Autumn 2010: Sustainable Efforts

Wide angle on field that will be cemetery

Courtesy Jim Bell

The Plot Thickens

A resting place with a green twist

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By Mary J. Loftus

Driving up the grassy hill behind his farmhouse in north Fulton County, Jim Bell 69OX 71B pauses to point out a deer bounding toward the tree line. Although this is a cemetery, there are no tombstones, vaults, or plastic flowers—just a low, grassy field. Not a bad place to spend eternity.

“Sometimes I’ll look out my back window and see someone up here sitting, visiting with their loved one,” says Bell, who operates one of about twenty green cemeteries in the country. He encourages cemetery visitors to pick vegetables—beans, squash, okra—from his garden.

Bell, previously a property manager, researched green cemeteries for years before establishing Milton Fields in June 2009. While church and city cemeteries are not regulated by the state, private cemeteries are. He had to receive state approval, rezone the property, and set up a perpetual-care endowment.

On average, green burials cost one-half to two-thirds less than traditional burials. And because the bodies are not embalmed and caskets (if used) are biodegradable, the practice is more ecologically sound. “I don’t see any reason in the world to bury steel and concrete in the ground,” Bell says.

A single burial plot at Milton Fields costs $1,000; a scattering of ashes is $200.

Bell provides the plot only; funeral homes prepare the body and conduct memorial services, while private companies dig the graves and set up tents and chairs. Families and friends can choose to have unique ceremonies at the gravesite, such as a recent burial in which the family played a CD of their father’s favorite music and sipped martinis.

So far, he says, people have purchased plots at Milton Fields out of regard for the environment, cost, and simplicity. About twenty bodies or cremains have been interred there. The only indication that some of the burial plots have been used are slightly raised mounds of dirt with a light covering of grass and a few unobtrusive, flat markers.

“What people like most, overall, is the beauty of the land,” Bell says, nodding in agreement as he looks out over the pasture.

“I’ll be right here,” he says, gesturing to a small dip in the ground. “61D.”

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