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Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens Offers Green Burials

Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens, in Inver Grove Heights, is Minnesota’s first green burial ground. Tony Weber, Prairie Oak’s founder, originally purchased the land for his family but decided instead to use the property for a green cemetery.

“The original piece of land I purchased was a small, three-acre cemetery that had not been used, with the exception of the 1960s and 70s,” says Weber. “I got to looking at it and thought that if I bought the parcels of land around it, for a total of about 30 acres, what a tremendous opportunity to leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren.”

Environmentally friendly burial services, more common on the West Coast, are fairly new in the Midwest. Until recently, cremation was considered the green alternative to traditional burials. With the rise of green cemeteries, however, environmentally conscious families are now able to participate in full-body burial ceremonies without sacrificing their environmental standards.

The objective of a green burial is to maintain a healthy balance between the earth’s natural processes and the human life cycle. At Prairie Oaks there are no metal caskets, monuments or prominent headstones, and indigenous plant species are preserved without the use of herbicides. “It’s just a natural way of being buried,” Weber says. “You can really leave a smaller footprint on this earth by having a green burial.”

Prairie Oaks has strict guidelines for what can and cannot be buried in a green grave. “As long as the materials are non-toxic, they are allowed to be buried with the individual,” says Weber. “We recently buried an author of 28 books. Since her book bindings were free of any toxic glue, she was allowed to be buried with one of each of them.” Items not accepted include metal zippers, synthetic accessories or clothing and other non-biodegradable personal items.

All materials used in green burials at Prairie Oaks are non-toxic and environmentally sustainable. Caskets are made of wood, held together with wooden dowels instead of metal nails or screws. Headstones are simple granite rocks that display the deceased’s name, birth date and death date. Non-toxic shrouds and trundles are available for those who do not want caskets.

Prairie Oaks also offers scattering ponds and wooded areas for placement of ashes. “Leading down to the pond are pavers with the names of every person whose remains are scattered in the pond,” Weber says. “They have the choice to scatter all of the remains or just a portion.” Additionally, metal-free urns are available for the burial of cremation remains.

Because Prairie Oaks does not offer such expensive services as chemical embalming and luxury metal caskets, Weber says the overall cost of funerals is significantly reduced. “Our average funeral, including the celebration service and meal, is typically not more than $5,000,” he explains. “Some can even cost less than $2,000.” Weber adds that traditional funerals average between $12,000 and $15,000, and still may not cover all expenses.

For those who prepay for their green funerals in full, Prairie Oaks offers a no-inflation guarantee. “If people, at any age, prepay for their funeral and their celebration, we guarantee that cost,” Weber says. “If they plan today and were to die 20 years from now, we guarantee their funeral and their celebration at the original price.”

When Prairie Oaks eventually reaches capacity, Weber has put the land into a conservancy to ensure the property will remain a permanent, park-like setting. “My family and I are very committed to keeping this property as a park for the Dakota County community,” he says. “If we can fill this cemetery within the next 50 to 100 years, I’ll be happy."

He is in the process of building Prairie Oak Gardens Memorial Center, a facility to help people celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed away. “We want people to feel that they are here for a celebration of life as opposed to trying to just maintain themselves after a tremendous loss,” Weber says. “Not that we aren’t cognizant of the fact that it’s a tremendous loss, but we are married to the concept of a life celebration and believe it makes all the difference.”

Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens is located at 8225 Argenta Trail, Inver Grove Heights. For more information or to schedule a private consultation, call 651-300-5934 or visit MNGreenGraves.com.

Michelle Hamburger is a freelance writer and can be reached at Michelle@NATwinCities.com.

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