Leaving a better world behind
It’s been ten-and-a-half years since Verona resident and doctor Linda Farley died in June 2009.
A long-time family medicine practitioner, she had arranged for her remains to be donated to science; however, they were not accepted, leaving her family scrambling for another option.
“Mom did not have a Plan B,” Shedd Farley, Linda’s son, said.
Shedd is the director of the Linda and Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability, which Linda’s death formalized. The Center runs out of the Farley’s wooded home, built in the countryside near Verona in the Town of Springdale.
Shedd said he wasn’t always into some of the “hippie things” his parents were into growing up, so he didn’t expect to leave Denver after 38 years, where he worked as a contractor and homebuilder, to become director of the Center.
In 2011, the Center became licensed and certified to provide natural burials, meaning the bodies are not embalmed and are rarely buried in a casket. Twenty-five acres out of the 43-acre property was zoned for the cemetery, renamed the Natural Path Sanctuary. It was the first “green” cemetery in Dane County and is one of only around 70 nationwide, Shedd said.
He runs the Center off revenue from cemetery. The center is operated as a nonprofit, while the cemetery is separately incorporated and funded.
When Linda’s husband Gene died in November 2013, he was also given a green burial. However, to the dismay of his children, he could not be buried next to Linda, due to complications with how the cemetery had been zoned. While not feeling good about it, the children had no choice but to bury him a few hundred feet away from her.
Green burials can either be conducted in a biodegradable shroud made from wool, cotton, silk, hemp, or burlap, or in a simple raw wood casket, for which Shedd charges a $100 additional fee to discourage their usage. There are no embalming fluids nor other toxic chemicals involved, Shedd said, unlike traditional burial methods. They are also less energy-intensive than cremation.
Natural burials are performed at three feet deep instead of six, because the microbial layer of soil which helps disintegrate the remains exists only up to three feet under the surface.
Traditional burials require a lot of energy, Shedd added, and emit chemicals. Caskets and embalming fluids are both environmentally unfriendly, he said, as caskets are made from between 200 to 400 pounds of steel and wood and fluids leak and contaminate the groundwater.
Shedd said as of November, the cemetery had sold around 460 plots and buried 165 people, estimating the grounds are around 10% full. While the 25 acres were originally planned for 7420 plots, due to trees and other obstructions, which Shedd declines to remove, he expects there will be a total of 2,000 plots.
There’s only one font option for headstones at Natural Path Sanctuary, Shedd said.
That’s because the cemetery only allows “headstones cut by nature:” Native Wisconsin limestone rocks on the property engraved with hand-carved epitaphs.
Shedd often receives questions about possible preclusions or disqualifiers to being buried at the cemetery. People inquire if they have to remove metal body parts or pacemakers to be buried, which they don’t.
Others worry that they cannot be buried there after receiving chemotherapy, which is not the case, Shedd said.
Family members are encouraged to be a part of the burial process by digging the grave and lowering the body and hosting ceremonies and receptions at the Center’s building.
“We encourage families to participate in the burial in as many ways as possible,” Shedd said.
Dedicated to service
Another sixteen of the 43 acres of the property is a collaborative educational farm catered towards immigrant and beginning farmers.
Immigrants from Colombia, Mexico, Russia, Tibet, Thailand, China and Canada are trained in organic land use. This includes a beekeeping incubator program, which has grown from three beekeepers in its first year to 12 this year. Shedd said the purpose isn’t to profit off the bees or to get honey, but to help propagate the species and pollinate the nature preserve.
The center has provided volunteer opportunities to University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Morgridge Center for Public Service Badger Volunteers and the Department of Corrections’ Grow Academy programs, including harvesting fruits and vegetables, making cider and juice and digging graves.
The service-based usage for the remaining acres of the land is something Linda and Gene would have liked as an homage to their activist and volunteerism lifestyle.
From running an outpatient clinic on a Northeastern Arizona Navajo Reservation to training nurses in Jamaica, the Farleys spent much of their lives providing education and advocacy in under-served communities.
Linda campaigned for a single-payer universal health care system to churches and unions. Her work in that area led to her being nominated by then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin for the National Library of Medicine’s “Local Legends” honor, which celebrates the contributions of female physicians throughout America.
Gene was a professor at the UW- School of Medicine, and served as chair of the Department of Family Medicine for a decade.
“I want to carry on the same types of things dad and mom did with their lives, doing things for our environment and community,” Shedd said.