Why Vermonters are choosing the state’s first all-natural forest burial site

Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 5:06 PM EST
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ROXBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - A cemetery in Vermont is breaking ground as the state’s first all-natural forest burial site. The Vermont Forest Cemetery is a new, first-of-its-kind natural burial cemetery located on 56 acres of forest in Roxbury.

Death isn’t something that Nancy Gregory and her husband like to dwell on. But a few weeks ago, when Gregory’s husband broke his leg, they knew it was time to update their wills.

“I knew I didn’t want to be in the cemetery... a traditional cemetery. I didn’t know about nontraditional cemeteries,” said Nancy Gregory of White River Junction.

Gregory toured the Vermont Forest Cemetery. She was instantly sold.

“It makes sense to just be buried in a beautiful place that doesn’t damage the environment,” Gregory said.

Vermont legalized natural burial grounds in 2015.

Several cemeteries offer specific sections for natural burial, but Vermont Forest Cemetery is the only fully natural option. Founder Michelle Hogle Acciavatti hopes to change the way people view death.

“I want this to be a place for people to come together and come into relationship with their mortality with a piece of land and everything that it has to offer,” Acciavatti said.

A forest burial costs $2,400, significantly less than many traditional methods.

Bodies are buried in soil in biodegradable containers, like shrouds or wooden caskets, or nothing at all. This allows for natural decomposition that feeds the forest and leaves behind a smaller environmental footprint than cremation or traditional burial.

“This is a way of giving back to the planet that we just take and take and take from in life,” Acciavatti said.

Acciavatti has buried four bodies since the cemetery’s opening a month ago and says she’s lost track of burial applications.

While she saves up for an excavator, Acciavatti is digging every grave by hand. She welcomes volunteers to help maintain the grounds.

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