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
Vice President & Sexton
Paul is an educator, an author, a former wireless systems engineer, and currently the sexton (or cemetery manager) of Vermont Forest Cemetery. Paul is coming to deathcare work unexpectedly after participating in home funerals and natural burial ceremonies, and seeing the power and impact they have on the mourner. Paul has a deep and humbling love of this land and by the idea of the generations upon generations who will find solace here.
James M. Hogle, Ph.D.
Jim is the Edward S. Harkness Professor emeritus at Harvard University, former chair of the Biophysics program, and retired faculty director of Dudley House and the Graduate Student Commons. He has always had an affinity for nature—especially flyfishing—and bought his home in Vermont in 2006 after visiting his children who had moved here. Jim and his wife, Doreen, have lived in Vermont full-time since he retired in 2019. As Michelle’s father, he has watched as she developed a career in end-of-life care, home funerals, and natural burials and the passion and compassion she brings to the idea and practice. He has now had the privilege to work with her during the home funeral and natural burial of a dear friend. It is impossible to have these experiences without seeing the logic and beauty of natural burial. Similarly, it is impossible to tour the grounds of the Vermont Forest Cemetery without seeing the beauty of the site and to the vision for combining natural burial and conservation of this beautiful site.
Tamara Warschinski, Ph.D.
Tamara, originally from Germany, holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Adelaide, with a focus on attitudes towards death and dying. She also has extensive experience in nonprofit development, event planning, and fundraising, having worked as a consultant for JAM and as administrator and director of development at JAG Productions. Tamara co-founded The Collective for Radical Death Studies, a nonprofit that educates on end-of-life issues for marginalized communities. She currently works at Kimball Union Academy and lives in Lebanon with her family, enjoying nature, the arts, and lazy Sunday mornings.
Meg's background is in the fine arts, having studied at Parsons School of Design and the New School for Social Research, and having worked as an exhibiting artist in San Francisco for 20 years. After relocating to Vermont, she was the founder and co-publisher of Vermont’s Local Banquet, a quarterly magazine which existed for 10 years, and focused on local food and sustainable farming. An avowed activist, Meg has helped work on food issues at the Vermont Statehouse. Meg was drawn to green burial solely for environmental reasons, as she sees it as a wholistic method for returning our bodies to the land; a recycling of nutrients. What she didn’t anticipate was the profound personal growth that she has experienced as she has welcomed the idea of caring for her loved one’s body after death.
After three decades working within the stewardship of rural cemeteries, Jim continues to work instrumentally in the revival of natural burial at National Landmark Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, the first of America’s rural Cemeteries (founded in 1831). As former President of the New England Cemetery Association (2019), Jim has brought regional attention to a growing national movement away from conventional burial. In 2017, Jim met Michelle and Jennifer and became a founding member of Green Burial Vermont. Jim enjoys time in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking with his family as well as in Natick, Massachusetts - at the mall (just kidding).
Jennifer holds a Bachelor's Degree in Prevention & Community Development from Woodbury College and a Certificate in Photography from Cornell. Jennifer was one of the original founding members of Green Burial Vermont. From 2012 - 2017 Jennifer served on the town of Calais Conservation Commission. She also served on Calais' Cemetery Commission from 2014 to 2021. In 2017 she and Michelle introduced the Burial Depth Bill that fully legalized green burial in Vermont. From 2018 - 2021 Jennifer was the Calais Cemetery Sexton. The mission of the Vermont Forest Cemetery is a good fit for Jennifer, and her overlapping beliefs about the environment and end of life choices. Jennifer feels passionately about reducing obstacles that would prevent an individual's beliefs, ethics and/or traditions from being respected, honored and celebrated after death. And, she feels pretty fierce about reducing humans' impact on the planet. When not hanging around cemeteries Jennifer can be found taking photographs or taking long walks with family, friends -- and her dog Bleu.
Andrea is “sort of” retired from an extensive career in non-profit management, community organizing, communications, and advocacy and has a great love of forests and anywhere outdoors. Most recently she served as the Executive Director and Policy Consultant for Rural Vermont from 2011 to 2020. Founded in 1985 by Vermont farmers, Rural Vermont is a non-profit focused on advocating for the needs of small family farms and rural food producers. She has also held executive, development, and communications positions with Vermont Conservation Voters, VPIRG, Vermont Arts Council and The Northern Forest Alliance. In 2006, Andrea was the Central Vermont Regional Field Coordinator for Bernie Sanders’ first successful campaign for the US Senate. She has previously served on the Boards of Lost Nation Theater and 350VT. She graduated from and is a member of the founding class of Hampshire College. She completed the Vermont Leadership Institute in 2004. Andrea is a resolute local food consumer/composter, and she looks forward to becoming a resident of Vermont Forest Cemetery when her time here is done.
Vermont Forest Cemetery
in the News
See below for articles about our cemetery or quoting our cemeterians.
Read or watch this story broadcast on WCAX November 6, 2023
Read this article in Seven Days from October 4, 2023
Read this article in VTDigger from Oct. 4, 2023.
Order of the Good Death
Read or listen to this article in the Order of the Good Death from November 11, 2020.
Read or listen to this Vermont Public broadcast from April 20, 2023 with Lexi Krupp.