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Prairie Rest cemetery offers green burials

Bodies are buried in biodegradable caskets
Posted: 10:27 PM, May 24, 2017
Updated: 2017-05-25 10:59:00-04

Nestled within the 167-year-old Forest Home Cemetery is Prairie Rest, a cemetery reserved for natural burials.

Executive Director Jan Van Rens says the cemetery is close to four acres.

"We have about 150 people who have purchased property here, and we have about 50 who are actually buried to date in the past 10 years," she said.

A natural burial is an environmentally-friendly approach to burial.

Jeff Kleczka, vice president of Prasser-Kleczka Funeral Homes, picked up on the green burial trend seven years ago. He says it isn't very common yet, but, "I believe in the years to come that this will be a considerable part of our business."

In a green burial the body is not embalmed with a traditional formaldehyde-based solution. Instead, a non-toxic solution is used. Also, the body must be buried in a container that is 100 percent biodegradable.

Kleczka says caskets can be made of materials such as pine or bamboo or in some cases there is no casket at all.

"The family has the option to bury the body in the ground in a simple shroud that's supported by a board underneath," he said.

Seventy-nine-year-old Ray Banks of New Berlin has his green burial all planned out including what he'll be buried in.

"This is a quilt my wife made for me many years ago," he said.

His wife, Carol, passed away in 2014. She was also buried in a quilt she made.

"Just a regular service like any other service only they don't have the coffin there," Banks says.

In the 1970s the Banks saw an article about green burials and knew it's what they wanted. Cost wasn't a factor, but a green burial usually costs less than a traditional burial. Traditional burial caskets cost anywhere from $875 to $30,000. Green burial caskets cost about $1,600.

Also, families don't have to buy a headstone.

"Most commonly you will see a community memorial which has all of the names of the people that are laid to rest in that specific location," Kleczka added.

Van Rens said Prairie Rest is 10 years old and is undergoing a natural restoration.

"Next year you're going to see taller grasses, prairie grasses; you're going to see a multitude of different colored flowers," Van Rens said.

She added, for those who choose to return to the Earth in this natural way, there is plenty of room.

"We probably have 50 to 75 years worth of space," she said.

Prairie Rest is one of three natural cemeteries in southeast Wisconsin.