For many cemeteries, the past decade has been a trying time, as a growing shift towards cremation over traditional burial has put cemeteries under increasing pressure financially. However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland recently came up with an interesting solution to its struggles: planting vinyards.
Wine-making has a long history in California, and the Catholic Church itself played an important role, as Spanish missionaries are credited with bringing grapes and wine-making over from Europe in the 1700s. Yet it has only been in the past decade that the Church has begun adopting wine-making as a solution to its problems, both financial and aesthetic.
Planting grape vines has proven to be a boon at the three cemeteries that have adopted the practice. The financial cost savings were significant: planting an acre of grape vines cost nearly a third of what it would have costed to plant grass. It also served to cut the cemeteries water requirements, an important consideration in drought-plagued California. Finally, burial near the vines costs roughly 20% more than similar plots a short walk away, adding another source of revenue. The vines even changed the aesthetic of the cemetery, making it more visitor friendly and drawing local interest.
The grapes offered one more beneficial use: as the cemetery was owned by the Catholic Church, the grapes could be used to make alter wine for Mass and other religious ceremonies. However, the grapes’ surprisingly high quality has led to the creation of several batches of award-winning wine. While the wine-making itself is still a money-losing endeavor, the Church is expected to break even this coming year, and continues to donate thousands of bottles of alter wine each year to local churches.
It’s clear that what works for a religious cemetery in California may not translate to a cemetery in New York, but the real takeaway from this story is the importance of creativity. With a little imagination, there are a wide range of things cemeteries could try. For example, cemeteries could plant apple trees to provide shade, or use blueberry bushes as a type of screening. This is not to suggest that such changes would be a panacea for a cemetery’s financial struggles, but it can help brighten a cemetery’s appearance, draw greater interest from visitors, and possibly provide an incidental source of revenue.
The full article about this California cemetery can be found here.