What is a Green or Natural Burial 

Green, or natural, burials are an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional funeral options and are meant to have minimal impacts on the environment.  

  • Green burial: this term refers to the preparation of the body as well as the burial process. Green burials do not permit embalming or toxic chemicals, metals, such as metal caskets, or concrete vaults. Instead, biodegradable materials or containers may be used to be planted in the earth to decompose naturally, such as pine or wicker caskets or a shroud made of linen, cotton, or silk.
  • Natural burial: this term refers to the burial process itself. Gravesites are dug solely by hand, without the use of machinery, and biodegradable materials or containers are used to minimize the decay or impacts on the environment as much as possible.  

Why Would Someone Choose a Green Burial? 

Just as with any end-of-life planning, Green Burials are a personal choice. Green Burials are great for those who have a love for nature and wish to give back to the environment with a simple burial that would give back and take care of the planet.  

Where Can a Person be Buried? 

According to U.S. Funerals Online, there are some 220 natural burial cemeteries in the U.S. There are three major categories of cemeteries that make up that number — Conservation Ground burial sites, which aim to restore the natural habitat, have a minimal burial density, and manage the land based on defined conservation goals; Natural Burial cemeteries, which are cemeteries that practice the above-described natural burial practices; and Hybrid cemeteries, which are existing traditional cemeteries that have a section specifically for green burial.  

Natural Burial Cemeteries Near Madison, Wisconsin 

There are two green cemeteries in the Madison area. Natural Path Sanctuary, part of the Farley Center for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, is located just outside of Verona, Wisconsin. Further west, north of Barneveld, Wisconsin, is Circle Cemetery, part of Circle Sanctuary.  

what is a green burialBrenda Emerson, a Funeral Director at Ryan Funeral Homes, volunteers her time at Natural Path Sanctuary hand-digging gravesites, along with several other Ryan Funeral Home staff members, family members, and friends.  

Digging graves within the Sanctuary started as a curiosity for Brenda, but quickly became a fun challenge as she learned what she was capable of and the ways she could help others in need.

“I told the [Farley] Center I’d like to help and for them to call on me if they needed help with digging grave sites. I just wanted to help and to learn,” said Brenda. “The first grave we dug was with three of us from Ryan Funeral Home, Tiffany, me, and Brooke, and Brooke’s son (age 5).”  


Volunteering at the Sanctuary has given Brenda and the Ryan Funeral Home team a unique opportunity to connect and understand that death is a natural part of life. Since her first volunteer day, Brenda has returned many times to help dig graves with the help of her husband, colleagues, and their kids.  

What Does a Green Burial Cost? 

On average, cemetery costs can range between $1500-$4000. At the time of this writing, Natural Path Sanctuary charges $3500, where $1000 is allocated for the space in the Sanctuary and the remaining $2500 is given as a donation to help maintain the Farley Center, as it is a non-profit.  

Ryan Funeral Home Green Burial packages start at $4500 and range on average from $5000 – $8000. Many families choose to host a traditional funeral service with visitation followed by a green or natural burial. 

How to Get Started 

To start the process, you may either reach out to our team at Ryan Funeral Homes and we would be happy to help guide you through the process, or you can start by reserving your plot at the Natural Path Sanctuary, or other green cemetery or natural burial ground within Wisconsin.  

When talking with our team, we can help guide you and your family through your options and alternative services and ways of honoring your loved one. Funeral services are completely customizable — many families choose to host a visitation and service in addition to a green or natural burial. We see more and more families who desire to host a community outreach event or volunteer activity as a way to honor their loved one’s life.  

When someone passes away many people want to do something to help, and what better way to honor your own life and legacy or that of your loved one than by coming together to engage those efforts to positively impact the community.  

You may also wish to consider pre-planning and paying for your services with our team, which guarantees the cost of the package you select. Though it’s not required, pre-planning and pre-paying can bring peace of mind that the funds are set aside, and your family won’t have to worry about those costs at a later time. At this time, our staff can also help you reserve a burial plot at the cemetery.  

Click here to begin the pre-planning process or reach out to our team with questions or to get started here. 

Meet Brenda Emerson and Learn More About Green Burials