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Hi Everyone,
We’ve had a wonderful autumn at Penn Forest. The foliage of the trees was full of vivid fall colors, and now as autumn shifts to winter we prepare for the colder months. In this newsletter, you can read about the colorful send-off of one of our local Pittsburgh artists and musicians, and how we’ve been helping to expand the knowledge of green burial – including a visit from two Dutch sailors. We also talk about some recent events as well as some upcoming events. Enjoy the winter months and we hope you can make it out to visit us at one of our events.
Best wishes for a wonderful 2020!
A Colorful Send-Off. When Chuck Barr walked this earth, he made sure color and art surrounded him; he could often be found painting on his porch when the Pittsburgh weather allowed. And it didn’t matter the surface, something as simple as a cardboard box could be the perfect canvas for his paints. He also loved to play jazz and listen to jazz. Mary, his partner in life, stated that there were times when he would be so immersed in the music, he could sit playing into the late hours of the night and early morning. For Chuck, a bright celebration of life was fitting.
Mary chose to have Chuck’s celebration of life and burial at Penn Forest. The day was spent with friends coming together to celebrate Chuck’s beautiful nearly 90-years in a way that was filled with color, music, and laughter. Together, Mary and their friends listened to jazz, played drums, laughed, and cried one last time with Chuck by their sides in spirit. 
“Chuck loved people, and it was very social and joyful…He was a non-conformist. He was a free spirit. He was not into formalities, and I think there was definitely an informal feel to the whole celebration. I told people the dress code was colorful and informal.” And colorful they were. Mary and many of their friends arrived in tie-dyed shirts, while the flowers they held from the Flower Picking Garden punctuated the event with colors from nature.
The day was unlike a conventional funeral in many ways, “I played drums along with my friends, and that was kind of a comfort to me because Chuck loved music. He encouraged people to play, he used to say, ‘It didn’t matter if you were a virtuoso. The world would be a better place if everyone would pick up an instrument or a paintbrush."
Along with the jazz and drumming, the ceremony included having the labyrinth laid out so everyone could take the time to walk the path and have internal reflection during the celebration. They also came together to fill in the earth over Chuck’s wicker casket, “It meant a lot to me; I think it’s personal. Instead of a funeral home [cemetery] filling in the earth, it was people who cared for Chuck doing it. I think it really gave me a sense of closure to see that being done; not to walk away before it’s finished, to stay with him for the full process. I’m very grateful to our able-bodied friends who did the shoveling.”
For Mary, the active participation brought her comfort, “Everybody put a flower on the casket, everybody that wanted to played a drum, and I think everybody put at least a shovel full of earth on the grave. I think that was good for my friends that they had a part to play, that they helped me send Chuck off.
On the planning aspect of the burial, Mary explained how working with Pete, Laura, and Tricia Brown helped to guide her, “It means so much when you have a shock like that, and lose the most important person in your life to have people who are very friendly and supportive, and they’ve got it covered. They have the practical problems covered. Everything I asked Pete, he said was fine, ‘do what you want.’ I’m not sure they’d let me play jazz in church. And the atmosphere of the place made me, and my friends, feel comfortable. It feels more like a park than a cemetery. They were able to accommodate everything I asked for. I sort of feel like they’re doing it for the love of it; it’s not just a business to them.”
Natural burial was something Mary had looked into in the past due to her love of nature. Mary and Chuck loved nature and they enjoyed camping. The site at Penn Forest reminds her of a campsite that she and Chuck would have stayed at with their golden retriever. Mary also appreciates the natural aspect of the process, “It’s respecting the wisdom of nature. I love the idea that Chuck’s nutrients will someday be a part of a tree, I think that’s so beautiful. Our bodies continue to give life, to be part of a circle of life. It’s kind of an immortality.”
The burial and ceremony also touched others in profound ways, including Chuck’s daughter Lynne Barr Jeffries. She said, “I cried; it was a release…everyone was drawn together as one. This was a celebration of my dad’s life.” It wasn’t only the drumming and community that helped, but also the burial itself, “Shoveling the dirt was a spiritual way to say goodbye. The ritual helped to heal unfinished business.”
12/21/19 Solstice Celebration. Led by Tricia Brown (, Penn Forest hosted a solstice bonfire and celebration open to all. We had perfect weather, and about 80 people gathered to honor the changing of the seasons and remember lost loved ones.
12/17/19 PIMS Presentation Highlights Changes in the Death Care Industry. Pete McQuillin (4th from left) and Laura Faessel (10th from left) gave a talk on green burial to the next Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science (PIMS) graduating class. They were joined by local funeral director, Jaime Hahn (12th from left), who spoke on home funerals and got bombarded by positive questions from these students.
Pete recalled, “In 2009, as a representative of Green Burial Pittsburgh, I made my first presentation to the student body at PIMS, a school that has been providing training for students entering funeral service for over seventy-five years. I asked those students, ‘How many of you think that green burial is just a passing fad?’ 90%+ of the students raised their hands in 2009. Ten years later, I asked that same question and only one student raised his hand. So green burial has gone mainstream among future funeral directors.” 
“In addition,” Pete said, “In 2009 most of the students were men, whose parents were funeral directors. In contrast, about 65% of this class are women and only a couple come from funeral home families. And in the next class after them, about 75% are women.”
Putting the Picking Garden to Bed. This was our first year for the Flower Picking Garden and we learned so much. We really appreciate the support we got from visitors. You made us want to do even better next year!
In November after the frost finished off the annual flowers, the plants were heaped onto a compost pile (except a few sunflowers that still had seed for the birds to eat). Dahlia tubers and gladiolus corms were dug up and stored, with hopes they will grow next year. Seasoned manure from Returning Home Farm was worked into the soil and then the beds were topped with leaves and straw to reduce spring weeds.       
Now Laura and Nancy are expanding their knowledge (we are beginners!) by taking a class this winter on growing flowers and are excited to expand and improve the garden. The plan is to start some cool season flowers indoors in February for March planting. Our flower growing guru is Lisa Mason Ziegler at  
Spring bulbs were also planted around the cemetery grounds this fall, so come visit this spring to see what comes up. After winter we will welcome these first signs of the season changing. 
If you want to help plant and weed, contact Laura. Ideas and advice are welcome!
Returning Home Farm News. The farm has been busy, and thanks to a visit from a local buck a few weeks ago, we can announce that Hanikwa, also known as Squirrel or Nikki, is pregnant! She is bred for early May. Willow will be having a date with Perry in hopes of having June babies.
Late Breaking News. Ziv was born to mama Solas on 12/23/19, the first day of Hanukkah. His name means “light” in Hebrew.
Hiking with Goats. Yoga with Goats has been a very popular event at Returning Home Farm, and we’re looking to expand our goat-centered activities to include hiking with goats. Here’s a video from a recent walk where George and Frosty devoured some privet. Pete was very happy about this: click here for video.
We’ll let you know as we plan more adventures with the goats!
11/2/19 Forest Bathing and Qi Gong. Moshe Sherman, from Cloud Gate Pittsburgh, led a group through the woods and taught them the Japanese meditative practice of forest bathing. Moshe also taught Qi Gong movements and breathing exercises during their hike. It served as a wonderful way to get back in touch with nature, while also releasing the stresses of modern life. Nancy enjoyed the experience stating, “We all need reminders to slow down and be more present in the moment. This class opened me up to a deeper awareness of and connection to each and every tree in the woods. Now hiking is about BOTH exercise and meditation.”
We thank Moshe and all of the participants for coming out and making the event such a pleasant and meaningful experience.
11/6/19 Sailors for Sustainability. We had an exciting visit from two sailors from the Netherlands, the Sailors for Sustainability. Ivar and Floris are sailing around the world, searching for sustainable solutions. As they travel, they report on their Facebook page and website in hopes of inspiring people to help change the planet and make their lives more sustainable. They heard of our efforts and decided to stop by and visit us to learn about what we do. You can read about their visit to Penn Forest and the region on their website by clicking here. They also made a nice Instagram post about their visit; see it by clicking here. We enjoyed getting to know Ivar and Floris, and getting to tell them more about green burial.
11/22/19 Coffin Building Workshop. Our first coffin building workshop happened! Wade Caruso walked the group through the steps to building their own coffin. Hahn Funeral Home in Millvale provided the space, while Wade lent his woodworking expertise to the group. The completed coffins can now be used as coffee tables or bookcases until they will be needed for use in a burial.
Also, this workshop is featured in the January 2020 issue of the North Hills Monthly Magazine. We plan to host another coffin building workshop in the future. If you’re interested in attending a coffin building workshop, let us know!
12/7/19 Home Funeral Workshop. We recently held a home funeral workshop led by Colleen McGonigle, and Jaime Hahn, funeral director, at Hahn Funeral Home. Colleen is a trained home funeral educator. She and Jaime work together to help families with home funerals. The workshop taught participants wishing to have a home funeral how they can make that happen. We used a live volunteer for the “corpse” and Jaime Hahn made sure all students left knowing what they needed in order to make future plans.
2/2/20 Presentation at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill. Pete and Laura will be giving a presentation on everything you need to know about green burial.
2/4/20 Presentation at First Unitarian Church in Shadyside. Pete and Laura will be giving a presentation on everything you need to know about green burial.
6/13/20 Annual Picnic. Please save the date for the Penn Forest Annual Picnic! Our next annual picnic will be held on Saturday June 13, 2020. More details to follow!
Treemations Update. There’s always a way to memorialize a loved one in Penn Forest. At our annual fall memorial tree planting a tree can be planted in memory of loved ones. Treemation is another way. 
Treemation is the process of planting a tree on top of your loved one’s ashes. So far there are 15 Treemations at Penn Forest. After much work, Laura has managed to use GPS to map out the locations of the Treemations at Penn Forest. To find a treemation, you can visit the locate a grave page , and enter the name of the deceased. Once you’re on their memorial page, you can click the burial location, and a map will be brought up that shows the GPS location of the treemation.
Laura’s Corner. At Penn Forest, we specialize in green burials. To me, green burial means making sure that I leave as little of a carbon footprint on the earth as possible. But some people don’t know what the actual process of green burial is. 
Green burial means that bodies cannot be prepared with toxic embalming fluids, and anything that goes into the ground must be environmentally friendly and biodegradable. At Penn Forest, we allow wicker coffins, cardboard coffins, all wood coffins, and burial shrouds. You can buy burial shrouds from funeral homes, or online. We have someone who is a quilter, and she plans to be buried in one of her quilts. While another person we know will be knitting her own shroud. We have also had people make their own coffins; we just had the workshop for coffin building.
For cremations, you can use biodegradable urns, or place the ashes directly in the ground. Some people like to do Treemations, which includes planting a tree on top of the ashes of a loved one.
You can make your green burial as personal as you would like, as long as it fits the requirements of a green burial.
As far as the land itself goes, we never use pesticides on the property or spray any chemicals. We mow the wildflower meadow once a year and allow the burial areas to grow naturally.
Recent Facebook Posts:
December 17th: Is it a movement? A bill in Colorado would make Natural Organic Reduction legal. It’s a form of green burial that turns human remains into soil. Article. 
December 6th: It’s a worldwide movement. The future of funerals: natural burial, home vigils, DIY coffins and more – CHOICE.
December 1st: Another problem with cremation. Ashes of the cremated are piling up at funeral homes.
November 21st: Katrina Spade just announced, "Excited to announce that we have chosen architecture firm Olson Kundig to design Recompose|Seattle, the first place in the world where Recompose will be offered to humans! Onwards, regenerative death care, onwards!" Article.
November 12th: George and Frosty enjoyed a walk on a leash that led to a delicious snack (privet, a plant Pete is happy to see devoured). Video.
November 6th: Open air cremation takes a big toll on the environment. But our cremation methods are not environmentally friendly either. Article.
October 29: We got coverage on our coffin building workshop, and how to use the coffin as furniture. Even though the photos show wicker, the coffins will be pine. The reporter called me from Philadelphia and couldn't get here to take photos of our coffins. Article.
October 18th: If you're looking for a funeral home and want to know prices, go to, put in your zip code, and you'll get a list of all the funeral homes in your area and their prices. Doesn't specifically cover green burial, but the Affordable Burial option should be close.
October 14th: Build your own coffin in Pittsburgh region with help of a green burial organization Tribune
Planting Flowers on Graves.  It's nice when people plant flowers on graves, but it's not so nice when the deer eat them. Here’s a list Kathy Raborn gave us of native PA plants that are deer resistant. Read the disclaimer and proceed at your own risk. (Note: We reserve the right to trim or remove plants that grow beyond grave boundaries.)
Did You Know?
You signed up for this newsletter because you are interested in green burial at Penn Forest, so I'm sure you know that we don't allow embalming with toxic chemicals, we bury people in biodegradable coffins or shrouds and we don't use burial vaults. But did you know...  

You can have a viewing and visitation at a funeral home before a green burial. Or if you don't want to use a funeral home at all, we can arrange that too. By chilling the body, green burial can occur up to 10 days after death. You can be an organ donor and still have a green burial. You can be cremated and have your ashes interred at Penn Forest in a biodegradable container.

The choice is yours. Contact Penn Forest for more information, and other options to help you make the best choices for you and your family.

Green Burial Questions?

You've got questions...we've got answers!  Check out our Green Burial Frequently Asked Questions.  Do you have a question that was not answered in the FAQ's? Email us and we will be happy to answer it for you.

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