After a two-year battle with cancer, Joseph Fitzgerald was determined to leave his final resting place to Mother Nature.
On a quiet February day in rural Florida, Fitzgerald’s body was carried through the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery on a bamboo stretcher made by family members.
In an ecologically approved “green burial,” he was laid to rest on a plot of land surrounded by oak trees and Spanish moss he picked out just months before his passing in a grave that was dug by hand just two days prior.
Green burial options have become a small but growing trend in the U.S. funeral industry, with an increasing number of funeral homes offering eco-friendly services and about 30 green cemeteries across the country, according to the Green Burial Council, or GBC, a non-profit organization operating in the United States, Canada and Australia.
The most recent survey conducted by funeral industry publishers Kates-Boylston Publications in 2008 found that 43 percent of respondents said that they would consider a green burial. That was a significant increase from the 21 percent who expressed curiosity about green burials in an AARP study conducted the previous year.
“There is a movement toward it, but it’s gaining traction very slowly,” said Jim Ford, vice president of operations at Neptune Society, the largest cremation-only funeral company in the United States. The firm also offers green burials at sea on a reef off Miami.
At Prairie Creek, there have been 43 whole body natural burials, 14 cremated remains burials and 10 pet burials since it opened in late July of 2010, with another 197 future burial bookings.
“It’s so much more natural and simple,” said David Gold, 64, a dental hygienist who plans to be buried at Prairie Creek. “It’s harmonious. It puts things (funeral plans) back in people’s control.”
Freddie Johnson, the executive director of Conservation Burial, the non-profit organization that runs Prairie Creek, says he has noticed an increase in interest.
“The biggest hurdle is getting the awareness of these choices and having choices in the proximity of where people are,” he said.