Sent by her father to a rustic summer camp at the age of 7, Daryl Hannah experienced a turning point. It was the same camp in Colorado her father had attended when he was a kid—and a far cry from the 42nd-story apartment in Chicago where Hannah grew up. "We lived in covered wagons, took care of the horses, pitched tents and dug fire pits," she says. "Coming from Chicago, where I always wandered around and felt like an alien—I was very noncommunicative and had trouble at school—it was like a church to me. Nature became like a church to me. Things finally made sense. I was able to function in a profoundly better way. It probably rescued me from some kind of institutionalization … or years and years of therapy."
She says that her time in the mountains helped her to heal, but it also inspired a lifelong dedication to the environment. Among her many film appearances, Hannah has starred as a mermaid, a cave woman, an android, an awkward Southern girl and a one-eyed assassin. But in her real life, she plays a host of environmental roles: vegetarian, organic gardener, farmers' market devotee, bio-diesel fueler, animal adopter and solar power user.
Hannah splits her time between Malibu, Calif., and Telluride, Colo., where she lives in solar-powered houses. She renovated the Telluride home, an old stagecoach stop, using reclaimed materials from the property. The concrete floors are radiant-heated and embedded with sea glass and other found objects. And—in a decidedly un-Hollywood move—Hannah chose not to put in plumbing. Instead, there's an outhouse and an outdoor shower by a spring. OK, so she has another winterized house on the property that features indoor plumbing and a stream that runs through the house, keeping the space humid and watering the plants. But even this house—which she calls the Art Barn—was built using maple planks from another building that was torn down.
Hannah is a passionate organic gardener, using products like watered-down soap to deter pests. "It's so amazingly gratifying to see something physically sprout and grow to fruition—with just a little dirt, water and sunshine," she says. "And then you have the extra bonus of getting to be outside in the fresh air with the birds and the bees. … It's just so calming." Her love of homegrown veggies extends to her shopping habits. Hannah says she prefers farmers' markets because the produce there is cheaper, fresher and more nutritious. And Hannah doesn't just support alternative food sources. She also uses integrative medicine. She frequently uses homeopathic remedies and goes to an acupuncturist "when I start to feel run down," she says.
But Hannah doesn't just walk the walk; she also talks the talk. She serves on the board of directors of the Environmental Media Association, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that works to mobilize the entertainment industry to educate the public about environmental issues. EMA's work includes lobbying producers and directors to include environmental messages in their movies and TV shows, as well as convincing celebrities—like Hannah—to use their star power to promote messages of sustainability and ecological responsibility.
"Daryl is a wonderful addition to our board," says Debbie Levin, executive president of EMA. "She's great and very knowledgeable about the environment. She lives it every day. This is her passion."
A partnership between EMA and New Hope will bring Hannah to Natural Products Expo West as this year's keynote speaker. What does she plan to talk about? "What can I say? These people are so much more experienced and educated on the subject than me," she says. When pressed on many of the subjects dear to the naturals industry, however, Hannah does, in fact, have a lot to say—and she's definitely done her homework. Take her stance on the word natural, for example: "Natural is a lovely word, but I'm not sure what it really means to protect consumers and safeguard their health," she says. "Cyanide is natural; chemicals are natural. Often you have a completely synthetically derived product in brown packaging, and it claims to be natural. There is no entity governing the use of that term. We have to be stridently aware of the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] organic stamp of approval guidelines as well, as there has been some discussion of loosening them considerably."
Hannah, says Levin, is always eager to learn more. "I took her to Expo last year. We bopped around for a while and introduced ourselves to people and had the best time," Levin says. "She enjoyed herself so much that she went back on a day that I couldn't go. She couldn't get enough of it."
Hannah's sincere dedication to the principles that have fueled the natural products industry and her celebrity status—modestly wielded as it is—are potentially powerful tools in raising awareness. "If consumers demand more organic products, more goods and services that are nontoxic, the availability will grow exponentially, and the prices will reduce. So it's important to support this burgeoning industry," says Hannah. Most likely, the attendees of Expo West couldn't agree more. Hannah will deliver the Expo West keynote at 9 a.m. Sunday, March 26, in Ballroom A of the Anaheim Convention Center.
O'rya Hyde-Keller is a freelance writer in Madison, Wis. Additional reporting by Susan Esrey.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 34, 36