Bluestem 1

An area of the 90-acre property on Hurdle Mills Road in Cedar Grove that was purchased to become Bluestem, which will include a dedicated conservation cemetery.

 

Bluestem, the first conservation burial ground in the Piedmont, will open in February on a picturesque piece of property on Hurdle Mills Road in Cedar Grove. Bluestem co-founders, Jeff Masten and Heidi Hannapel, will place the property under a conservation easement to be held by Eno River Association and Triangle Land Conservancy. Closing on the 90-acre property will be by the end of the month.

Masten and Hannapel are conservation professionals who formed Landmatters to boost awareness of the importance of preserving land and recognizing the bond between humans and nature. Since 2015, the organization has been developing a vision for a conservation cemetery.

“When we look at property, we already have this innate sense of what are the values that we’re seeking to protect or to amplify or to support in working with any specific piece of property for any specific conservation purpose,” said Masten. “And for this particular purpose, we were very deliberate over the last five years, in looking for the right piece of land. We’ve been to or looked at probably 30 or 40 different sites. It has a sense of place, which is a term that’s used commonly that describes the innate qualities that the property brings out in or evokes in the user or the visitor’s experience.”

Bluestem will be the first burial grounds in Orange County devoted to “green burials,” initially devoting 10 acres of burial land for the environmentally friendly process that does not involve embalming, vaults, or impervious containers. Green burials are often more intimate and less expensive.

Anne Weston, president and founder of the Hillsborough-based nonprofit Green Burial Project, has for six years, worked to help establish a green burial site in Orange County. She believes plan to establish a dedicated green burial cemetery is another sign of the growing interest in the more natural end-of-life ceremony, which also includes a more environmentally aware method of cremation.

“Green burial has been in the news a lot in the last several years,” Weston said. “New technologies are coming up old technologies are being revisited. After the shock and dismay of the death of Desmond Tutu, people in the green burial movement were pleased to find that he had opted for a green option for his body disposition, with alkaline hydrolysis, which is otherwise known as ‘wet cremation.’”

Weston is an advocate and valuable resource for green burials, and frequently speaks to groups and individuals interested in learning more about it. What often surprises people she speaks with, Weston said, is when they learn how much control they actually have over the burial process.

“This is not something brand new,” she said. “What we are doing is bringing the ecological sensitivity that’s been growing in the U.S. since the early part of the 20th century, and bringing that to bear on a process that has become increasingly detached from nature, such that we have cemeteries now that are flat expanses of bodies, buried 1,000 or 2,000 to the acre, with flat stones and chemicals in grass to keep down the weeds and make the grass green. That’s all a relatively new concept. It’s not just a Baby Boomer-thing. This is being embraced by much younger people, for which I’m very grateful because these folks are going to bury us. They’re going to bury the boomers. We have to convince the younger people that this is not only good for us, but it’s good for them, and it’s good for the environment.”

“There’s something Jeff (Masten) likes to say that is very accurate,” Hannapel said. “We’re not doing anything new. We’re trying to renew what we’ve done in the past, and return to that simpler and more participatory experience of honoring our loved ones, and being participants in their final resting place.”

Green burials are different beyond not embalming the deceased or not using vaults and other impervious containers. Families, or those carrying out the burial, can choose to have the body buried in a wood box, wrapped in cloth, or without any cover. Grave sites are three-feet-deep, with an 18-inch soil mound on top, which eliminates concerns of smells. Part of the fee for green burials is for backfill services, which ensure the gravesite is properly maintained to allow for compacting dirt, erosion, and elevation changes as wood caskets deteriorate. 

Cost is another area Weston touts as an advantage of green burials. “Generally, the price is much better for a green burial than a non-green burial,” she said. “If you don’t include the plot, you have no other expenses. If you are in a town plot, you have to have a vault and you have to have a funeral director. If you are doing a green burial out at Bluestem, you have no vault, you have no box, if you don’t want one. You don’t have to have a funeral director the family can serve as their own funeral director.” 

A full-body burial site at Bluestem will run about $4,000, with the cost of opening and closing of a full-body grave coming in at about $1,200. A cremation remains burial site will be about $1,700, with opening and closing of cremation remains costs at $500.

Bluestem’s business operations will be handled by co-founders Masten and Hannapel. “That’s a really important piece of the story,” Hannapel said. “We created a nonprofit specifically for this purpose, called Bluestem Community. The cemetery is actually a program of that nonprofit. And I think in this world that we live in, where people are keen to see how things are interconnected, Bluestem Community is a very important piece of this story.”

The co-founders see the property as a place for worship and/or contemplation for people who share a common thread in reverence for land and nature.

Memorialization, or grave markers, at Bluestem will be accomplished with fieldstones mostly found on the property. The markers will have GPS coordinates, as well as location through a survey. The Cedar Grove property is accessible, with meadows and wooded areas that will eventually provide a variety of burial sites. The initial 10-acre cemetery area will also allow for the burial of pets. 

The property has several existing structures that are historically typical of farmsteads. Masten said a shelter that would allow people to be out of the elements, may be added in the future.

Weston said, while Bluestem will be one of a few dedicated green burial cemeteries in the state and nation, most funeral homes are willing to adjust their services to meet needs and requests, including storage and transportation services.

“I’m all for funeral homes manipulating whatever their general model is in order to accommodate what families need,” she said. “It’s a function of having part of something or all of nothing.”

To find out more about Bluestem, go to: 

bluestemcommunitync.org

bluestemcemetery.org

To learn more about the Green Burial Project, go to:

greenburialproject.org