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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Gainesville green burials save thousands of dollars compared to conventional burials

Green burials could provide more affordable option as traditional funeral costs rise

A natural burial site is covered with special objects at Prairie Creek Conservation Sanctuary on Thursday, March 14, 2024.
A natural burial site is covered with special objects at Prairie Creek Conservation Sanctuary on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Burial costs have always been high. Green burials may change the narrative.

Nigel Rudolph, a public archaeology coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network, has noticed the trend in the cemeteries he’s worked in. 

“We have seen historically that burial costs and expenses involved with burials have been very high and unaffordable,” he said. “We see that expressed in the materials that were used in the headstones themselves.”

Some ethnic groups, like the African American community, have especially struggled with affordability, he said. 

“If you look at the socioeconomics of African Americans, particularly in Florida, throughout history, even into modern times, those really nice burials and really nice cemeteries are often way outside of their ability to pay for,” Rudolph said.

Many relied on help from fraternal organizations like the Freemasons or Woodmen of the World to afford headstones beginning in the late 1800s. Others buried their loved ones without a headstone, which they would add after they’d saved up enough money, he said.

The trends are still seen today and many burial practices are for profit, Rudolph said.

“Throughout time and throughout history, burials and mortuary practices have really been a capitalistic thing, right?” Rudolph said. “It’s about making money.”

While they are often known for their environmental benefits, green burials could provide a more affordable option for many as conventional burial costs continue to rise.

To Carlos Gonzalez, executive director of Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, the site is “definitely a unique environment.”

“It’s a special place to a lot of people,” he said. “People who have loved ones buried there, people who enjoy the space for passive recreation.”

While “green burial” is an umbrella term, Prairie Creek specifically considers its burials “natural,” Gonzalez said. As such, there are several tenants the cemetery follows. People are allowed to use biodegradable materials, but the cemetery does not accept embalmed bodies or use grave vaults or liners, he said.

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“We are a completely natural burial entity and so, as a conservation cemetery, that means that we have a conservation easement to protect the space in perpetuity from development,” Gonzalez said. 

There were an estimated 443 green burial cemeteries in the United States and Canada as of Dec. 13, 2023, according to data from the Green Burial Council. Of the 333 certified by the GBC at that time, only 11 were considered conservation cemeteries.

With a green burial, people can save money by choosing to have loved ones buried in materials they already own, as opposed to buying them from a funeral home. Some choose to use quilts or shrouds that have been passed through their family, Gonzalez said.

“They don’t have to buy something through a funeral home or through a third party,” he said. “That’s just one way that people can help with costs if that’s something that’s important to them.”

To avoid additional costs, some may choose not to utilize funeral homes at all, instead conducting “home funerals” and caring for their own deceased loved ones prior to their burial or cremation, Gonzalez said. 

“You’re doing everything basically free of that expense, and it’s completely legal in the state of Florida,” he said.

By bypassing costs often deemed necessary for conventional burial practices, green burials can significantly cut the cost, Gonzalez said.

“All they would have to pay for would be the cemetery services and for us, it’s just $2,000,” he said. “With conventional cemeteries and funeral homes, average cost for a plot I think started around $5,000.”

While inflation has risen faster than funeral costs, the prices have continued to rise, according to a 2023 news release from the National Funeral Directors Association. The median cost of a “funeral with casket and burial” has increased 5.8% in the past two years, rising from $7,848 to $8,300. The median cost of a funeral with cremation has risen 8.1% from $5,810 to $6,280.

To Gonzalez, ensuring that green burials remain affordable is extremely important to the cemetery’s mission.

“Affordability definitely is key to making sure that people have access to this option,” he said. “Something that our founders and supporters have always wanted to make sure continues was that this was an option that was within reach for the widest segment of our population.”

The number of burials at Prairie Creek has risen since 2020, Gonzalez said.

“We’re definitely seeing a trend there of people going towards natural burial, whether it be something that is related to costs or to them wanting to limit their impact on the environment,” he said.

The cemetery completed between 70 and 80 full body burials in 2020, Gonzalez said. It saw a steady increase in the following years, with 130 to 140 in 2021, 150 in 2022 and about 160 in 2023, he said.

Darrell Adams, a 60-year-old Gainesville resident, had his father, Dwight Adams, buried at Prairie Creek when he died five years ago at age 85.

Dwight Adams was passionate about the environment and was involved with acquiring the land where Prairie Creek is, Darrell Adams said. Between this and Dwight Adams’ involvement in local environmental organizations, it made sense for him to have a natural burial, he said.

“My dad was really involved with the Sierra Club for years,” he said. “He was the chairman of the local chapter and he actually made plans that that’s where he wanted to be buried.”

While affordability wasn’t a large factor in the decision, Darrell and his father thought the costs of conventional practices were unnecessary, he said.

“With a conventional burial, you have a casket that costs money and you sometimes even have a vault that the casket goes in, and it costs more money,” he said. “You’re just paying for all of this crazy stuff to entomb you. The philosophy of it didn’t appeal to my dad.”

Contact Bailey Diem at bdiem@alligator.org. Follow her on X @BaileyDiem.

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Bailey Diem

Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.


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