Why It’s Critical to Choose a Conservation Green Burial Now with Covid — and Why Conservation Sanctuaries Need You

“Zia” was a strong-willed and independent woman who became interested in organic farming later in life. She endured a difficult childhood on the streets and beaches of San Francisco, but found her purpose while working as an intern on a biodynamic farm on the Hawaiian island, Kauai. There she discovered the tropical beauty and regeneration in the plants and foods that sustained her. She found a feeling of connection in relating to the farm animals, especially a cow that revealed an affectionate nature and amazing bovine intelligence, the cow leaning into Zia as a cat does at its scratching post.

As a woman in her forties, Zia determined that she wanted to save up and buy a small parcel of land for her own organic farm. She got a job working as an interstate truck driver to earn toward her dream of five acres in rural California. After fifteen years of hard work and long hours, she had enough money to buy the parcel in cash, so she attended a month-long course in Bali on how to start up a small organic farm holding.

Within a month in paradise Zia was suffering from debilitating headaches. When she returned home her doctor sent her to a specialist in San Francisco who found an inoperable brain tumor, probably from inhaling DDT that had been sprayed daily to kill mosquitos in her hotel room in Bali. Although DDT was banned in the 1970s in the U.S., many developing countries still use it freely. Zia was given a year or less to live. Her headaches became increasingly severe.

Naturally in her short time to live, Zia did not do the necessary research into her death-care choices, never mind the pollution of modern death-care, to find mercury and a dozen other pollutants in cremation emissions and a cocktail of poisons in conventional funerals and cemeteries. Had she known, she would have chosen a conservation burial or permitted home burial. But she was understandably immersed in alternating states of shock, despair, and grief.

So, her request for a simple cremation was arranged by a friend. Instead of buying her farm, Zia made plans to fly in a dozen of her friends from around the country for a final living Celebration of Life that she could attend. It was a wonderful weekend event, ending in her having an assisted euthanasia, though her doctor had never seen such a long dying process. She died 12 hours after receiving the prescription, when normally death comes within two hours. Finally, Zia had received the caring she always yearned for from friends, though it took half a day for her heart to stop beating. Meanwhile, her caring for the earth had been lost in the chaos of the modern death care ritual.

Our culture has forgotten our natural rites of passage around death. We are caught up in the rush of 21st century living, and increasingly contract out the “problem” of death care to the billion-dollar industry of cremation. Rarely do we plan ahead for our death the way Americans used to a century ago, as was the custom to plan out their small farm mortgage over their lifetime, followed up with payments to the town undertaker and cemetery.

Unfortunately, we pay for our modern death care contract with the demise of our environment and ultimately our own health. Neurotoxic mercury emissions and other chemicals increasingly cloud our air from crematories, though they cannot be detected by our sense of sight, smell or sensory awareness. Mercury is the new “Silent Spring,” bringing a global pandemic of dementias, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases that are making us and our world senseless.

The good news is we now have a handful of choices in 21st century death-care.

Have you ever thought about how you could have a beautiful and natural death-care for the time when you pass from this earth? Instead of polluting the planet after your death with a CO2 and mercury-emitting, fossil-fuel-wasting cremation or a cancer-causing embalming, would you prefer to bring new life to a tree? Would you want to help regenerate forests and meadows, refresh the air, purify the water table, and provide precious habitat for wildlife? Would you want a natural graveside rite of passage to help your family and friends move through their grief in understanding the natural cycles of life and death? If you were to die suddenly, or with a terminal illness, would you have a plan in order? If you got Covid and were to die suddenly from it, would your natural death-care plans be implemented by your family and friends or a certified-green funeral home?

Would you want to promote justice in death-care by contributing to the Green Burial movement that is affordable to all, with some natural cemeteries providing low-cost or free burials to the underserved and homeless? Would you want death-care that shows concern for your descendants, marking your place with a legacy tree or native planting that can be located through GPS by future generations, instead of a quarried rock that becomes effaced over time?

Did you know that you can now have a legal and natural Green Burial for your death-care that doesn’t pollute the earth for decades after your death? Even at age 18 (or younger) you can reserve a burial plot in a certified Conservation cemetery in one of eight locations across America, with 19 more projects on the horizon. Over the past 20 years, the Green Burial Council of Placerville, California, has provided a new standard for certification of over 60 hybrid, natural and conservation cemeteries in the U.S. These have developed in response to skyrocketing rates of cremation, which pollute the air with mercury vapors (mostly from mercury-amalgam dental fillings) and with persistent pollutants now stored in the liver, brain and organs of humans (and all mammals).

With the Covid Pandemic of 2020, the funeral industry was unprepared for the sudden surge in deaths, while families were left without plans necessary for environmentally-responsible death-care. In the end, it was the health of our planet, and ultimately our healthcare and environment that took the loss with further crematory pollution, cancer-causing embalming fluids, and subsequent water and air contamination.

Of all the new choices in natural death care, Conservation cemeteries offer the most benefits without any of the downside of pollution from the conventional and alternative funeral industries. Even so-called “green” alternatives such as Alkaline Hydrolysis and Urban Human Composting are problematic in that they don’t deal with the enormous problem of the neurotoxin mercury and other persistent heavy metals and hormone-disrupting plastics now found in our bodies (along with over 270 pollutants in our livers). These pollutants are all released directly into the waste water, air or soil without a plan for remediation.

A Better Legacy and Ancient Tradition: Conservation Burials

Here are 12 reasons why you can and should reserve your Conservation plot for a Conservation green burial now:

1.The Earth — Giving your body back to the earth, a lifetime of nutrients into a life-giving tree or meadow that directly helps restore the earth’s soil and subsoil for many generations to come. The topsoil we now use for food and agriculture will be depleted by 2060 at the rate we are using it. We can restore the soil as early Americans found it, often 35 feet of rich topsoil, which has depleted to 3 feet or less.

2. No Carbon Use and Zero Carbon Emissions — In some states and countries with a 70% rate of cremation like England, cremation accounts for 16% of total carbon emissions. Crematories use enormous amounts of electricity for high heat in their retorts (ovens). Green burials actually have a negative carbon footprint in that they keep carbon within the soil.

3. Celebrations of Life or Memorials in nature — Many families can find comfort in nature, observing the natural cycles of life and death, while moving through their grief. Some locations offer an ecologically-sensitive memorial hall for family memorials to be held in a leisurely way without funeral home hourly schedules. Most religions have an ancient tradition of green burials, and all are welcome.

4. Your pocket book — On average the cost for a conservation burial is $1,000 to $3,000. This is less than the average cost for cremation at $6,000 or conventional funeral at $7,000 to $25,000 or more!

5. A Sense of Place and Family History– A certified conservation cemetery is preserved forever in perpetuity. So although it is permitted to have a burial on one’s own property (except in California and Indiana), the land may be sold in the future and used for other purposes that don’t allow access for your descendants to visit your plot. Descendants of a loved one will be able to locate a particular Green Burial gravesite through GPS and office records. The land in certified Conservation cemeteries will always be used for the purpose of conservation burials and land preservation, and the site of your burial will have permanent access.

6. The only non-polluting choice in death-care: There are no polluting vapors from mercury, furans, dioxins, and toxic plastics as found in cremation; no cancer-causing embalming fluids used for two-day preservation. (Even “hybrid” certified cemeteries can still use cancer-causing herbicides such as RoundUp for lawn-care within the same cemetery as “green” plots.) With native forest restoration, carbon resources are stored for future generations. Over time, millions of acres of Conservation sanctuaries can provide significant global reforestation and soil restoration.

7. Saving on local and national resources — Conservation burials don’t allow concrete or steel vaults, as used in conventional cemeteries for the sole purpose of level lawn care maintenance. Saving these resources could be used to rebuild failing bridges, roads, and other infrastructures across America.

8. Conservation and regeneration of local nature sites. Native ecosystems are restored and maintained, allowing for preservation of species at risk or endangered. Only native trees, shrubs and wildflowers are used in a certified Conservation cemetery.

9. Native wildflower or grasslands restoration areas: 20+ acre parcels provide native wildflower, grassland, or meadow/forest habitat.

10. Multiple acre restoration of pollinators for butterfly, bee and other pollinator habitat.

11. Low-cost burials for the underserved and free burials for the homeless in some cemeteries. Currently, the government pays for cremation of the homeless, while many underserved people would rather choose and find comfort in a green burial. Some Conservation cemeteries now offer free services for children under twelve as well.

12. Taking time to grieve — Often a graveside ceremony, ritual or closing the earth is helpful with acceptance of a death and the grief process. Green funerals in nature allow for privacy and a relaxed, natural environment not often found in mortuaries or crematories.

Recently, we were speaking with a young couple in their early 20s who had never heard of green burials. To our surprise, they were excited to learn that they could plan ahead for an environmentally-friendly death-care, which anyone over the age of 18 can do. Since none of us know when our time will come, and since we want to have our environmental choices fulfilled at our time of death, it’s critical to document our choices and give copies of our “Advance Green Death-care Directive” to family members. This Directive clarifies your choices, can be attached as an Addendum to your Will or Living Trust, and takes the burden off family and friends to guess your wishes when they may be overwhelmed with other practical and emotional concerns after death. Most families and even funeral homes will not know much about the green choices now available for death-care. This new Directive can be found on the website www.greenburialsanctuary.com on the “Planning Your Green Burial” page.

The other reason to plan now is due to a shortage of sanctuaries in meeting the ever-increasing demand for a Conservation burial. In the next decade we should see a doubling of Conservation cemeteries, but this won’t accommodate the many people who want to purchase an individual or family plot. New business startups are having to get creative about how to use or renovate land that can be restored to a meadow or forest. Some urban land holdings require extensive clean-up or even heavy metal remediation to re-establish the soil and ecosystem for burials and tree-plantings.

The biggest challenge facing the Conservation Burial Movement is the high cost of land in starting up a certifiable minimum twenty acre cemetery, especially nearby urban areas. Dr. Billy Campbell, M.D., of the Conservation Burial Alliance, has a mission is to create one million acres of conservation cemeteries dedicated to providing both cemetery services and ecological rehabilitation through native plantings. For 40 years, Dr. Campbell and his wife have been providing conservation burials to the larger community of the Southeast at Ramsey Creek Preserve, their 39- acre sanctuary in South Carolina. But the movement he helped start needs private investors to jumpstart various projects across the country to fulfill the nationwide need for a million acres of conservation cemeteries.

On the West Coast, the John Muir Memorial Green Burial Sanctuary, LLC, has been established to provide certified conservation burials to residents of Oregon, southwest Washington, and Northern California. What is unusual about this project is it is 80+ acres with a spectacular view of the Siskiyou and Cascade Mountain ranges near the border of Oregon and California. It’s led by us, a married team of Dr. Diana Cunningham, ND, and Michael Murphy, CFA. In our hands, there will be a successful and profitable business as well as care for the earth, for the deceased, and for their grieving families.

What you may know is that conventional death-care is a very profitable business (about $20 billion revenues annually) and the JMMGB Sanctuary has a very sound business plan. Our mission is three-fold: to offer the most pristine choice available in certified Conservation burials; to provide a safe environment for grief in an environmentally-friendly Memorial Hall for visitation and memorials in a spectacular setting; and, to provide the average person with a cost-effective burial and a range of choices, from a simple shroud burial to a native tree or wildflower planting to a Donor’s Sequoia tree memorial. The cost will range from $1,000 to $3,000 (or $5,000 for couples or family packages). Certification will be with the Green Burial Council and the Conservation Burial Alliance, with a dedicated land trust acquisition through the Southern Oregon Land Trust. The Sanctuary is dedicated to the memory of the father of the National Parks movement, John Muir, who was influential on the West Coast in establishing national parks dedicated for all Americans and the encouragement of wild preservation of forest and Crater Lake in the state of Oregon, as well as five other National Parks in the West.

John Muir wrote in 1867, “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life…and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”

The motto of the John Muir Memorial Green Burial Sanctuary:

~Nurturing the Earth as it has nurtured you~

After a two-year search in Northern California and the Northwest, we have located a unique and affordable parcel just outside the city limits of Ashland, Oregon. Southern Oregon is one of seven major retirement areas in the U.S., and many residents are ardent environmental supporters. This land is bare and has suitable tilth for forest and meadow regeneration. The top level of the property will be restored to native wildflowers as a meadow cemetery, with a panoramic and majestic view of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. Below the meadow is another 40 acres that will become a mixed conifer and hardwood forest over time.

Below is a photo showing the graduated hillside suitable for tree planting as memorials for additional plots. At least 10,000 plots would be available on this acreage. In several presentations to local groups and a class given to seniors at the local university, there was overwhelming interest in our project.

The John Muir Memorial Green Burial Sanctuary — A beautiful Conservation burial in a spectacular location - An Investment Opportunity For a Groundbreaking Model Project in Climate Remediation & Conservation Death-care

The Sanctuary requires a $975,000 grant, recoverable grant, or loan to cover the start-up costs. The loan or grant will be paid back within five years after the Sanctuary opens with up to 9% interest by dedicating all the net profits for the first two years of operation and then 50% of the revenue for the next two years to amortizing the principal.

Although there has been very strong interest whenever we have made presentations on green burials, our business plan assumes we bury only 2.0% to 3.6% of the people who die each year in our immediate, seven-county area. In addition, we intend to market our services to a much broader geography, from Portland, Oregon to San Jose, California. We believe this business plan is conservative.

Five Year Business Plan

Community Fundraising for a Memorial Hall: Investor’s Naming Opportunities

A passive solar Memorial Hall will provide four-season visitation, disability access, and memorials in a spectacular natural placement on a knoll with a view of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountains. Our version will be surrounded by native shrubs and plantings for wildlife habitat.

The interior of the Memorial Hall will provide intimate space for visitation by individuals and families, as well as a larger area for up to 75 to gather for memorials.

The green burial process is a natural, beautiful, and cost-effective way to honor a loved one’s passing. Such an investment has no downside for the conservative investor. Cemetery plots will be available to all, inclusive of any religion, philosophy, spirituality or belief. The JMMGB Sanctuary is inclusive of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyle preferences. Disability plots are available and accessible closer to the Memorial Hall for visitation. Caskets and accessories must be biodegradable, and can be purchased in advance by the client.

Above: a wicker casket allowed in a certified Conservation cemetery.

Other acceptable materials are natural shrouds, and caskets of unpreserved wood, bamboo, etc. As a more bio-compatible alternative, mycelium coffins are now offered in Germany and are in the making here in the U.S. These are composed of reconstitutable mycelium fibers as strong as wood and available at www.loop-of-life.com. The most earth-friendly coffin is actually no coffin, but a simple shroud of natural cotton, linen or other biodegradable fiber.

If you are interested in the Sanctuary, or know of interested investors, please contact us at techperson (at) gmail (dot) com. We have a 501(c)(3) non-profit affiliate, the Friends of JMMGBS, that can accept tax-deductible contributions and grants to support, expand, and promote the Sanctuary. Our website is http://GreenBurialSanctuary.com. We would love to speak with you about this groundbreaking (better, “ground-restoring”) work.

Planned path through a restored Giant Sequoias grove, originally native to ancient southern Oregon. Investors will have Naming opportunities for Founder’s Trees, the restored Forest, the Meadow and the Memorial Hall. Other memorials can be made with indoor benches and chairs.

John Muir wrote in 1877 in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin: “When a [hu]man plants a tree he plants himself…and becomes sufficiently calm to feel the joy of living….There need be no lasting sorrow for the death of any of Nature’s creations, because for every death there is always born a corresponding life.”

About the Authors:

Dr. Diana Cunningham (ND-ret., MA) graduated from Smith College in 1984. She received her MA in Psychology from the Western Institute for Social Research, and her ND degree from the University of Natural Medicine, then went to the UK to study classical homeopathic medicine for three years. She practiced natural medicine for 23 years, working primarily with children and adults with depression and other emotional challenges. With the deaths of her parents and through a mentorship with The Shared Heart Foundation, where she now is on the Board of Directors, Diana developed a new approach to grief work, natural deathcare, and green burial sanctuaries. She is the author of The New Silent Spring: Alzheimer’s, Cremation and the Next Pandemic — Groundbreaking Solutions for the Millenium (2022), sections of which have been published on Medium. She has been publishing short articles on Medium since 2019, including her popular article “Rumi On Moving Through Grief: From Anger to Depression to Love.” She has been dedicated to co-developing the JMMGBS since 2016.

Michael Murphy CFA, graduated from Harvard College with an AB cum laude in economics. He is the founder and editor of New World Investor, formerly the California Technology Stock Letter, rated as a top US stock market newsletter for over 30 years. He is fundraising for the John Muir Memorial Sanctuary in an effort to establish the first certified conservation burial ground of large acreage on the west coast.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Dr. Diana Cunningham

Dr. Diana Cunningham

Director of the John Muir Memorial Green Burial Sanctuary, a groundbreaking environmental start-up project at https://greenburialsanctuary.com