The population of the United States is growing and spreading out into the countryside, rolling over the farms and ranches by leaps and bounds. This happens whether the landowners want it to or not. The way it happens is simple, yet almost irresistible.
As the city or town builds on yesterdays' agricultural land, the property values rise in the surrounding area. Taxes go up and so does the incentive to sell. Bankruptcy, death in the family, or the lure of wealth causes a few to sell. One by one, as the neighbors sell their land, the remaining farms and ranches are surrounded by homes and stores. Taxes and land values continue to go up.
For the last holdouts, raising crops and stock for a living becomes very difficult. The new neighbors are always in the way and start complaining about the noise, the smell. The offers to sell never stop; what is a land loving rancher to do?
For the landowners who truly care about the ascetic value of their land (the green rolling pastures, the wooded draws, and the other unique features made dear by years of association), there are only a few choices besides development at the hands of strangers.
The land can be donated to a government agency to be used as a park or nature preserve. The drawbacks to this option are that you don't make any money and once you give the land to the government they can use it as they see fit because the government rarely accepts land with conditions on it.
A land trust will accept land with conditions, but can't afford to pay for it and will usually ask you for money to start the trust fund to protect it. Conservation easements can be used to protect the integrity of your land after it is sold, and will drive the value of your property down, but you get a tax break and net a lot more money than the first two options. However, the conservation easement needs a trust fund to fight legal challenges in the future, and you have to find the money to fill the fund.
However, for the rancher who rejects those options but really wants to keep the ranch intact, a bold opportunity is just emerging. This type of dual land use is so new that the business model is still being worked out.
The core of the plan is to pre-sell burial rights in a beautiful, natural setting for $1000 to $2000, depending on the market and desirability of the site. Sufficient money will be put into a variety of trust funds for the future and the rancher can keep ranching. Marketing these unique grave sites can be adapted to the landowners' personal preferences, but the essential attraction consists of a green cemetery combined with a wildlife sanctuary.
There is no need for headstones, embalming, expensive hardwood or steel caskets, or underground vaults. Simple, family directed funerals in a natural setting bring to mind the Biblical concept of "dust to dust", and are more healing than the conventional style. With a low impact cemetery, reduced expenses benefit both the grieving family and the owners of the cemetery. As a wildlife sanctuary, the cemetery will not require conventional and extremely expensive maintenance; watering, fertilizing, mowing, and spraying will all be eliminated.
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