New York State Funeral Directors Association

Graveyard Gardening Can Be Seen As Disgraceful

I’m not going to get too deep into what I think or feel when I visit my family’s historic cemetery that serves as the final resting site of my ancestors dating back to the 1700s.

It fulfills me to visit and be thankful they survived tougher times well enough that I’m here enjoying what I have.

I owe them gratitude and respect - and that’s why I find it hard to digest news that there’s an active community in England so wrapped up in this “local food” craze that they’re growing vegetables in their cemetery.

Not on the side or in special plots reserved just for veggies – they’re planting vegetables practically right on top of the headstones, in the places I’ve always avoided when walking through graveyards.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to “walk on the dead” so I avoid the spot where I believe they’ve been buried.

These happy folk are growing vegetables on a gravesite in the UK and it’s up for discussion here in the U.S.

The question: “What are your thoughts on graveyard gardening?”

I have a simple answer and, since I love hearing myself write, a long answer too. The simple answer is “No. Forget it.”Ed Munger's rendering of what graveyard farming would look like - a big manure truck rolling by graves

The long answer starts with my first question when approaching an idea – why?

I know some places on this planet, for reasons like mass poverty or radioactivity, have a lot of difficulty putting food on tables.

The UK, where folks waste an estimated six meals a week, is not one of these places.

And come on, hasn’t everyone seen those new tomato plants you can suspend and grow upside down?

Sure, I like the idea of the old days when people grew their own veggies in their backyard gardens, trading a cucumber for a tomato with a neighbor so everybody would have what they needed.

I also think it’s important that people make use of land in an appropriate and efficient way.

Burial Options Restricted By Squandered Land

Some communities built so many housing structures and business buildings that they don’t have enough room to bury their dead. So they stuff them in mass graves.

But that’s not everywhere. The head of a large faith community’s cemetery division in Upstate New York told me they had “hundreds of years” of space available to keep burying people the way my grandparents and their grandparents did.

That’s heartening to me, a stodgy, uninteresting kind of guy content with doing things the same way my ancestors did.

Traditional ceremonies and rituals hold more value to me than brand new ones somebody just made up – it’s like an expression of kinship with my forefathers.

So the last thing I want to see when I visit my family’s historic cemetery is some sustainability fanatic hacking away at the soil on top of my great-grandfather’s great-great-grandfather’s grave.

I don’t want to see a farm truck with a hand-painted sign that reads “manure” rumbling up the local gravesite’s driveway to fertilize plants either.

Cemeteries are a place we go to connect with our lost friends and family – the last remaining remnants of whom are stored there with reverence.

They serve as a reminder of our own mortality.

They demonstrate to the young that we, as a people, care about the memory of our long-lost family and friends and what they contributed to our lives.

It’s not a memory we need to “spice up” by being cute. It’s not a venue for expressing our love for “sustainability.”

Headstones Are Not Chairs

I was reading about people sitting on headstones, dancing on graves and playing Bingo in the cemeteries in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

That practice yielded an editorial titled “The moral decay worsens: St Thomas funeral practice of grave concern,” the Jamaica Observer labeled the practice as a “blatant lack of regard for the sacredness” of final resting places.

Plant tomatoes on your roof, or cut a hole in the side of your apartment and add a window that allows the sun to shine on the plants.

Heck, people so interested in horticulture should consider building their own carry-on farm.

Ed Munger's awful Photoshop depiction of a guy hitchhiking while wearing a backpack farmJust attach some plant potters to a backpack and all you have to do is make sure it’s facing the sun for the better part of the day.

Next thing you know, you’ll be a walking garden with fresh veggies instantly available, except in the winter.

I’m starting to wonder what’s next. As my opinion of mankind continues to erode, I expect I’ll see new ideas like building solar panels on top of headstones and mausoleums.

I guess it’s a waste for rainfall to hit cemeteries now, so perhaps somebody can develop a big gutter system to catch that fresh acid rain and divert just what’s needed to quench the Brussels sprouts.

There’s no need to stop there – headstones are solid and capable of withstanding some weight – we can start using them to suspend roofing materials for kennels to house pets like dogs and cats.

Swine would make a nice addition to these Farmeteries – they could eat up the ends of all the carrots and lettuce, egg shells and coffee grounds that all the non-wasters will bring in for compost.

Then they can drop fertilizer on the Farmetery’s vegetable plots each day, as can the chickens.

I’m unsure where this will all end but I expect to see plants extending out of toilet tanks soon too.

EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association