TRINITY, Fla. — On the Heartwood Preserve, the budding essence of new life is visible in every direction.
Growing grasses, budding flowers, and even buzzing insects can be seen across the property. But those who come to this place of peace, are here because of death.
What You Need To Know
- Heartwood Preserve in Pasco County is open as an option for green burials
- In the green cemetery, people are buried without embalming fluids and are interred using biodegradable materials
- Tombstones or other big markers are not allowed at Heartwood Preserve
“We had a simple pine casket — the grave was hand dug, they lowered him down with ropes, and they put all the dirt back, so it was a big mound," said Dennis Shelt Jr. of his father's burial. "Just since February, it’s gone down so much."
Shelt's father is buried on the Heartwood Preserve in a grave surrounded by wire grass and Florida wildflowers.
“I think about who he was, and our life together — how much I miss him, how much I love him," said Shelt. “I don’t feel like I am coming to a cemetery, I am coming to this beautiful land. And even though there are so many people buried here, it is hard to tell."
Laura Starkey is the executive director of the cemetery.
“This is a pretty recent burial, this is from August of this year," said said pointing to a grave. “Then we have a few back in here that have already grown in.”
Heartwood Preserve is a green cemetery, which simply means people are buried in biodegradable materials, avoiding vaults and without embalming fluids.
“Some people kind of think of it as old fashioned — it’s the way burials used to always be," said Starkey.
During a burial, a hole is dug a few feet into the ground, and a person's body is placed in either a biodegradable box like pine, or wrapped in a cloth shroud. There are no fancy headstones or big markers at the cemetery.
“You are not paying a ton of money for a big giant monument," said Starkey. "So if some people want that, that is fine, but that is not our place here. We are really about letting the families become part of the nature.”
She said a person's body breaks down much faster when buried this way, and is returned to the soil to feed the ecosystem. After just a few weeks, it can be hard to even spot where the grave sites are located, Starkey said.
“Oh, this man was really active in the Audubon chapter. He loved it out here," said Starkey, brushing away the grass that slightly covered a small marker for a grave site.
Cremated remains can be buried in the preserve too.
“I have people that ask ... why would you do that?" Starkey said. "It feels dark for people or depressing for people. But it’s really not. Look around, this is not depressing — look at this life."
It's the life that Shelt says draws him here as well.
“It really is a beautiful spot," he said.
It's a place he will be buried when he dies, and a place he is happy to return to when he misses his father.
“I feel sad that he is gone, but you can’t help but be grateful for the life he had," said Shelt.
Experts say the cost of a green burial usually ranges from $1,500 to $5,000.