Home Hers Westchester Eco-friendly exits: environmental advocate launches green burial business

Eco-friendly exits: environmental advocate launches green burial business

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Kerry Potter displays a casket made of willow and sea grass rope at her Dying to Bloom shop in Nyack.
Photo by Aleesia Forni.

A store owner in Nyack aims to offer customers who spend their life caring for the environment that same opportunity in death.

“We’ve learned to make recycling cans, bottles and newspapers part of our everyday life,” said Kerry Potter, founder and owner of Dying to Bloom, a natural burial boutique at 48 Burd St. in the riverfront village. “We should strive to do the same in death.”

Unlike traditional burials, green burials aim to care for the deceased with minimal impact to the environment. Dying to Bloom features a variety of environmentally friendly caskets, shrouds, urns and artistic memorial products for both people and pets.

“Driving hybrid cars and carpooling are great ways to conserve and help the planet, but we also need to start thinking about some of the other eco-friendly ways we can care for our own backyards,” Potter said.

The products at Dying to Bloom, all handmade, were chosen by Potter from crafters and artisans nationwide. Customers can also browse urns specifically for water burial or ones in which plants can grow from a person’s cremated remains.

Biodegradable casket options range from a $365 cardboard casket, which can be decorated by the deceased’s loved ones, to a $4,700 hand-crafted wooden casket. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average cost of a casket in the U.S. is slightly more than $2,000.

“You can go as simple or elaborate as you want, and what’s important for people to know is that it doesn’t reflect how much you loved the deceased,” the Suffern resident said. “Some people think, I have to spend the money, and really, they can create their own more meaningful tribute that’s personal to that loved one.”

Potter, who works full time as an administrative associate at Ramapo Local Development Corp. in Rockland County, is the sole employee of the store, which is open Thursday through Sunday.

“It was sort of like, if I don’t do it now, I won’t do it,” she said. “So it’s sort of scary. It’s taking a risk, but life is temporary and you want to get the most you can from it and enjoy it as much as you can and give as much as you can.”

According to the Funeral and Memorial Information Council, interest in green burial practices has grown in recent years. In 2015, 64 percent of adults over 40 said they would be interested in green funeral options, up from 43 percent in 2010.

For Potter, her passion for natural burial practices was sparked by her own experience with death. When both of her parents passed away while she was in her twenties, she was unaware of the many funeral and burial options available. “At that time, we didn’t think twice about having them embalmed and entombed in a cement vault,” she said.

In her research following her parents’ deaths, Potter, who said she has always been focused on preserving the environment, discovered the toxicity of the chemicals used in embalming, a process that she discovered is not required by state law. She also learned that the manufacturing and transportation of concrete vaults uses substantial amounts of energy and results in large carbon emissions.

“As I became educated about the industry, I realized green burials fall more in line with my appreciation for the environment and the planet we leave for future generations,” she said.

In an effort to raise awareness on the subject, Potter became an advocate to support the growing natural burial trend. Taking advantage of her position in marketing at WRCR Radio in Pomona, she began hosting a monthly radio show to explore the topic. The show, which was also titled “Dying to Bloom,” featured guests who spoke on a variety of funerary topics, from sea burials to consumer rights, and served as the starting point for what would later become her first entrepreneurial endeavor.

“I tried to make it interesting,” she said of her radio segment. “I could kind of get my message out there, and it was fun.”

For Potter, who left the radio station last year, her store is an extension of her advocacy efforts for a sensitive but important topic.

“In opening this business, I also feel I’m doing my part in helping get that ball rolling and kind of changing the way people are viewing our funeral and burial choices,” she said. “I figured if people saw a green casket in the window, it might raise a little more awareness, but of course I want to be in business as well.”

Potter is also the founder of the Rockland Community Foundation’s Green Cemetery Fund, formed to raise enough money to open a green cemetery in Rockland County. Potter said unlike traditional cemeteries, green cemeteries preserve undeveloped open space and offer ecologically sound burial options. Instead of headstones, indigenous stones or native trees serve as grave markers.

According to the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit that advocates for eco-friendly death care, more than 50 green cemeteries in the U.S. are certified by its standards. There are a handful of green cemeteries in New York, including Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, in Newfield in the Finger Lakes region, and Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester. Proponents of green cemeteries see them as a return to simpler, more natural burial practices.

“I don’t think our current practices are sustainable,” Potter said. “We have the baby boomers getting older. It doesn’t really make sense to use up our land for headstones and chemically treated green lawns.”

Potter said opening a green cemetery could be a solution for parks departments that struggle with funding issues. A green cemetery could be developed as a way to preserve open space for hiking or parkland while generating income from sales of grave plots.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of community leaders and asked them to keep the idea in mind,” she said. “Some people probably think I’m nuts.”

Potter plans to set up a donation box for the Green Cemetery Fund within Dying to Bloom. She also hopes to have in-store events and speakers along with more information regarding green burials and cemeteries. “There are so many creative ideas that I’d like to do,” she said.

Despite her years of experience discussing death and burial options, broaching the subject with customers can still prove difficult.

“It’s a challenge, because many people avoid planning and thinking about death as if it would make it come faster. There’s like a taboo, but as we know we’re not all immortal and we never know when our time will come.”

Potter said that she believes openly discussing the topic makes it “less scary.”

“This store itself serves as a little momentary reminder that we will die and I like to use that fact to encourage me and motivate me,” she said, “and I like to send that message to other people.”

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