Green burials gain interest in Dane Co., reviving thousands of years of human tradition

Supporters of green burials say their way follows tradition, in the way humans have done for thousands of years.
Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 6:29 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2022 at 7:33 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - An alternative burial method is gaining interest in Dane County, with one green cemetery saying it’s on a fast track to run out of space as another hopes to open next year.

Supporters of green burials say their way follows tradition, in the way humans have done for thousands of years. Generally, the practice involves no embalming, vaults or metal caskets.

“We will re-compose and provide nutrients for the life that surrounds us,” Shedden Farley said. He is the coordinator of the Natural Path Sanctuary located in rural Verona. It’s operated by the nonprofit Farley Center.

Farley said the only caskets he allows are made of raw pine, and graves are dug by hand.

“We’re not about death here. We’re about life, and death is a part of it,” he said.

The Natural Path Sanctuary conducted nearly 200 burials last year, marking a record high since the cemetery’s creation in 2011, Farley said. He anticipates burial space to run out in about 5 to 10 years.

“More and more people are coming from other, less progressive parts of the state but with the same desire to treat their bodies and the land with dignity,” he said.

James Olson, a spokesperson with the National Funeral Directors Association, said people who choose green burials have typically lived a “green” life. “This is the way they are,” he said. “This is the way they’ve lived their life. This isn’t anything new.”

“I think this will be the way of the future. I really do,” said Terrence Wall, who is working to build a green cemetery in the Middleton area.

Operating under the nonprofit Wisconsin Foundation, the Solas Natural Burial Reserve has plans to open next summer along Oncken Road.

“The current cultural status right now in the country is one of ‘Let’s embrace green development,’” he said.

Olson said people often think of a conventional burial and cremation as two ends of a spectrum.

“We’re not embalming. We’re not having big, metal caskets or heavy vaults, but we can still bury,” Olson said. “So we’re kind of filling that ground in between the traditional funeral and cremation.”

For another look at the changing end-of-life industry, watch Memorial Forest Thursday on NBC15 News at 10.

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