John van der Harst

Not many people can say that they’ve had a documentary made about them.  Then again, not many people are John van der Harst. John van der Harst (Dutch for “of the Harst”) is a character unlike any other.  Example, you ask?  Well, for starters, he has never owned nor rented a car.  Whenever he would fly back to visit his parents, he would change in the airport and then run the 12 miles to their house.

What makes this even better is the fact that his parents lived in Detroit – the MOTOR CITY.  I’ll take “twist of irony” for $300, Alex.

He hitchhiked to Nashville on Christmas Day, 1981, and has rented the same room in the same East Nashville house ever since.  Do the math, people: 28 years in the same place.  His rent has not been raised in over two decades, and he pays annually.

An unwavering environmental activist, John practices what he preaches.  He has been shunning material possessions since he was 13, when he stopped celebrating his birthday.  He lives on $3,600/year, and devotes his time, energy, and efforts to various environmental campaigns and peace coalitions.  He spent most of his college years “living outside” – which, to be clear, is not the same as homelessness, since homelessness implies down-and-out circumstances.  Anything that John does, he does by choice.

Attending high school in Michigan, John was a self-described “terrible runner.”  He recalls realizing that running did not come as naturally to him as it did to some of the other kids – but what he lacked in natural ability, he made up for in tenacity.  The same was true of academics in college – attending 5 different universities over a span of 7 years, John found it easy to play the comparison game when it came to brain power.  But as he hung back, he observed – and absorbed – information, skills, ideas, and a general level of badassery.

More recently, John was the focus of the 2003 documentary “Immaterial John.”  Curious?  Here you go:


Running with East Nasty, he enjoys the diversity of the group.  The once “terrible runner” now kicks some serious asphalt – maybe it was all of those days in the 80’s when he would take the bus to Green Hills and then run the 7 miles back to East Nashville to save money.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that John van der Harst may have been the original East Nasty.

He is in the process of starting the Recycling Advocates of Middle Tennessee, and spends his free time bringing down The Man.

-Annie P.