The story of Vermont Forest Cemetery.
In 2015, the state of Vermont passed a law legalizing natural burial grounds. However, it still required a minimum burial depth of five feet, which means the law hadn’t actually made it possible for the best practices of natural burial to be used. Our founder, Michelle Acciavatti and Board member Jennifer Whitman took on the challenge of amending the burial depth law. Working with experts in natural burial, soil science, geology, wildlife biology, and septic design, she wrote a bill to amend the burial depth to 3.5 feet. She spent several weeks discussing the bill with legislators and traveled throughout the state to listen to people’s concerns and provide education. The bill passed unanimously and went into effect in 2017.
In natural burial, we dig no deeper than four feet so that the body and its bacteria can remain in contact with the active layers of the soil, where oxygen, moisture, warmth, and soil bacteria aid in recycling the body’s elements. The miraculous mycorrhizal network, made up of fungi in a mutually-supportive relationship with the roots of growing things, absorbs, filters, and transports these elements as nutrients for the forest. In natural burial, the body is not just figuratively, but also literally returned to the Earth.
The body is bathed, often by loved ones, and kept cool until the time of interment, but there’s no embalming or other preservation. The body is placed in a biodegradable container made of natural materials—like a pine coffin, a willow basket, or a linen shroud—and lowered gently to rest on pine boughs, leaves, and other green matter. It’s in this way that burial helps sequester carbon rather than adding more to the atmosphere. The land itself is managed with ecologically sound principles in accordance with best practices for conservation burial as defined by the Green Burial Council, the Conservation Burial Alliance, and our own research.
Founder, Head Cemeterian, and President of the Board of Directors
Michelle Hogle Acciavatti (she/her/they), M.Sci., is a natural deathcare worker. She is a licensed funeral director, death doula, pregnancy loss guide, end of life specialist and natural burial educator, working with people preparing for the end of life, designing funeral services, caring for their own dead, and exploring natural burial options.
Michelle was first drawn to natural burial on her path to becoming an end-of-life specialist. When she learned that natural burial was not fully legal in Vermont, she threw herself into making sure it was. From 2017 to 2020, seven cemeteries in Vermont added natural burial sections with her support. In 2018 she helped create Spirit Sanctuary, a conservation style cemetery in Essex, New York. This experience made her determined to create a burial ground dedicated to natural burial in Vermont.
Michelle has trained as a mortician, an advance care planner, an end of life doula, a home funeral guide, a natural burial advocate & educator, a writer, a neuroscientist, and an ethicist. She is a founding member of The Collective for Radical Death Studies. She has practiced death work with people of all ages, including death during pregnancy. Her work has found her in settings as varied as the forest, Boston Children’s Hospital, and people’s own living rooms as well as the traditional funeral home. She loves being outdoors, ideally in the sun, usually by water, often with a cup of tea, and almost always with a book.
Board of Directors
Vermont Forest Cemetery
in the News
See below for articles about our cemetery or quoting our cemeterians.