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No Preservatives: Interest in 'Green Burial' Grows

A simple wood coffin suffices for the practice of 'green burial,' which adheres to an 'ashes-to-ashes' philosophy. Photo:

The text below is based on an April 30 article in The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard.

Susan Thomas' dog bounds across the field, leaping out of the underbrush that covers the southern Tompkins County hilltop, intent on the scent of some small creature.

Meanwhile, Thomas and Ed Oyer talk about death. The artist and the retired professor both like the idea of finding stone benches for this land where the names of the dead can be inscribed.

From the crest where the two stand, they can see forests that grew up after settlers abandoned the rocky land 100 years ago because it was inhospitable to farming.

This land is likely to become the final resting place for hundreds of people who believe going green is not just an environmentally friendly philosophy for life. It applies in death as well.

Greensprings Natural Cemetery Association, 15 miles southwest of Ithaca, opened for business this year, selling its first plot March 1. People will be buried here without embalming fluid, in biodegradable caskets or shrouds.

Thomas is only partly joking when she says, "It's like the ultimate composting project."

Green burial is a relatively new idea, but one that has caught the attention of people around the United States and Canada who favor blending land conservation with a natural approach to funerals.

Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, which opened in 1996, is acknowledged as the nation's first green cemetery. Others exist in Florida, Texas, California and Washington state. Greensprings will be the first in New York.

The people who have worked for years to make the cemetery project a reality know that not everyone will jump on the bandwagon.

"People are squeamish about this sort of thing, and that's understandable," said Mary Woodsen, president of the Greensprings board. "There are people who definitely want to be locked up in a vault."

But there are others who prefer a simpler, less expensive option, as well as people who spiritually feel more comfortable thinking of their bodies returning to nature, Woodsen said.

"It's a dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes philosophy that I think a lot of different types of people can be comfortable with," she said.

Carl Leopold, a board member of Greensprings, who is a retired plant scientist at Cornell and was the founding president of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, said he has bought a plot.

"It's so sensible. It really is," he said. "Putting bodies in a waterproof, permanent container protected from the environment, it's ridiculous."

Days after the Post-Standard article ran, a reader noted that contemporary 'green burial' mirrors centuries-old Islamic burial practice, in which remains are interred in a simple shroud.

More information: or (607) 564-7577.

Source: The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard

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April 22, 2019, 11:55 am PDT

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