Daryl Hannah: The actress & the activist

G Magazine

Surrounded by the glitzy façade of Hollywood, Daryl Hannah’s real world is an eco-escape of green thumbs, biodiesel and environmental activism.


Daryl Hannah

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With her golden locks, soft-spoken nature and Hollywood fame from films such as Splash and Kill Bill, Daryl Hannah’s extensive green credentials, may come as a surprise to some. After all, how many actresses will you see pouring themselves a glass of biodiesel from a fuel pump and taking a sip? Or coming all the way to Australia only to spend weeks burying her hands deep in compost?

Hannah lives off-grid in a solar powered ranch, grows her own vegies for farmers markets, has joined Sea Shepherd on a whale-saving mission to Antarctica and has two arrests under her belt from her long list of environmental activism. Yep, when it comes to being a bona fide greenie, Hannah is as genuine as they come.

Recently in Australia to complete her Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and offer support for a range of environmental events around the country, Hannah told G she learnt some valuable lessons.

“I’ve been interested in permaculture for many years. My friend Dulcie Ford’s mother studied permaculture back in the day, in 1988, and she started my garden at home – it’s amazing how luscious it is!

Dulcie and I took the PDC together and only now do I really understand how permaculture is a philosophy of design that applies to all aspects of life.

Mimicking nature’s genius, permaculture practices can aid in building incredibly fertile deep soil (sequestering masses of carbon dioxide), help with water catchment, irrigation and filtration. It can maximise the benefits that other creatures bring to the land while also allowing them to flourish, and strategise wise, efficient, functional and beautiful designs in our dwellings. In our PDC we learned simple inexpensive ways to make wildly productive fertilizer, natural pesticides, and non-toxic fungicides as well as ways to irrigate using gravity and water catchment systems. There are also ways to humanely integrate animals into your farm system and methods to make cities and rural dwellings extremely beautiful and much more low impact.”

Image on right: Hannah in Cairns to learn the details of permaculture. Credit: www.freerangepermaculture.com.au

Hannah’s commitment to the environment began at home in the Rocky Mountains – a restored stagecoach stop that is completely off the grid. Surrounding Hannah’s home is a great menagerie of animals and a thriving organic vegetable garden.

“My house was fashioned from the pieces of an old carriage house that had a date with a wrecking ball. I had the chance to rescue some of it before the destruction.

The ancient wide plank maple was in perfect condition and it was the perfect modest size. We put it back together like a numbered puzzle – except I faced it south west for optimal passive solar heat in winter and cooling in summer.

I put in radiant heating under the floors, reused much of the rock and scrub oak that we removed for the foundation and added an active solar array as well.

There’s so much more I could have and would have done had I understood as much about permaculture design as I do now. I would have built a ‘cold closet’ like David Holmgren and his wife Su have in their house, which works brilliantly as an energy-free fridge! I plan to use some of my new knowledge on my crop areas.

This year I travelled a lot so the garden didn’t go off as it normally does but we usually grow a lot more than we can eat – so we gift, barter and send some to the farmers market. [My animals are] a rotating misfit circus of rescue critters – horses, dogs, alpacas, chickens, a cat and a pig.”

Image on right: Hannah spent three weeks in a walnut tree to protest the closing of South Central Los Angeles Farm.

Well-known for her conversion to biofuels, Hannah has converted a number of cars, including a 1983
El Camino and the Trans Am her character from Kill Bill drove, to use alternative fuels. She is also the co-founder of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance.

“I’ve made my own biodiesel and it’s not too complicated a process, but now I mostly buy it from our local co-op made from the restaurant grease in our community. I have drunk it (Hannah drank it in one of her videos for her website dhlovelife.com), though I wouldn’t recommend it! I did it to illustrate how much less toxic it is than petroleum. I also recently had the Kill Bill Trans Am converted to run on 100 per cent alcohol so soon I’ll be learning about distilling alcohol fuel from starchy waste material.”

Non-specific and widespread when it comes to the environmental causes she devotes her time and passionate energies to, Hannah emphasises the interconnectedness of all animal, humanitarian and environmental concerns.

“It seems as a species, we’ve lost touch with our common sense! Why would we poison our soils and food supply, contaminate our precious fresh water sources and use the oceans as a dumping ground? You don’t need to be a genius to realize that’s just stupid!

Of course I understand that much of the modernisation and innovation that came with the industrial revolution has brought us a lot of good, but now we also understand the dangers of industrial agricultural practices - such as monocropping, GMOs, and the inhumane, unethical livestock production that factory farming has brought us. Business, corporations and governments have been operating with such massive blatant disregard for this planet and every other living creature, that it’s insane! How can we sit back and let them pillage, commit crimes against nature, atrocities against our fellow men and endanger everyone’s futures all in the name of greed or profit?

To top it off they get away with anything and everything with no confrontation or consequences because either we’re sleepwalking or we’ve all bought into the notion that they’re too powerful and there’s nothing we can do. Well, it’s just not true! 

We need to protect our streams, rivers and oceans as well as the life in them, preserve any fresh, uncontaminated water, and figure out ways to equitably distribute energy and food. 

Population growth is definitely one [of our biggest problems]. We’ve got to slow down!”

Perhaps most famously in Hannah’s eco reportoire is her June 2006 arrest in which she chained herself to a walnut tree for three weeks. She was joining 350 farmers and supporters, including activist Julia ‘Butterfly’ Hill to save LA’s urban community farm, the nation’s largest, from being bulldozed to build a warehouse. She was arrested upon their eviction from the farm along with more than 40 others. Hannah was also arrested a second time in June 2009 in a protest against mountaintop removal in West Virginia.

“Julia Butterfly’’ Hill, one of my all-time heroes, alerted me to the South Central farmer’s dire situation. Fourteen acres of fallow land were given to one of the poorest communities in LA, by the city as a peace offering after the ‘92 LA riots. Smack in the centre of one of the most notoriously dangerous parts of southern California, the community turned the dump into an oasis of organic cornfields, mango, papaya, bananas, medicinal plants and more, feeding 350 farmers and their families who formerly had to rely on the food bank. They also provided fresh, local, organic food to the rest of the neighbourhood.

The farm, situated in an extremely industrial, polluted area was a living, breathing, green space, which acted as the lungs of South Central, reducing global warming emissions by sucking up masses of nasty carbon dioxide from the Alameda corridor. And to top it all off, it was also a habitat for birds, butterflies, lizards, honeybees and a safe haven for children living in a virtual warzone. 

This farm was a stellar, perfect example of how what’s good for one is good for all – a perfect solution to so many issues we currently face, and all at no cost to the city or financial aid programs. After farming the land for 14 years, the farmers received a notice of eviction on their doorstep.

Image on right: Hannah on the Barron River. Credit: Dulcie Ford

When I went down to the farm, I originally intended to shoot an episode of dhlovelife.com to help spread the word. I had no idea that I was going to be staying there for nearly a month, and I had no plan to get arrested.

It was incredibly inspiring and seriously hard work. I was scared at first about getting arrested, though once the time came, I was very calm about it and confident it was the morally right thing to do, to stand in solidarity with the farmers and lend them my voice. I can honestly say the experience has made me a more confident person and more driven in my mission.

The second time I was arrested was when I went to Coal River to help bring much needed attention to mountaintop removal, a devastatingly destructive form of mining that has already destroyed two million acres in the Appalachian Mountains.

Coal companies have literally blown up over 500 mountain tops in the region to access the coal seams and then dumped the refuse into the valleys below, killing over 3000 miles (4828 km) of headwater streams. It leaves behind a virtual hideous moonscape of devastated earth, billions of gallons of poisonous toxic sludge, and boards up towns with dramatically high rates of cancer.”

Speaking on Australia’s economical dependence on the coal mining industry, Hannah is a believer in renewable energies being the way forward.

“When more energy hits the earth every hour from the sun than all other forms of energy that man uses combined in an entire year – why aren’t we using it?

There are solar thermal, concentrated solar, passive and active systems. There have also been increasingly dramatic advances in wind turbine design and technology. There’s a whole host of solutions available to satisfy our energy needs.

We need to get away from outdated centralized models of infrastructure, to speed up innovation and implementation of clean regenerative energy and increase their affordability and availability.”

Image on right: Hannah at home on her ranch with her horse. Credit: Pake Salmon

Hannah finds motivation in her ability to spread the word, as recognised voice, and helping to educate in environmental awareness.

“Everyone gets overwhelmed at times. I try to stay focused on the things I love – thus the name [for my website], ‘lovelife’. This gives me hope and inspires me to action. And information is key! Once people understand that their commercial body care products or household cleaners are carcinogenic, non-biodegradable and potentially dangerous to themselves and their loved ones – you start to see changes.

I still work as an actress but as I get older I find myself focusing more on educating myself and spreading information because I see environmental concerns, humanitarian issues and animal welfare as one and the same and we are at a critical crossroads.

To check out some of Hannah's great video blogs, visit www.dhlovelife.com. For more information on the permaculture course that Hannah did, visit www.freerangepermaculture.com.au.