New film ‘Sourlands’ offers look at farming, sustainability in N.J.

Dagnabbit it’s those deer again, spoiling everything. Now they’re totally destroying the Sourland Mountains, the largest contiguous forest in central New Jersey that includes Hopewell, Lambertville, Hillsborough and Montgomery.

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

Dagnabbit it’s those deer again, spoiling everything. Now they’re totally destroying the Sourland Mountains, the largest contiguous forest in central New Jersey that includes Hopewell, Lambertville, Hillsborough and Montgomery.

In a state noted for its population density and oil refineries, the Sourlands are a welcome surprise. You may be pulling around a bend and all of a sudden, whoa, what’s that view? How’d we get to Vermont?

Naturally there have been legions of folk working to preserve this little slice of heaven. But back to those deer — they are eating every native plant in sight, according to a new film, Sourlands, by Jared Flesher, to be screened at Princeton Public Library July 11. Native trees are not regenerating, making way for non-native invasive deer-resistant plants. And as the food and shelter for native fauna becomes endangered, so does the population of native wildlife.

Sourlands looks at the solutions, focusing on people who attempt to farm this unforgiving earth. Thus named for its poor soil, the Sourlands, though breathtaking, have never been conducive to farming.

New Jersey has some of the most expensive farm land in the country, according to the film, as well as the highest property taxes. Wonder why that tomato you bought at the farmers market is $3? And the population of farmers is aging out — who will grow the food we eat? Even worse, the hottest five years on record have all come in the past 10 years. Will farm food become endangered?

The film attempts to tell stories of sustainability. What inspired Flesher to make the film were the people “fighting hard to make their small corner of the world a better, more sustainable place. All the big issues I’m interested in telling stories about, including global warming, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and massive species extinction, are all represented in and around this one last forest in Central Jersey called the Sourlands. So rather than plan to make a voyage to Antarctica or something, I took out my camera and started shooting.”

“In ecosystems around the world, human-created imbalances are driving countless species to extinction,” continues Flesher, 29. “Another part of the documentary follows the exploits of a few young organic farmers who are farming on land just outside the forest. They were hammered this year by extreme weather.” He recounts how July 2011 was the second hottest month in New Jersey history; August 2011 was the wettest month in New Jersey history; and October 2011 saw the biggest October snowstorm in New Jersey history. “Overall, 2011 was the wettest year ever in New Jersey, not to mention the third hottest.”

Flesher’s 2010 film “The Farmer and the Horse” was about young farmers using plough horses instead of tractors. He says he gets hope from the people he’s met in the region. “A spirit of sustainability has caught on here… I’ve followed around conservationists who are taking small steps to restore balance to the forest ecosystem. I’ve followed farmers who are improving their soil one cover crop at a time. And I’ve met engineers and entrepreneurs who are teaching others how to reduce their energy use one watt at a time.”

Sourlands will be screened July 11, 7 p.m., at the Princeton Public Library as a special summer event of the Princeton Environmental Film Festival. July 18, it will be screened at Eno Terra Restaurant, Kingston, as part of “Dinner and A Movie.” Eno Terra’s chef will prepare a meal using ingredients from several of the Central Jersey farms featured in Sourlands, including maple syrup from Sweet Sourland Farms in Hopewell and vegetables from Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington. Director Jared Flesher and farmers will be available to answer audience questions after the screening.

 

The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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