“Green burial” is not just the newest fad in the “green” movement. Rather it is a return to the age-old American values of “thrift, simplicity, love of family, respect for tradition and a desire to do things for yourself” that continue to speak to most people in this country. So says Mark Harris, adjunct professor of English and author of Grave Matters, which takes an in-depth look at the growing movement toward environmentally sound, economical alternatives to what he calls “modern burial.”
“Most people don’t want to talk about death, so we gloss over it,” he says. But his book and the dedication of the Lehigh Valley’s first green cemetery last week in Fountain Hill, has opened a new conversation around the topic.
Green Meadow was officially opened by the Board of Fountain Hill Cemetery in a ceremony on October 10, where Harris and others dedicated a lovely wildflower meadow. One of only six such cemeteries in Pennsylvania, Green Meadow is a quarter-acre site where the deceased are given natural burials. Unembalmed bodies are returned to the earth in caskets made from readily biodegradable materials such as pine, wicker or cardboard. Graves are marked with indigenous fieldstones that are laid flush to the ground.
The cemetery board consulted with Harris in the planning and design of the site. They all worked with Spillman Farmer Architects for the site design and signage. Kelly Weaver ’13 an art major at Moravian, designed the logo that will be used on the signs and all promotional materials .
The first person to be buried at Green Meadow is Spillman Farmer architect and avid cyclist, Pat Ytsma, who was killed last December in an accident on the Fahy Bridge. His simple stone marker is decorated with the flag of Friesland, the province of the Netherlands where Pat’s family is from.
Harris is an environmental journalist and author who first learned about green burial in the course of writing his weekly column for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. The first green cemetery in this country is Ramsey Creek Preserve in western South Carolina, which opened in 1998.
“This appealed to me viscerally as both a bold new idea and a resurrection of an old one," he remembers. “I felt it had the potential to change the way cemeteries were designed and operated.” As the baby boom generation ages, Harris believes its members would begin to look at death and burial the same way they looked at other life stages and would want to put their own stamp on it, including a greener send-off.
As more people learn there are options to modern burial—embalming, metal casket in a vaulted grave—the movement will grow. Most families don’t know, for example, that embalming is almost never required, that they don’t always have to work through a funeral home or that they can purchase caskets themselves,” he says. “Very little is required at the time of death. I wanted to look at other options that were greener and less expensive and that allow families to have a greater role in the conduct of the funeral and burial, so that they are more in keeping with the values of the deceased.”With the meadow in full bloom against the backdrop of a rising woods, Green Meadow is a beautiful, simple and green final resting place.
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