Off the Grid

UPDATED: May 11, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2011

On a farm in the Rockies, Daryl Hannah begins her day. She waters her garden and feeds her animals—a pig, chickens, alpacas, horses, dogs and cats. Her farmhouse is built of wood she salvaged from an old barn that was being torn down. Her last car was a 1983 El Camino with a dull black finish that looked like it had never seen a coat of wax.

Hannah could’ve chosen to live like a movie star. And she does have a place in California where she stays when she’s working—it’s a one-room house. But as early as the 1980s, when the lanky blonde ingénue was becoming a bona fide movie star in the blockbusters Blade Runner, Splash and Roxanne, she began nurturing a passion a world away from the Hollywood lights.

Growing up in downtown Chicago, Hannah always felt more at home at summer camp in the Rockies. In her early 20s she began rediscovering nature. “I had an epiphany of sorts: Wouldn’t anyone want this planet to be as strong and healthy as possible—for ourselves, our health, our future, our children, our loved ones?” she asks.

Step by step, Hannah committed to a life that was more environmentally friendly. Now, she’s been petroleum-independent “since the turn of the century,” she jokes. Her car is powered by recycled vegetable oil once used to make french fries. The house runs on solar power, uses a gray water recycling system and is built with non-toxic materials.

When she decided to stop using petroleum, she researched all the options. Was an electric car the best choice? “Well, no. Not if you’re going to plug it into the grid and it’s going to run off coal.” And she learned that all biodiesel fuels are not created equal. Some are more environmentally friendly than others. “If you buy it at the pump,” she says, “you don’t necessarily know where it comes from.”

That motivated her to co-found the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (, which is working on a certification program to make it possible for people to know whether the fuel they buy is produced in a sustainable fashion.

Living a simple life takes work. But Hannah doesn’t feel she has made any sacrifices. “I just get to make better choices,” she says. “I don’t eat junk food anymore. I don’t have to go to the gas station, and I’m not living in a world full of toxins at home.”

Her biggest challenge continues to be the research necessary to sort fact from fiction. Some “solutions” are actually problems, she says, noting that some big businesses are trying to cash in on the green movement, and not always in a thoughtful manner. “You don’t want to buy organic jeans that are made by slave labor, right?” she asks.

Because of the difficulty finding reliable information, she created a Web site ( in early 2006 to share information she found. “We already have answers to a lot of the problems we’re facing. People just don’t know that they’re out there. And if you don’t know something, you can’t make a choice.”

Hannah’s Web site features three dozen short video blogs on topics that range from fasting to fertilizing with worm droppings to watching mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The site offers no clue other than the “dh” initials that Hannah has anything to do with the project. In the videos she appears onscreen, but just as often she’s behind the camera.

She infuses her videos with a playful spirit. At the beginning of the biodiesel episode, she roars down a dirt road in her El Camino. Later, she unscrews the gas cap, brings it to her mouth and licks the inside to demonstrate the fuel is nontoxic. In the Rwanda piece, she leans into the camera and whispers, childlike, “We’re going to get to see the gorillas! Yeah!” Each video concludes with an action the viewer can take or a place to go for more information.

In addition to producing the video blogs, Hannah handles Web design, animation, interviews, filming and production. “I don’t sleep much,” she says with a laugh. Her goal is to make the Web site “as potent and thorough as it can be,” a place where people can get answers to most any environmental question—from, “What kind of shampoo should I buy?” to “What kind of windmill?”

That means putting together a team, and she’s developing a business plan for that now. “I physically don’t have the time to do much more than what I’ve got going on,” she says, “because I also work.”

By “work,” she means acting. Last summer, she filmed the made-for- television movie Hurricane Hunter in Vancouver. Then she went to Philadelphia to film Shannon’s Rainbow. Recent movie releases include the thriller Dark Honeymoon with Eric Roberts and Roy Scheider, and a documentary, Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action, scheduled to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this fall. It also stars Thich Nhat Hahn, Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker and Julia Butterfly Hill.

Hannah imagines she’ll always act, but she aspires to make activism her full-time gig. She’s not interested in celebrity for its own sake. “It seems to me the only good use for the crazy attention that fame brings is to take the spotlight and redirect it to something of more value and substance,” she says.

She is shopping her dhLoveLife Web video series to television networks in the hope of reaching people who aren’t yet engaged in the issues. (The videos are distributed now only via iTunes and her Web site.) But she wants to do more than inspire people; she hopes they’ll take action to change their lives. “Change is nerve-wracking,” she says, “but once they try it, people like it. Especially if it’s healthier.”

Action is vital, she says: “We’re going to be facing a serious water crisis. We’re facing massive soil depletion. We’re facing one of the biggest extinctions of species in history. Climate change is coming at us. There’s overpopulation. We’ve over polluted. Two billion people are in danger of starving.” But in the face of these issues, she’s positive, hopeful and driven. “We can solve these problems,” she says. “We have everything we need on this planet to not only survive, but to thrive—for everyone. But we don’t have any time to waste.”