While cycling past multi-million-dollar homes and upwards of million-dollar landscapes in Henlopen Acres, Delaware, I came upon this multi-acre cemetery in their midst and it just made me sad. Not for the dearly departed but for the waste of the precious resource that is land, especially in cities.

Another sign read: “Animals, Plantings, Loitering Prohibited. Police Patrolled.”

And dammit, there’s nothing there but hardscape and turfgrass. I guess it’s technically an “open space” but the minimal ecological services it performs are probably offset by all the mowing, blowing, feeding and weed-killing that’s done to make it look like that.

I DO wonder what would be done with this land if the church that owns it had to pay taxes on it. Probably sold off for more homes (with extensive landscaping) that would yield a hefty boost to city coffers.

But enough about tax policy. How about just BETTER church-owned cemeteries? Maybe something like this:

I found that photo on the home page of a group called the Conservation Burial Alliance. And here’s lots more information about eco-friendly burial sites.

Human Composting on CBS

Coincidentally, “CBS Sunday Morning” had a feature the same week called “Human composting: The rising interest in natural burial.” You can watch it here:

Or I’ll just summarize it for you.

An avid gardener and lover of Japanese maples in Bellingham, WA chose “natural organic reduction” – composting of his body. His sister compares it to traditional burial involving “embalming a body, putting it inside a lead-lined coffin, and putting it into a concrete vault in the ground as though we were pretending the person is not dead.”  That, to her, is creepier than “becoming part of the soil again.” Instead, her brother is now “all over Seattle under many, many Japanese maple trees.” She finds comfort in knowing that he’s “helping create new life.”

We’re shown the composting facility Recompose in Seattle – the “first human composting facility in the country.” Loved ones are covered in organic plant material such as straw and wood chips.  Bones are mechanically turned into the consistency of sand, so after just 30 to 40 days inside the vessel, soil is created – enough to fill the bed of a pick-up truck, which delivers the soil to the family or to a forest conservation effort chosen by the family. The price is about $7,000.

Cremation, which is now the most popular choice in the U.S., can be cheaper (currently $4,000 to $7,000 in the U.S.) but it emits highly toxic chemicals.

My family has been in the cremation camp for a generation or so but that’s stopping with me.  I’ll be adding this to the “Notes to my Executor” attached to my will: “Y’all just compost me and donate the truckload of beautiful soil to…” I haven’t figured that part out yet but I’m working on it.

Or maybe, in case there’s still no human composting facility near me when the time comes, my family can find a nice meadow or forest to welcome this old gardener’s body.

More Human Composting on GardenRant

In researching this post I discovered  “Compost your Loved Ones,” a 2019 guest post by Barbara Dumesnil, Master Gardener and compost specialist in Eugene, Oregon. She wrote:

Cemeteries take up a lot of land that could become gardens or forests. Just think how many homes could be built from the metal, concrete, and wood if these resources were not used in traditional burials. Cremation makes some sense, but it is energy-intensive, and the byproducts contribute to climate change. 

Washington State is currently considering legislation to allow a fast, hot composting process whereby human remains are broken down and become finished compost in about one month.

Now we know that the legislation passed and the service is available – at least there in Washington State.  I hope it’s coming soon to enlightened states closer to me.