East Nasty of the Week – 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.

8 Responses to East Nasty of the Week – John van der Harst

  1. Chuck says:

    John attended my Labor Day weekend party. At end of night he and other friends helped with cleaning. His clean up method is enviornmentally conscious. Around midnight he was ready for a walk home. John had walked miles to our party. This is also when I learned he never owned a car. We arranged his carpool ride home. Kepe up the great work, John.

  2. eastnasty says:

    John is also the man who bring the fresh tomatoes and herbs. Let him know if you need some gardening tips! Thanks for all you add to the group John!

  3. John van der Harst says:


    Chuck: That reminds me of how many months I couldn’t run this past year due to injury. A key to overcoming that resulted from a suggestion by Hunter at 3 Crow. So, if I hadn’t hung out with East Nasty’s brain trust, I might still be sidelined. Now, as I improve every week, I’m hoping I can keep up with Hunter soon! “In your dreams!” someone might be tempted to respond. Yeah, that’s what I typically do… and, sometimes it even works!

    Mark: I think I got fairly good organic production this year from what I had to work with, land-wise and sun exposure-wise. But, even that limited arrangement likely won’t be as available next year. I’d like to spread the word that I’m looking for another yard to work with, if anyone in the Lockeland Springs, Eastwood, East End, or Maxwell Area is interested in working out some cooperative sharing arrangement with me.

  4. […]  Why?  Well, I have no idea how much trash a single Christmas Party produces (I’m sure John could tell us), but it’s way too much.   And there are probably thousands of Christmas […]

  5. Daniel S says:

    Is John on the internet at all? I have seen the documentary and would like to get in contact with him.



  6. John van der Harst says:

    My email address is johnvanderharst@gmail.com. I don’t tend to visit it too often (I don’t own a computer). Also/otherwise you can phone me at 615-227-3499. I’ll explain, if you wish, how NOT owning a computer is one of my keys to success as an activist.

    I like feedback — as does the documentary’s creator, Cliff Vaughn, of Red Clay Pictures. Cliff is also Managing Editor for another website: EthicsDaily.com. That site’s archives contain an article he wrote about me in 9/07, concerning what Christians can learn from an atheist. That article was a partial substitute for a sequel to “Immaterial John,” which I sort-of backed out of, due to long, time-consuming injury rehab — which is also part of why I appreciate East Nasty.

  7. […] Cold weather technical running clothes are amazing, but not necessary.  (Just check out what immaterial John is wearing!)  But if you do want to treat yourself, go see the folks at NRC, Fleet Feet or […]

  8. […] from Immaterial John.   I think he’ll be there with tomatoes…I’m never told when they’re […]

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