WILMOT, Ohio — Many a farmer has lived day in and day out in his or her blown-out leather work boots, holey blue jeans, and tattered shirts and hats that should have been retired long ago.
And many of those same people have joked that their attire is so second-nature, so “them,” they’d be buried in their work clothes if they could.
It’s a good option and downright encouraged at the new Foxfield Preserve, a nature preserve cemetery at the southwestern tip of Stark County, where green burial is the only way to go.
Foxfield Preserve, a branch of The Wilderness Center near Wilmot, went public just weeks ago. Preserve steward Jennifer Quinn helped coordinate the sale of seven burial plots in the first two weeks the preserve was open, proving just how popular the notion of natural burial is.
Quinn responds to dozens of e-mails every day, and informational sessions held monthly since June are growing in attendance, too, as people turn out to find out more about a new way of interment that’s really not so new after all.
Green burial, also called natural burial, traces its roots to the beginning of mankind, when families and communities gathered to lay their loved ones to rest in their most natural state: no embalming, no fancy caskets, no vaults, just a body returning to the earth.
It’s a true “dust to dust” burial.
That idea is seeing a resurgence, thanks to a movement to get back to basics, save money and care for the environment.
Quinn said there are roughly a dozen cemeteries nationwide that allow green burials, but The Wilderness Center is the only conservation organization to operate one, and Foxfield Preserve is the only green cemetery in Ohio.
“We’re very unique,” Quinn said, noting that the green business’ revenues will help support the center’s mission of nature education and land preservation.
“The idea may seem different, but we follow the same rules as a traditional cemetery. This place just looks different,” she said.
“The idea may seem different, but we follow the same rules as a traditional cemetery. This place just looks different.”
Foxfield Preserve steward
Just 10 years ago, the parcel that’s become the 43-acre preserve was open farmland.
Around that same time, the nation’s first natural cemetery was opening in South Carolina. The idea spread to The Wilderness Center, and after nearly 10 years of tossing it around, the center’s board finally gave the green light go-ahead, Quinn said.
Staff began building trails, seeding the fields and surveying the property into plots.
“It’s really been a long time coming,” Quinn said. “But to so many people, it just clicks and makes sense the first time you hear it.”
What makes sense is the simplicity of a natural burial, which allows a person to be buried in a biodegradable pine box or fabric shroud, or to have cremated ashes buried in a cardboard urn or scattered on the grounds.
“This really is one of the oldest practices known to man,” Quinn said.
“You can be buried in a suit or your jeans and boots, wrapped in your favorite quilt or even in a Halloween costume,” she said.
But the true difference from a traditional burial is this: Here at Foxfield, there are no embalmed bodies allowed, no steel caskets, no cement vaults, and no $5,000 funeral price tags.
Quinn said many people are shocked to learn it’s not illegal to be buried without these extras, and that caskets and vaults are typically only required by cemeteries to allow them to bury more people per acre.
The Foxfield Preserve, which is fully licensed by the state, plans to bury only a fraction of what’s come to be the norm, Quinn said. Plots are 10-by-20 feet at a cost of $3,200.
“We have no need to jam people in here. It’s purposely low density so nature can dominate,” she said.
After all, the preserve is going for a natural look, with vistas overlooking the forested Sugar Creek valley and bordered by Amish family farms.
The open farm fields are being reclaimed to their natural states, being seeded in native prairie grasses and reforested with native trees.
And in this cemetery, where grave markers will be optional, wildflowers and grasses will grow waist-high, no mowing or manicuring allowed.
The 2,500 plots available will be identifiable through a series of metal pins already tamped into the ground.
Quinn said there are plans to put a number of natural landmarks, like boulders or certain trees, and to use handheld GPS receivers to help visitors locate their loved ones.
Although the preserve just launched, Quinn has witnessed the ashes of two nature lovers scattered on plots and watched their families celebrate by hiking the preserve’s trails.
She’s also seen the excitement in the faces of those people who come to buy their plots, grateful the preserve opened in time for them, and from the people who pose for photographs next to the little pink flags used to mark their final resting places.
It’s not easy to think about death, Quinn admits. But buyers are telling her it’s all a bit easier to swallow when they learn about the preserve and see its beautiful scenery, walk the trails, see butterflies flit across the fields and bask in the sunshine.
It’s a peaceful place to be, Quinn said.
And it’s just as nature intended it.
Won’t wild animals dig up the grave? Doesn’t burial have to be “six feet under?”
Animals digging up grave sites is a myth. A green cemetery in South Carolina, where wild boars are common, has had no trouble with graves being disturbed, according to Foxfield Preserve steward Jennifer Quinn.
Few cemeteries actually dig 6 feet down for graves. Proper burial depth allows the remains to be undisturbed but not so deep that the return to nature is delayed. Graves are dug to 3-4 feet deep at Foxfield Preserve.
Doesn’t embalming permanently preserve a body and prevent the spread of disease?
No to both. Embalming only slows decomposition. The chemicals used preserve a body for a relatively short period of time. As for diseases, with a few rare exceptions, they depend on living tissues. As parasites, they die when their host body dies.
What about water resources? Isn’t the cemetery going to ruin water quality?
A nature preserve cemetery will actually improve water quality. Natural land produces cleaner water than urban, suburban or agricultural runoff.
Can I have a headstone at Foxfield Preserve?
Modest grave markers are permitted but must comply with the nature preserve concept. Markers must be a native glacial erratic stone, such as granite or sandstone, and can be engraved but not polished. The stones must lay flat and have a natural appearance, including irregular edges. There are also size and height restrictions.
(Source: Foxfield Preserve)