EVA LONGORIA, who plays the self-involved Gabrielle Solis on ABC's Desperate Housewives, takes on extracurricular projects that set her far apart from her shallow onscreen persona. Longoria is the executive producer of The Harvest, a new documentary film which tells the stories of three of the 400,000 children who work as migrant laborers on America's farms. She's also a restaurateur, an entrepreneur, and an advocate for an array of organizations, including United Farm Workers. I wanted to know what inspires her to be so involved. So I asked.
Q: Why did you want to produce The Harvest?
A: I've been a longtime advocate of farmworker rights. Shine Global, which makes films about the exploitation of children around the world, came to me and said, "We're doing a project about child farmworkers in America." I was pretty well versed in this world, but even I didn't realize how many kids are in our fields: 400,000. That blew me away.
They asked if I would help them raise money for the film, and I said absolutely. So that was my part, I just raised the funds and made sure the film got shot and edited and finished, and then, of course, the promotion.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with the film?
A: We want to humanize the kids and the issue. People associate farmworkers with illegal immigrants, and that's really not the case: The majority of these kids are American-born. They're stuck in a cycle of poverty. They can't go to school, they get to school late, they have to leave school early, and they're always migrating.
We want to use the film as a political tool to change policies regarding child farm labor in America. The best-case scenario is that we get the CARE Act passed, which would limit the age that children can work in the field -- a type of law which every industry has except agriculture.
Q: What did you learn about how pesticides affect these kids?
A: I always knew pesticides affected farmworkers. That's why I always tell people, "eat organic." Not just because it's better for you but because you know the people who picked your food weren't in a toxic environment. But what I really didn't realize was that the EPA regulations for what's considered a safe dose to spray on workers in the field are based on the weight of a 160-pound man. The dosage these children are getting is usually three to four times the amount that their little bodies can take.
Q: Did you get to talk to the kids?
A: Yeah. The biggest challenge is the dropout rate. Because they migrate so often, there are social issues that they face with a new location, new friends, new house, living out of a car, all the psychological effects of all that. We asked the kids in the film, "What's your dream? What do you want to be when you grow up?" And one, a girl, said, "I don't have a dream."
This kid doesn't even have the capacity to dream about her future. All she's been presented with is generation after generation in the field, and she feels that her only destiny is being a farmworker. That's powerless. That really affected me.
Q: You grew up on a ranch, right?
A: I grew up on a ranch, yeah. I was not a farmworker. People think I have a correlation because I was one, and I was not. I have a passion to do this work because I consume food. If you eat food or produce, you should take into account where that food comes from.
Q: Why should someone like you get so involved in these issues? Why not just sit back and enjoy fame?
A: [Laughs.] I grew up with the word "volunteer" as a very powerful word in my family. I was inspired by my mother and by how selfless our family was toward others who didn't have enough. I grew up with a sister with special needs, so I was always in this community of people who had less. Or people who were told they were lesser than the average human. I always found that to be problematic because I'd see my sister accomplish things that "normal" kids couldn't accomplish. So I was an activist long before I was famous.
Q: I've read that you're as green as they get. Have your eco-habits rubbed off on your co-stars?
A: No, my costars are greener than I am! Felicity Huffman and Marcia Cross, we all drive hybrids. So many people think you have to be rich and famous to really create an impact, and it's just not true. Especially when it comes to environmentalism. I banned bottled water from my house -- we have a water-filter system so you can drink from the tap. We always drink out of glass, and recycling is a huge deal, which everybody can partake in.
Q: And you campaigned with Bill Clinton and Al Gore on Prop 87?
A: Oh God, which one was that?
Q: The Clean Alternative Energy Program.
A: Yeah. I didn't do a lot of work except for a couple of speeches. It was nice to stand side by side with Al Gore, who I think is a visionary in the environmental movement. There was no better title for his documentary than An Inconvenient Truth because, for us to change our habits, it really inconveniences the way of life we view as normal. The inconvenience is totally worth it, though, when you think of the benefits.
A: Absolutely. I make them cook seasonally, so the menus constantly change. A raspberry out of season not only tastes horrible, it's also pumped with hormones -- not really a healthy choice for consumption. Also, in constructing my restaurants, we used recycled wallpaper and recycled wood. There are a lot of things you can do from the ground up.
Q: And you're in the retail space now too? I read about your Greenville Project in Portland, Oregon.
A: Yes! It's an energy-neutral community center with local businesses instead of big chains. So instead of your Starbucks and your Target, we'll have local leasers, like a great place called Pizza Fusion, where all the ingredients are locally grown. Places which really have a brand of sustainability. There'll also be a chemical-free dry cleaner and a gym where the workout machines produce the energy that powers the building.
We built the center with lots of windows so that lights don't have to be on during the day. There's a lot of bicycle parking and hybrid cars get premiere spaces. When it comes to commercial real estate, this is the route that a lot of people are taking. When they want to construct something new, they try to make sure that the building's environmental impact is neutralized.
Q: What was your exact role in developing that project?
A: I funded its research, development, and business plan so that it could be presented to potential investors in the venture.
Q: If you could tell people to do one thing to make the world better, what would it be?
A: The main thing is to be philanthropic in your everyday life. You don't have to have money to do that. You can do it with your time and your energy.
Photo courtesy of Cinema Libre Studio