Business, Cemetery

Can two death care trends solve a problem??

Foundation Partners why I partnered
An unnamed neglected cemetery

Over the years that I have done the research for the articles that appear in Funeral Director Daily, among others, I have noticed two trends that are definitely growing in the death care world.  One of those trends is that of Green or Natural burials.  Virtually every day when I look for articles that will be of interest to readers I will find an article from somewhere in the United States that is opening up a funeral home or cemetery to Green Burial options.

The other trend that I see as we continue to move from a full body earth burial society to a society with more options for human disposition, such as cremation, is the fact that many smaller cemeteries can no longer be financially feasible.  Many of these cemeteries are then neglected and fall into disrepair, eventually becoming the responsibility of the taxing authority to maintain.

Enter Destination Destiny, a New Jersey company whose website says, “Eco-friendly and Natural Burial Services“.  According to this article from Minnesota Public Radio News, Destination Destiny plans to restore old cemeteries by using them for natural burials.  Again, according to the article, the owner of Destination Destin, Edward Bixby, maintains his company “charges $4,000 for a natural burial at its locations in California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania – and soon in . . .  Minnesota”.

The issue at hand, that of restoring defunct cemeteries to active burial grounds for green or natural burials sounds feasible.  The probable new burials in the growing green burial segment of the death care industry would seemingly give those cemeteries, many abandoned for financial reasons, some operating income to get back in business.

However, the issue seems to be how Destination Destiny acquires those abandoned cemeteries.  According to the article, the company believes that they can acquire these abandoned cemeteries by what is known as “adverse possession”.  While it all sounds fine and dandy, Tanya Marsh, noted as an “expert in property and cemetery law at Wake Forest University” is quoted in the article, “I think that there’s a lot of really good reason to take old, historic cemeteries that have some excess capacity and utilize for these burials. . . But, there’s still a process to follow — and Destination Destiny isn’t following it”.

The article goes on to mention a legal battle that may be brewing in Minnesota over Destination Destiny’s planned acquisition of the Whitewater Falls Cemetery.  Again, according to the article, the Winona County attorney, where Whitewater Falls Cemetery is located, argues that the land belongs to the county.

Here is the website for Destination Destiny.

Funeral Director Daily take:  I’ve had several talks with industry experts about what will be done with all the abandoned cemeteries in the United States.  And, I’ve talked with elected officials in my own community about that someday they may have to be ready to take on financial responsibility for some small cemeteries in our area.

If there was a way to make sure that these cemeteries could become economically secure by gifting to private enterprise, I’m not so sure that the governments would not be for finding a way to do so.  If green or natural burials in those cemeteries would show a path to financial security, this would potentially be a solution.

However, I don’t believe adverse possession would be the best way for a private company to secure the cemeteries for this use.  More than likely, a process where a company negotiated with a county or other governmental authority and an agreement with performance benchmarks to satisfy would be a better way to do so.

This looks like an issue to keep our eyes on to see what happens moving forward.

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