The largest city in the United States is, by far, New York.
Philadelphia is the fifth largest.
Separating them is New Jersey, the most densely
Directly between New York and Philly — and all those
people — there is a forest that has survived the
bulldozers of development. The locals call this place the
Sourland Mountain, or sometimes simply “the Sourlands.”
SOURLANDS, the documentary, tells the story of this green
oasis from the perspective of its remarkable citizens.
CHAPTER ONE: FARMERS
The Sourland Mountain has never been a good place to
farm, due to its thin, rocky, and often wet soil. But for
hundreds of years, that hasn’t stopped some from trying.
For farmers without money to buy land in the fertile
valleys nearby — some of the most expensive farmland in
the entire country — a homestead on the mountain was
often their only option.
Aubrey Yarbrough, age 29, and without land of her own,
is the latest farmer to try her luck here. SOURLANDS
follows Aubrey through one summer of farming on borrowed
farmland. It is a summer that becomes defined by
record-setting rainfall, extreme heat, and the destruction of
Hurricane Irene. Farming has always been a difficult way to
make a living. Aubrey learns first-hand that the challenge
becomes magnified on marginal soils in an era of global
CHAPTER TWO: THE FOREST
A deep forest is exactly what many neotropical songbirds
are looking for. That’s why every spring birds fly to the
Sourlands from as far as South America to breed and
raise their chicks. For these threatened birds, the
Sourland Mountain is one of the last safe places in the
SOURLANDS tells the story of the forest’s ecological
importance, as well as the grave threats it faces.
According to local conservationists, much of the Sourlands
forest is dying. An out-of-control deer herd has been eating
every native plant in sight — halting the regeneration of
trees — and paving the way for an invasion of deerresistant
foreign plants. As a result, wildlife that depends
on native plants for food and shelter is in decline.
After the problem is explained, the story takes a turn
toward solutions. SOURLANDS traces a journey from the
native plant nursery, to the actions of the Invasive Species
Strike Team, to the bowstring of a local deer hunter.
CHAPTER THREE: ENERGY
The Sourland Mountain has long been a refuge for hobos,
outlaws, and most recently, clean energy enthusiasts. In
2002, the New York Times dubbed one particular road in
the Sourlands “Solar Alley” for all its solar panels.
SOURLANDS documents the steps locals are taking to
reduce their carbon footprints — from cutting-edge
demonstation projects to low-tech everyday solutions.
One resident, Mike Strizki, lives in the first house in the
nation that is powered entirely by a combination of solar
Another, Ted Borer, is the energy plant manager at
nearby Princeton University. Ted is taking everything he
knows about energy efficiency and applying it at home.
And a third, Savraj Singh Dhanjal, has started a company in his basement that makes home energy monitoring
systems. The idea is simple: You can’t improve something
until you can measure it.
In the end, these are all stories about the fight for
Communities around the world have begun to rethink the
paradigms they rely on for food, energy, and the preservation
of a healthy place to live. The same is true of the
people of the Sourlands. They have important stories to
tell about their progress, as well as the work ahead. These
stories, told from one notable green spot on a map, are
universal and urgent.