Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna and Calvary Cemetery in Glenmont are the two diocesan cemeteries that offer natural burials. (Mike Matvey photo)
Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna and Calvary Cemetery in Glenmont are the two diocesan cemeteries that offer natural burials. (Mike Matvey photo)

Trying to go green? Here are some tips: take shorter showers, bike or walk to your destination, or choose a burial plot in a natural burial preserve. 

Not many people think of that last one. 

Still, a natural burial — also called a green burial — is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint even in death. Natural burials do not allow any concrete, metals or vaults. Instead, people can choose a biodegradable container, such as a pine casket, wicker baskets or a shroud.

The Albany Diocesan Cemeteries operates two natural burial preserves: the Kateri Meadow Natural Burial Preserve at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna, and the St. Michael’s Meadow Natural Burial Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Glenmont.

After opening in 2012, the Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery preserve was the first “green” burial site to be offered in the Capital District. The meadow spans 20,000 square feet and allocates for 260 natural graves. Since it’s opening, almost half of the plots have been sold. 

“We have found that the site has exceeded our expectations,” said Lori Biskup, associate director for sales at the Albany Diocesan Cemeteries. “We have people coming from Florida. They have ties to the area but they still want to be buried here.”

Memorials in the Kateri preserve are simple; a 12-by-6 inch granite block is supplied by the cemetery with space only for the deceased’s name and age. Cremation and grave decorations are not permitted, and no pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers are used on the grounds. 

Families are provided a packet of seeds to plant on their first visit to a loved one’s grave. All the flowers chosen are native to the upstate area, and groundskeepers mow the preserve once or twice a year, allowing the wildflower seeds to spread. 

“It really is a neat concept,” said Michael Conti, family service representative at Albany Diocesan Cemeteries. “We just want people to have options.”
St. Michael’s Meadow Natural Burial Preserve is newer to the Diocese, having just opened three years ago. The preserve allocated for 135 graves, and so far six have been purchased.

“I don’t think people know we’re here,” said Conti. “To an outsider, you would think it’s a meadow.”

Similarly to the Kateri preserve, the St. Michael’s preserve does not allow any concrete, metals, or headstones. Families are also able to plant flowers on the site. Conti said some families, who come to visit loved ones in other areas of the cemetery, have picked flowers from St. Michael’s meadows and used them to adorn their loved one’s graves.

“They’re not our flowers, they’re God’s flowers,” said Conti.

Conti also noted families come from Long Island and Vermont to look at St. Michael’s preserve, interested in learning more about natural burials.
An interest in “green burials” has been on the rise as more people are looking for ways to be environmentally conscious. According to the New York Times, nearly 54 percent of Americans are considering a green burial, and 72 percent of cemeteries are reporting an increased demand for the option. 

“The Diocesan Cemeteries wants to have options for everyone,” said Biskup. “This really does appeal to environmentalists and those who want a more natural burial.”

Opting for a natural burial can also be less expensive than a traditional burial or cremation. Today, the average cost of a traditional funeral runs between $7,000 and $10,000. A variety of factors, such as the services at the funeral home, the casket and headstone, all impact overall cost.

A grave and marker for the Kateri Meadow costs $2,000, plus an interment fee of $850. Costs could increase if the family chooses to have their loved one embalmed or if they wish to rent a casket for the wake and funeral. 

“I do really see it growing,” Biskup said. “We’re very pleased.”