Montpelier cemetery offers green burials, no mowing

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 4:27 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The pandemic caused a lot of changes in all aspects of Vermonters’ day-to-day lives. And in Montpelier, one cemetery took that time to try out some new practices.

Take a walk at Montpelier’s Green Mount Cemetery and you might notice the grass looks a little long -- that’s because it is. Cemetery staff say they’re trying out some new practices, both with lawn maintenance and burials.

While the grass may be greener “on the other side,” in Montpelier’s Green Mount Cemetery it’s longer, too. Covid made us re-evaluate and reflect on our mowing practices,” said cemetery director Patrick Healy.

It used to take the corrections work crew about two weeks to mow the grass just once on the 35-acre, hillside lot. When the pandemic hit and the numbers of crew members dwindled, they had to come up with a new plan. “We decided that the old part was not going to be mowed and we were only going to mow the newer parts where people expected to have the grass mowed,” Healy said.

In the sections that hold the older gravestones, the grass hasn’t been cut since the beginning of the year. Instead, they’re trimming around headstones and pathways. Healy says they’ve found that the grass doesn’t get overly long, but it does attract a lot of bees, butterflies, and birds. “We’re trying to make a more environmentally friendly habitat for everybody. And it is an experiment, and the best part about this is -- with grass -- if it doesn’t work, we can mow it right back and it will be fine. “He adds that the the people in their final resting place probably wouldn’t mind. “At those times they didn’t have lawnmowers. The people that are buried here have no clue what a lawnmower is.”

With the savings on gasoline and manpower, they’re concentrating their energy on taking better care of the old markers. “This monument probably went in around 1900. It was just cleaned recently and it might have been cleaned for the first time,” Healy explained.

Newer parts of the cemetery will still be mowed as usual. Across the cemetery, they’re trying something new with burials. “You’re basically trying to make the human body turn into compost, is what a natural burial is,” Healy said

Natural burials are making their way into mainstream burial practices and Green Mount Cemetery gladly offers them. Now, cemeteries around the country are looking to them for guidance on how to do it. For natural burials, instead of caskets, bodies are wrapped in a shroud or buried in a wooden box and lowered onto a bed of compost and wood chips. “What we’re trying to figure out now is how long does it take for that to decay and to settle? And that depends on what you’re in,” Healy said.

This section of the cemetery is called ‘The Orchard,’ decorated with fruit trees and bushes by request of lot owners.

Healy says this process is much more personal as the family can even help with the physical burial process including filling the grave.

Despite stark initial opposition from Healy because of the unknowns, he now says he’s on board with trying it out. “The taxpayers are spending money to allow us to have a cemetery here, so we’re just listening. We’re all going to be here sooner or later so it’s just good to say, okay let’s give it a try,” Healy said.

Healy says the cost difference between traditional practices, natural burials, and their current lawn maintenance practices are about the same. The cemetery does not gain or lose any money. What they are working towards is a better cemetery environment.

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