Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Closings and Delays
0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Will your death be green? Environmentalists choose natural burial

Ronald Zartman beside the first natural burial at Ridgeview Memorial Gardens.
Nancy Camden

There are three certified green burial sites in Michigan. Bobbi Parmer and her husband have chosen to be buried at Ridgeview Memorial Gardens, a non-profit site near Grand Rapids.

“My husband and I, we make very conscious choices about our food purchases, our clothing purchases,” Parmer says. “So with end of life planning, we took as much consideration for environmental, social aspects.” 

Bobbi Parmer at her chosen natural burial site.
Credit Nancy Camden
Bobbi Parmer at her chosen natural burial site.

Concerns about airborne pollutants with cremation made Parmer uncomfortable. While the natural burial section of the cemetery opened three years ago and has sold several sites, the first burial was in late May. The body was not embalmed.

“We have to function under the Green Burial Council,” says Ron Zartman, executive director of Ridgeview Memorial Gardens. “Number one, we cannot use a concrete vault. Number two the bodies cannot be embalmed.”

The body in the recent burial was in a biodegradable casket, but Parmer and her husband have chosen to be buried in a shroud. The harvester of the hay field will not be driving over fresh graves, according to Zartman.

“We don’t want to do anything to disturb those graves,” he says. “While a policy hasn’t been established yet, I doubt that we’ll being going near graves for perhaps five or ten years after they’re established.”

Zartman explains the layout of the cemetery:

“With an engineering firm, we laid out all of these graves, six by nine feet. That’s a huge grave. It allows us to maintain about four feet of undisturbed earth on all four sides, top and bottom and the two sides of the grave, which assures us that we are not going to go down and hit that grave.”

According to Zartman, the cost of green burial interment is probably up to $1500 less because of the maintenance requirements in the formal part of the cemetery. Parmer wants her family to be involved as much as possible in the burial including lowering her body into the grave.

“I feel a strong desire to be returned to the earth,” she says. “Being able to decompose my physical body, being returned that way.”

“This is just straight forward burial,” Zartman says, “as people buried their loved ones for decades and centuries and millennia.” 

Related Content