasons that humans developed rules around the disposition of dead bodies - identification, involvement of "foul play", and disease containment are all factors. That said, too many bodies for the available space has existed at least since Roman times, so coming up with better options at a time when there are more humans than ever makes sense, and doing so in an environmentally beneficial way is ideal.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's more detailed information about green burial best practices:  http://greenburialcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/OpeningClosingandMaintenanceFinal.pdf
 
Jay Angler
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I watched a couple of videos by the mortician shown above and found them quite informative. It's good to have someone in the business basically agree with what we've been discussing. I'm still not sure how we'd balance the need to have the body in the upper layers of soil which are active without having a smell issue unless it was really biologically active soil. Her description of using wood shavings to balance the nitrogen in the body in one of the videos does support what I'm doing with dead farm poultry, although I'd love to use something that decomposes faster than wood. I also totally support her comments about the toxic chemicals used to embalm bodies. That is the thing about current common funeral practice that I totally don't want to be a part of. The second thing I consider unsustainable is cremation. Even in ancient times, places it was practiced it contributed heavily to deforestation. Now it's contributing to global warming. There are better alternatives!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jay Angler wrote: Her description of using wood shavings to balance the nitrogen in the body in one of the videos does support what I'm doing with dead farm poultry, although I'd love to use something that decomposes faster than wood.



What about surrounding the body with dry leaves and forest duff before filling the hole?  Even cities usually have an oversupply of leaves.
 
Jay Angler
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If the leaves have been shredded that may work, but leaves tend to mat down into a layer which can easily interfere with air flow. I've experienced that tendency myself, but also read of the effect in books about composting. That said, most of the easily accessible leaves here are Bigleaf Maple - and they do mean "Big". (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_macrophyllum) Plants such as Bracken, that die back in the fall have a naturally small leaf, and certain tree species that have naturally small leaves (plum for example) would be worth experimenting with but I haven't got there yet.

In an effort to avoid wood chips in our brooder, I have been experimenting with organic coffee sacks which a local FairTrade company brings in full of beans and sell at a relatively cheap price to local farmers. They are supposed to be organic but they haven't decomposed in the compost as quickly as I thought they would despite being liberally covered with chicken poop. The next time I have a dead animal, I will try wrapping it in one of the sacks and burying it and report back, although unless we have a predator attack, it may be a while. They would certainly be easy to lay beneath a body and then tuck around a body and most are not such a tight weave that air and worms can't get through. They are certainly a low nitrogen choice, have already served one use, and are reasonably popular with worms. Green burials that I've read about often talk of using a cotton shroud or cardboard box for the covering/carbon source, but both of those would be produced specifically for this purpose, rather than being a second or third use item. Considering the damage that growing cotton has done overall in the environment, I'd rather use it for things I need it for - like clothing the living!




 
Tyler Ludens
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Good point about the matting tendency of leaves.  We want something fluffy, not mat-prone. 

I think the shroud or box are mostly to spare family members having to look at the dead face of their loved one, they do slow decomposition compared to just the naked body.  But some kind of recycled natural fabric would be best if a shroud is needed.  Some people make their own shrouds (I will be making mine) so used cotton, hemp, linen, silk and wool fabrics could be saved for this project.

I'm glad folks are interested in this thread topic!

 
Jay Angler
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It is important to remember the big picture - funerals are for the living. Having something pretty or significant to cover the body for a viewing may be important for closure, but there's no reason that containment has to be the final containment. Think "refrigerated casket with a biodegradable lining that can be re-used by many people in the community"? Many people that I know of have started replacing the traditional viewing with a celebration of life long after the body has been cremated and relying on a photograph to represent the loved one. These may be people who are no longer associated with an institutionalized religious sect, but may also represent people for whom the death was expected as opposed to sudden. That said, the tendency to smaller, widely distributed families and isolation in North America will result in a sub-culture of people who may not have anyone wanting to "accept the ashes" even if the deceased has tried to make as many arrangements as possible before the event. Hopefully, permaculture principles will help to reconnect humanity and come up with meaningful but more environmentally sound "traditions" around dying and death.
 
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My current plan, and that of a couple people I know closer to biological expiration, is to be buried in a mushroom suit. the fabric is woven with mycelia which activate with moisture when being placed around a corpse and in the ground. mushroom composting of my corpse seems the most permie thing possible! (and no, I wasn't able to find out what they are or whether you can eat them. haha. they probably knew Peter McCoy or Stamets would reverse engineer them and undercut the price.) the company, Coeio, makes suits for people and animals, it's not even very expensive considering what such things usually cost. The designer has become Internet famous and done TEDTalks, got NYT writeups, all the usual accolades of 21st c. legitimacy.

http://coeio.com/

Btw, a cremation takes 285 kiloWatt hours of nat gas and 15kWh of electricity, as much as the average person uses in a month. (The Guardian...presumably a British urban person.)
 
pollinator
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I looked into this when my mom died last year because she wanted us to dig a hole on the property and put her body in it.  There were enough regulations, and I was in a stressed enough mental state, that I wasn't able to make it happen for her.  We had her body cremated and buried the ashes instead.

I read Doughty's book "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" this year and it's great.  Highly recommend it for humorously, compassionately and matter-of-factly addressing issues surrounding death.  Her "Ask a Mortician" online videos are great too (linked above).  I definitely see advantages of natural burial and would prefer it most, followed by cremation and then embalming/etc.
 
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This thread is very interesting to me, but it seems that there is a green alternative that hasn't been addressed here yet.  Water burial.  As a US veteran, I'm entitled to have the US Navy drop my corpse in the open ocean during an Atlantic transit.  The only thing that would have to be paid for is the transportation to the nearest Navy port, the body bag, and the flag.  (Because the US Navy is exempt from the EPA regs and fee)

But anyone can be buried at sea, and it's both green and cheap.  There are limitations for the Gulf of Mexico and for the Great Lakes, but typically it's just a single form from the EPA and a weighted body bag (a 20 lb rock in the bag works fine) and a boat able to take you to a place off shore that is at least 350 feet deep and 25 miles from shore and not a protected reef, IIRC.  (1000 feet in the Gulf Mexico, and there are several spots along the Atlantic with additional restricted zones, and the Great Lakes are much more severely limited due to treaties with Canada; but there is no port city that isn't within about 75 miles of an acceptable water burial location).

However, many of us live *way* too far from a port city to directly take advantage of this.  Since learning about this option myself, I've considered whether I can do it in Kentucky by 'creating' a protected and licensed 'water cemetery' out of an old rock quarry that is presently an old camping ground and already filled with water.  Build out a pretty floating pier in the deepest portion, prohibit fishing and swimming as private property, and add some necrotic lifeforms into the water and decomposition would be significantly quicker in deep water and there isn't any concern about disturbing an existing plot.  Eventually, however, the bottom would start to accumulate rocks from all those used as weights.   Also, a continuous water bubbling system into the deep might be necessary to provide enough oxygen for the process to proceed at an acceptable pace.  It's certainly not worth it for myself alone, or even my entire extended family, but 10's of thousands of people could be "water buried" in the same place without issues over several decades.

And yes, Europeans & Canadians can do this too, but in both cases there are more regulations, including a requirement for a detailed "tag" attached to the body bag that can be expected to survive the water for at least 2 years.  Americans can be entirely anonymous in death, perhaps so that organized crime can still get away with "swimming with the fishes" so long as they fill out the proper forms and pay the taxes.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'd be worried the bodies might not decay in deep cold water, but might become preserved indefinitely:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sic1fxVDklo
 
Creighton Samuiels
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I'd be worried the bodies might not decay in deep cold water, but might become preserved indefinitely:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sic1fxVDklo



In the deep cold of the high latitude oceans, they might be preserved for quite some time, but eventually they will decay and return to the ecosystem.  The largest problem with a typical green burial is not how long decay takes, but that it captures useful real estate that can't be used for any other purpose (legally speaking) indefinitely.  I know where there is a public library, that has a beautiful park as it's front lawn, with a civil war era cemetery right in the middle of the lawn; there is a fence that keeps people from entering the cemetery portion of the public park.  The land should be for the living, (human, plant or animal) but a traditional burial mound like many American Indian cultures have used in the past, while it saves square footage, isn't a legitimate burial method under our current laws.  Water burial most certainly is, and there is way more useful ocean space available within a reasonable boat trip of any American port city.  And it's so much cheaper that I'm surprised that major cities that have to pay for the burials of the poor & homeless don't already require them.  New York and Boston could save money by contracting a daily boat trip, if only for the homeless that have died in the previous 24 hours, skipping the nasty embalming process altogether and using a couple hundred pounds of ice (or a refrigerated hold) to keep the dead refrigerated long enough to reach their final destination.  The US Navy does require it during a declared war, due to the volume of dead.  There are photos from WW2 showing military water burials involving hundreds of slain US military personnel at the same time, which has a lot to do with why there aren't nearly as many WW2 memorial cemeteries as there would be otherwise.  There are more American WW2 personnel buried in Europe than in the United States, simply due to the logistical problems with shipping that many dead soldiers home; and yet the world population is so high now that "where will we bury our dead?" is a real issue that most people don't want to think about.  India is such a densely populated country that river burials (floating out to sea) have been a thing for thousands of years.
 
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http://www.sustainability-centre.org/south-downs-natural-burial-site.html this is what they are doing in the UK-Maddy Harlan gave a talk in PV2 in which she mentioned this

A Swedish? company was developing a way to grind up and freeze dry bodies, making them 'shelf stable' until you could get around to the final disposal.

I think some of the national parks or other conservation areas could use the green burial idea for fund raising. Perhaps it would tie more folks into preserving big patches of nature.
 
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We buried our son in a natural cemetary last summer.  Some things that might need to be considered:

  • Digging a grave is hard.  We didn't dig it ourselves (the cemetery did it for us), and even though it was only 3 feet deep instead of the traditional 6, it was still a deep hole.  If digging by hand, it's probably a two person job at least--and it'll still take a while and be a hard graft.  There needs to be enough space to for the casket, with some wiggle room.  It would probably be a good idea to get gravedigging tools now, before anyone dies.
  • The grave probably needs to be dug several days in advance of burying, to give the gravedigger(s) enough time to complete it.  I'm assuming a family burial plot means the family will be doing the digging.
  • A casket is less distressing for the people doing the burying than just a body swathed in a shroud.  Bear in mind, some sort of stretcher will be a lot easier for carrying the body and lowering it into the grave, if a casket isn't used.  We commissioned a basket with a lid from a local maker for our son;  the basket protected his body from the earth we shoveled back in;  I didn't like the thought of throwing earth directly onto his little body but other people may be ok with that (though you might need to check with them beforehand).
  • Some long straps or thick ropes will be useful for lowering the body into the grave;  these should probably be acquired straight away (and possibly practiced with), so they will be on hand when needed.  We were able to gently lower our son in his basket using the cemetery's straps.  Tossing a body in a hole seems so disrespectful, and we would have been horrified to have our son's body treated this way.
  • If having a funeral or ceremony at the burial site, it's nice to have easy access for mourners, and seating if possible.  Maybe cut/mow a path from the road or house to the grave.  Our cemetery provided a picnic blanket for us to sit on, as it was just the three of us for our son's burial.  People may like to say a few words, or read a letter or poem, or sing;  people listening may prefer to sit comfortably.
  • One more thing:  organ donation.  Maybe discuss it with family members.


  • We arranged everything for our son's burial, with support from the local children's hospice.  Doing it ourselves meant a lot to us.  We kept him with us for a week after his death until his burial by using an electrically cooled mattress that the hospice provided us;  we didn't give his body to a mortician or have him in a refrigerator at the morgue.  I'm so glad we had that week to say goodbye, as we could kiss and cuddle him right up to his burial.  I know they make large cooled mattress pads too, which could be an option (though you'd have to research it, preferrably in advance).  It also meant we didn't have to pay a funeral director.  The only fees we paid were for his basket and to the cemetery itself.

    When someone in the family dies--even when expected--it's such a shock and so much needs to be organized;  better to have the burial side of things ready now while everyone is still alive.  Even if this means getting caskets and shrouds measured and ready. 

    (I wrote about our son's short life, including his burial on my blog: http://meandgaladriel.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-story-of-teddy.html)
     
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    It seems like a body could be placed on a rack or stretcher and then paper mache'd.  Maybe with some seeded bacteria in the paper mache' mix to facilitate decomposition.  The paper mache mix could possibly be mixed of materials to retard or accelerate decomposition.  With the rack or stretcher the body could be respectfully handled and lowered into a grave.  I would think the paper mache would be more environmentally friendly than a casket or basket.
     
    Jay Angler
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    Creighton Samuiels wrote:

    there is way more useful ocean space available within a reasonable boat trip of any American port city



    Please don't take this wrong, but with the number of people I know who like to take "cruises", if better facilities were available for cold storage of bodies would a "death cruise" that involved ceremony, counselling, and burial have potential? My friend who lost her daughter went on a retreat and some of the "assignments" required her to write letters to her daughter about specific topics. She found it difficult, but also took some healthy steps and found some closure. One of the difficult problems in grieving families is that different members grieve in different ways. Thus having a variety of professional staff and different therapeutic activities could be beneficial to mourners. I have no idea of the type of expense that would be involved, but if families get the help and closure they need to heal and move on, the expense would be worth it.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    Slight progress on the graveyard; I staked out the final location and dimensions of the plot in this field, next to where my sister's horse is buried.  Next is to get the excavator out to dig it.

    P1070194.JPG
    [Thumbnail for P1070194.JPG]
    Final location of our final location
     
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