It's never too late to go green — even in death.

That's the message of the Green Funeral Fair set for Saturday at Grace North Church in Berkeley from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The fair will feature such items as biodegradable caskets made out of cardboard, willow trees, banana leaves, bamboo and the old standby, a plain pine box.

"What we want to do is leave a positive final footprint on the earth," said organizer Liz O'Connell-Gates.

Many current burial practices such as using embalming fluid on a person and cement in caskets are "not good to the earth," O'Connell-Gates said.

"The caskets with cement in them can take up to three decades to disintegrate," she said.

The fair caps nearly two months of speakers at the church on historic funeral rituals and new interpretations of death and transformation. The speakers over the last two months and the fair on Saturday are part of an effort to bring funeral providers together with those who might need their services some day.

"The idea is to not be afraid of death, to open ourselves to the idea of taking care of our own dead, not handing them over to the anonymous strangers in the black suits," said O'Connell-Gates.

Embracing past burial practices when a single person made caskets, cabinets and cradles and when people were wrapped in shrouds instead of preserved in chemicals are better because people are reconnected with the role of death in the natural life cycle, she said.


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"Now we're disconnected from the land, we're busy living in cities and we think we are going to live forever in a culture that worships youth and doesn't easily see the beauty of older people," O'Connell-Gates said.

In addition to the casket displays on Saturday, there will be live music, coffin decorating, crepe paper flower making, wreath making, a place where you can make your own "in memory of" labels and a write-your-own-obituary session.

Also on hand will be a tombstone carver, a weaver and an activity to learn how to make sure your last wishes are honored.

At 11 a.m. there will be a funeral mask procession around the neighborhood near the church, located at 2138 Cedar Street. There will be a hat contest with a $150 prize for the best men's and women's hats brought to the fair.

Admission is $10 per person, but free to those under 16 years old. For more information go to www.gracenorthchurch.org.

Green funeral fair
  • When: Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Where: Grace North Church, 2138 Cedar St., Berkeley
  • Admission: $10 for 16 and over, under 16 free
  • details: www.gracenorthchurch.org