Polly and I have been friends for many years, yet since we first met our lives have changed drastically. We have both changed career (she was once a festival and high end sports photographer and now runs the Jolly Allotment, whilst I gave up my career as a chiropractor for the bees!), we’ve had families and moved around from country to country.
Polly is the perfect example of someone who has taken the lemons life threw at her (or bit her with!) and turned them into lemonade. After suffering a debilitating auto-immune illness for many years, she was forced to change her way of life completely; her diet, her work, her lifestyle – from mountain biking and cross country skiing, to yoga and walking. As someone who was so against the zen, spirituality, ‘find yourself’ approach, she’s now a fully-fledged convert, and she’s channelled all of her experiences into the Jolly Allotment.
So what is the Jolly Allotment? Well don’t ask Polly because even she struggles to define it – it encompasses so much. She runs events for vegans, those who are celiac, and provides festival food that is suitable for most dietary issues, an online journal giving advice and information on good gut health, and a community of those looking to learn and grow as happier healthier people. The Jolly allotment is a real life wellness hub that I can’t wait to introduce you to. So take a listen to our chat on the podcast, and see if she can change your life too!
Suzie Millar 0:20
Hi, everybody and welcome to this week's episode of Think outside your hive. Today's guest is Polly Baldwin from the Jolly Allotment. I've actually known Polly for quite a few years, she photographed my wedding, and I met her whilst skiing in France with a few other friends. Polly has a slightly different story from other people that you've heard on the podcast so far. She came to doing what she's doing now from photography because of an illness that she contracted. And what's really interesting, I think, from her talking today is that by being completely broken down by this debilitating illness, she has actually found a way to rebuild herself, but also rebuild her career. I think that her story is hugely inspiring to a lot of people who are maybe going through a really tough time with their health, etc. It's not easy going through that. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And sometimes the darkest times, you can create something quite beautiful. I hope you enjoy her episode.
Polly, thank you so much for coming on our podcast. Obviously, we've known each other for quite a few years now, you were the photographer at my wedding. But I really wants to chat to you because you have such an interesting life. You've gone from being a professional photographer, to running the Jolly Allotment. I thought our listeners would probably really like to know what the Jolly Allotment is. Give us a bit of background about it.
Thanks for having me. This is exciting. And it also feels really cool, because obviously I photographed your wedding. And now like we're both doing completely different things. So the Jolly Allotment... I struggle with this myself, people go, "what is it", and I get so many things. And but it essentially started off as a Instagram blog of my time beginning to reconnect with food and nature after a long period of sickness. And it grew from that into me telling stories about growing food and the nutritional benefits of what I was growing and what I was eating. And then I found a trailer in the middle of a field, and I thought, that looks cool, I'm going to take that and convert it into a good health education centre for festivals and events.
Suzie Millar 3:15
You had an allotment yourself didn't you, and then it's kind of grown arms and legs. And it's become... It's actually representative of lots of different things now, yeah.
It's funny because it grew arms and legs. It's now coming back to my original idea, where I create celiac friendly events that educate people on how looking after their gut, in a way that can help them leave live a happier, jollier life. So it was called the Jolly Allotment because when I was really sick, my allotment was the only place that I used to feel more human. We'll get onto my story, but I was really lucky that the universe brought people to me when I needed help, and I wanted to create that space to make that easier for people. I'm celiac, and I'm a festival photographer. And I when I got diagnosed, I couldn't do my job because I couldn't photograph festivals - I couldn't eat! Yes, people do gluten free but gluten free and celiac, completely different things. I wanted to create those for people that can't go to a supper because somebody put bread on the fire and even if it's been burnt off for three days, it could still have trace on it. So I wanted to create these really beautiful wilderness suppers and brunches that were just entirely safe, selfishly for myself, but also then for all the people that struggle or don't even realise thats why they feel terrible a week after they've had a family barbecue. Yeah, it's a different thing, being perceived healthy and actually being healthy.
Yeah. And I think a lot of the time, you know, you'll see on social media, people that look healthy, in inverted commas. And then maybe they're actually really struggling either mental health wise or they've got gut problems.
Yeah, because when I was really sick, I had like a full autoimmune breakdown. And when I was really sick, I was probably a couple of stone lighter than I am now. So I was super skinny. And I looked really amazing, right? And people kept saying "oh my god, you're looking great" and I always been, you know, I'm tall. I've always been slightly bigger than most people never been overweight, but never been super skinny. And all of a sudden everyone was just telling me how amazing I looked and I couldn't have felt more rubbish. I could barely put one foot in front of the other, it was a real struggle. So I just found it so frustrating that actually the person in me that felt super well was that you know, slightly bigger, slightly rounder thing. And then also because I fixed myself through my diet, I then became very aware of how diet books are quite dangerous because actually, the best diet is the one that suits your body, not the one that suits the person that you follow that's got a million followers something in that might be good, It's about picking things from all these diets that suits your gut microbiology and your body. Absolutely. It's about learning how to listen to your body again. I've currently got a bad back. I do threse home deliveries at the moment, we're delivering juice and breakfasts and brunches to people. And on a Friday and I sold this really nice frangipane tart. And it's got sugar in it, and it's got dairy in it. And I don't eat a lot of either. But because I'm only selling half the tart, so I'm eating the other half over the weekend. On a Monday, I've got that much inflammation in my body, but I'm still eating it! Sowe don't always get it right, but I've realised that it's actually more about listening to your body because your body communicates so much to you. You know, I used to think the whole wellness and well being thing was rubbish. I just used to be the person that would, you know, take the first tablet, numb everything. And I used to think that yoga and chiropractors and breathing and cold water swimming was just a load of rubbish. I am fully converted now because if I don't do all of those things, I can't stand up. So I just think, because I know how sick I was, and how powerful all that was for me, I just think how amazing it must be if you have a healthy body if you put all of these rituals in. I mean, you'd be like supersonic superhuman, right? Because if it has this effect on me, then if I started doing this at 20... I mean, I would be flying now!
Suzie Millar 10:00
I think it's your story of your autoimmune condition and everything is really fascinating. Did you want to tell us a bit about it?
Yeah, it was a spider bite, but it took a year and a half to work that out. At the time, I was working as an action sports photographer and then in 2014, I went to Spain for Easter for my parents wedding anniversary, and I was riding my bike during the day and walking the dog and we were supposed to be going out for dinner at seven o'clock. And I got back to the house at like ten to seven and the whole family screaming and shouting at me to hurry up. And I was like, oh no, I've made everybody late. And anyway, I lay down on the bed and I just had this huge sharp pain in my torso and there were three pimples that were in a triangle. So it was like a cross between somebody stabbing you and a wasp sting. But I didn't think anything of it. I didn't see a spider or anything. And I was just like, oh my god, I'm gonna let everybody down. I've got to get on. I've got to hurry up, so I just went out, had way too many Spanish gins and had a really good night. When I woke up in the morning I couldn't, I couldn't move but literally just put it down to a really bad hangover, which you would do yeah? And like being, you know, sort of early 30s I thought, Okay, is this how we feel like when we get drunk? And then we had to drive back to France that day because I was working a big event for for a mobile phone company, so I just didn't give myself any time at all to stop and think about what was going on. A week later had a rash from my ear down to my knee. I had what we now need to have been pneumonia, but for me a cough and splutter, but I was working and I loved my job. So we just kept going. I was also doing a little event where someone cycles 1000 metres uphill, somebody runs 10k and then somebody skis uphill another 1000 metres - it's a relay event. And I knew that if I went to the doctor, they'd have stopped me doing it, because you needed a medical note. So I didn't want to let everybody down, although I felt terrible. And this is the massive key - not wanting to let anybody down. I just went ahead and did it. And it nearly killed me, I mean it was so painful. And then I went to the doctor, like a week later, and he was like, Well, you've been bitten by a spider. We can give you these antibiotics, but you really needed them six or eight weeks ago so they're not really going to do anything.I didn't realise how serious it was. Tthere's probably a bit of a language thing there as well. My French is really bad and it shouldn't be.
But anyway, I literally forgot all about the spider bite. A year later, I was having so much trouble at work because I was struggling to hold my camera or my joints were sore. I was getting out of breath on the mountain. I basically never felt as well as I did that day that I got bitten by the spider again. I still don't, I've still never felt that well again. I feel great but I've never felt that sort of peak of fitness. And but I still didn't equate it to the spider. I'd completely forgotten all about it. And that's the year I met our mutual friend Camilla who's who literally saved my life. Loads of our friends were seeing her as they'd set up this little chiropractic business in the mountains. I'd never really heard of chiropractic, not being into my self care at all and rarely seeing a doctor, never mind going to see anyone for massage. I was just in pain all the time and ignoring it and just trying to get on and thinking it was just stress and we'll be okay and then I was out one day with Camilla on the mountain, and a friend of ours got a migraine and she couldn't see. And we had to ski her down the mountain. And Camilla lay down on the floor. I mean, you'll know, you could tell me exactly what she did as its your profession, right? But literally, to me, it was like, she just stroked her with her hands. And then our friend woke up like, Oh, god, it's gone now. Like, instantl. But my friend, she's suffered from migraines for a long time, and she'd normally have to spend a week in bed. And then here was this beautiful Camilla lady wizard who just literally blew Stardust over her and she was well. And I was like, oh my god, if she can do that for Sally, I wonder what she can do for my shoulder.
Suzie Millar 16:00
And just as a disclaimer to anybody listening, Chiropractors don't just blow on people. But that's a very nice way to put it. Yeah,
I know, there's a hell of a lot more to it. I know that now. But I still don't actually really know what it should do. But I learned to trust in that moment. And I think that was the key for me, because I don't need the science. I'm an artist, not a scientist. I'm also dyslexic, so I don't read that much. So Camilla started treating me and every time I did a job, she'd have to put me back together, the treatment that she was giving me should have really been once a month to put me all back in alignment bu it was literally lasting 24 hours. And at that point, Camilla said to me, she said, there's something going on, probably with your gut or something because I can't fix you. You shouldn't have to come to me every day. So basically they said you've had a major infection at some point and then literally everything just slotted into place. I had completely forgotten about the spider bite, I had completely forgotten that I didn't have enough respect for my own body to go to the doctors because I was too busy keeping everybody else happy. In that moment I just burst into tears. And then I was like, Oh, this is so good, I'm gonna be able to get some medical help. But they said, we don't know what to do! They took tissue samples and stuff. And they were like, we don't know what it is. We don't know what the spider was, we're too far down the road. All we can do now is manage your conditions. There's nothing we can do to make you better.
Suzie Millar 18:06
And the thing is that that probably felt so depleting at that time. And yet, you know, it's not really their fault either is it, it's just that you're probably a very unusual case. But for you, you just want someone to help you.
Yeah, I mean, I was pretty desperate at that point. And it was then they discovered my mom and my brother were celiac. They said, a spider bite shouldn't have that much effect, unless you've got an underlying autoimmune condition. So it was the combination of undiagnosed celiac disease and me getting through life on sugar, adrenalin and processed food. I just have to say to everybody not to be frightened of spider bites. I was super unusual. But what what's really amazing and why this whole thing is relevant to everybody is that I was diagnosed beta blockers and steroids at this time when I went to photograph a conference in Italy. It was a medical conference and they were doctors who'd been doing lots of tests on drugs, and they'd flown this rheumatoidologist to talk. I had a lot of had a lot of arthritis at that stage, a lot of chronic pain. All autoimmune related, but didn't really know that at the time. And this doctor flew in from Toronto. I'd been prescribed these steroids and with ay incredible coincidence and piece of luck this doctor stood on this stage and put these specific steroids on the big screen. He said, these drugs don't work unless dot dot dot. Next slide. It said, unless the patient has rehabilitated their good microbiology, and they did this five year study. My boss let me walk him back to the airport, like a 35-40 minute walk. And I literally, literally had a speed, dating style consultancy with him. This is my story and this is this is this is what's wrong and everyone says they can't do anything for me. And he just said, you know, it'll take a long time, you got to be patient with it. But if you're really fastidious about fixing your gut, then you will be better. And he says, you've probably got holes in your gut that need fixing, you've probably got parasites in there that you need to get rid of. He says you need to have a really good look. And you just need to start doing the work. And he said it'll take a long time and you'll get worse before you get better. But trust in the process and the science and you'll get better, and I did. Like literally, I went to the juice bar on the way back and bought like two big things of carrot juice. I don't need the quick fix of tablets. And then it just all spiralled. From there. I got I got more help. I got more nutritional help, I took my diet more seriously. He'd also said to do movement and yoga and mindfulness. And one of the last things he said to me was, what you really need to do is fix your mind and forgive your body. And that is like one of the last things he said to me before he got on the plane. And I was just, that's where luck comes in again, because our other mutual friend Georgie Muir had now gone from chiropractor to live coach. And she was like, I want to help you. And then she became the next part of my story.
Suzie Millar 22:57
That's so nice that after all that trauma that you experienced, in the end it actually worked out to be possibly a calling for you as well. That's great. And I'm interested to know, because obviously you talk about organic food, what does that actually mean for you? Are you just looking to have grown everything that you eat? Or is there more to it than that?
Yeah, initially, it was... so me and you both know this stuff, and I'm really conscious that people listening don't. So I went to see a nutritionist and there's some stool tests that you can do by literally... they send you a box and you poo into a bag, and you put it in a fridge, which is crazy. But yeah, you put it in the fridge next to your yogurt and you're like, what am I doing? And at this point, I was really fortunate to live alone. So had I still been living with somebody I don't think they'd have been so keen. Then you send it away and they analyse it, and they can see what parasites you've got in there. And I'm going to totally simplify it, but they can see what good and what bad bacteria you've got, and I had only bad things. I didn't have any of the good bacteria that we need. I'm going to call it leaky gut because I can't say mal-absorption malabsorption syndrome?? Yeah, yeah, I got malabsorption syndrome. I can't say it. I'm going to call it leaky gut. And so I got a serious case of leaky gut. Basically every time I ate something, it wasn't turning into good fuel, it was just leaking into all the wrong places and causing inflammation and basically, you know, on a level poisoning my body but I had to cut out obviously gluten because I found out was celiac and that gluten is really inflammatory. So if you've got any joint pain, you know, it's good to eat less of it. My biggest thing was, I noticed I couldn't have sugar at all. If I had sugar at that point, I'd have to spend, you know, two or three days in bed. So I became really aware of like... Waitrose prawns are preserved in so I could have them from there. Shopping was a nightmare, because I just spend the entire time reading the backs of packet. And I was just like, the easiest way to do this is to not eat anything out of a packet. You know, the easiest way to do this is to just after myself, we all want an instruction book, where actually the best instruction book is your own body. You know, people say to me, what do you think about vegan diet? What do you think about XYZ? So for me, I have to drink bone broth every day, because I need the collagen to maintain the good gut wall. With my diet, I tend to be sort of 85% vegan and you know, 15% meats. And then, and I'm really careful where I get my meat, either organic or regenerative where they don't use as many antibiotics. And it just made me so mindful of how hard it is to grow a tomato or a cucumber. And then you get this, when you know how hard it is to grow it, you then get this whole new enjoyment out of eating it.
Suzie Millar 27:22
You put a lot of effort into it, and we think I'm gonna enjoy this.
Now my feed is all really around rituals, you know, even if I make myself a coffee, which don't drink very often, but when I do you know there's a whole ritual behind. It is like, if I'm going to drink one coffee in a month, I'm gonna really enjoy making it, savouring it drinking it, it's gonna be nice. I like people who say to me, oh, it must be a really expensive way to eat. And I was like, well, I can imagine it was to start with until I got my little rhythm. And then actually, it's, you know, it's, it's the most inexpensive way to eat because there's no waste anywhere. Because here, you're eating everything. Which is great.
Suzie Millar 28:09
I love that, this idea behind everything that you're doing is that you're using the whole food.
Yeah, so in the trailer, I'm like really into my vegetable juice. Like it's the thing that kept me going, vegetable juice and bone broth. They are like the backbone of Jolly Allotment trailer festival eating, you know, but we've also got this really amazing burger, where it's all made out of the pulp from the vegetable juice. And it's just so good.
Suzie Millar 28:55
Do I need that recipe? Yeah.
I tell you what, there's a really good recipe in Tom Hunts book. It's such a good book. It's called 'Eating for pleasure, people and the planet'. It's the way we could all get used to eating.
Suzie Millar 29:17
My husband will absolutely kill me for buying another yet another recipe book.
I live out of this one, and the one that really did save my life, 'The art of eating well' by the Helmsley sisters.
Suzie Millar 29:34
I love the Helmsley sisters. Where do you see the jolly allotment going then? Do you think you're going to be able to go to festivals and whatnot over the next few weeks or...?
One of the key components was community for me. And I started to study the Blue Zones in the world where they don't have any autoimmune diseases. They have low cancer rates. And I was like, how do these guys live, and they basically still all cook on fire, they still cook as a community, and they eat the food that they source from the earth that they live on. So they eat seasonally. Their diets are all different things. If you had to write a book on their diets, they're all different. But they all live longer and healthier lives than most societies do. And they're the common threads - community, eating the food from the earth that they live on. And fire. I didn't cook indoors once during lockdown. I have a fire pit outside, and because we had all that glorious weather, I just literally didn't switch the oven on. I just find something really connective and intuitive about cooking on fire and being in nature. But also, we're all going to really need community. All these Blue Zones have a connection to self and connection to community. Depression is a loss of connection to selfaAnd usually we lose the connection to ourselves because we are trying to mould ourselves into a community that's not the right fit for you. And the two needs come hand in hand like, as soon as I started to be more connected to myself and finding community and friends that really walk and talk all of this stuff that we do, then I started to get well. And then with jolly, I've started to create these real small events. I'm a registered food business so we can actually launch from April and do tables of six. And all my events are outside in nature on the canvas round fire. It's gonna be cold on some days, but you know, bring a rug. It's all about creating these little communities and education around food and experience. So we actually put the first one online last week and it sold out in like 24 hours which just shows that there's a real need for these. We'll have a friend of mine doing Reiki and a sound bath healer. You get a nice brunch and it's like just a little reconnection retreat. Then we've got a brunch series, where we're doing these brunches in the woods which are just like two hours on Friday mornings, with different speakers, so you come and you have a really nice chat. I've got a tapping therapist and a coffee guru and the local farmer (he's all about regenerative farming) and so it's just all about creating these tiny little micro events that are really safe, where people can begin to trust community again. For me, Jolly for the next 12 months is just going to be about creating these beautiful small events where people can just begin to exist again.
Suzie Millar 33:42
I really like it. iIt's just so nice to see. So obviously because we run the charity Repollinate, the purpose of the of the charity is to facilitate repollination, so getting plants and wildflower seeds and everything out there so that they can they grow, and then that then allows bees to then be able to feed on things, and then the cycle continues. I really like the word Repollinate because I think it can be used in lots of different ways. And I wondered how you Repollinate your own life or your work in general?
That is such a great question. It's interesting as well because I mean you know this but during lockdown I started to keep bees.
Suzie Millar 34:32
And you can learn so much right from beehive about community, connection and working together. So yeah, I love this question. How do I Repollinate - I think that's what I did. You know, that's exactly what I had to do like from a real basic level. I had to strip it right back to basic primal needs of food safety, warmth, and that was basiclally, where I started. Even now, you know, when I have anxious moments or, I can feel myself slipping into that dark anxiety, I go back to the same rituals. So, breath work, I do a lot of breathing. I do a lot of, you know, tapping - can't remember the real name for the name for it. Emotional release, emotional release tapping. I lost my dad last year and actually, this is something I introduced during that time because I did his palliative care at home. And a friend of mine introduced me to emotional release tapping and that revolutionised how I was able to cope. That's, the main thing about how I Repollinate, if I wake up feeling anxious in a morning, I'm like, okay, we'll do some emotional release tapping. And it helps people with post traumatic stress disorder. I have this little anxiety list of, of what I do on these days (we all have them) where we just can't see a way forward. I'd have it written down, it's pinned on my wall; What do I need to do? And for me, and for everybody, it will be different, but I spend time working out what this list is. I don't think you can just take my list. It's about listening. Again, listening to your body and what makes you feel good. You know, like, for me, it's cooking. You know, I didn't realise how much that was part of me until I had to start doing it again. But yeah, for me, it's cooking a meal from scratch, cold water swimming, yoga, tapping, breathing, phoning a friend and asking them how they are. You know, just connecting and allowing yourself to feel. I have this big thing that we're not as children allowed to feel stuff. Like, if we have a tantrum, we're told to stop. It takes 90 seconds for emotion to run through the body. And we normally stop it at three. If I feel sad, or I feel angry, now. I allow myself to feel those things. And then I let them go.
Suzie Millar 37:54
Yeah, because emotions are just coming through all the time. Right? Sometimes you don't need to attach any anything anymore.
And I think that's what we do, we attach meaning to them. Because that's what our parents have done, because that's what their parents have done. And I think actually you can just see it, feel it, move it.
Suzie Millar 38:24
The other thing you know, when you get into all this wellness stuff, there can be the tendency to go down the route of, well, it has to be natural. So it has to be yoga, or it has to be wild swimming or whatever. For me, going to the cinema for two hours. I mean, that's not natural, but it's just a complete switch off. And no one bothers me at all. I can't check my phone for that amount of time. Yeah, it can be anything that you want.
Just do something that makes you feel good, and be really aware of what it's making you feel. So for example I get home, there's half a tart frangipane tart on the side - it's amazing. I don't mind telling you it is the best thing that I have made. I could have frozen it, but I ate the whole flippin thing because iit was just nice to do that for a moment. But then I struggle for two days because I shouldn't do that. So if it's something that's making you feel good in a moment but that then it makes you feel terrible for two days... I recommend that you don't do that.
Suzie Millar 39:48
What do you think has been your biggest failure or challenge throughout this period of time? Now obviously we've talked a lot about the main challenge that you've had, but what other things come to mind?
My gosh. Firstly, my biggest failure and challenge when all this hit, was my negative self talk. So when my body stopped working instead of being kind to it and nice to it and going, Okay, what does it need? I'd beat myself to a absolute pulp, and say horrible things to myself. And actually, that was a massive part of my recovery. It still is a challenge for me to be honest, to be nice to myself. And I have to be super aware of it. I like reframing what my failure is to what my lesson is, I now try not to even use the word failure. I try and use the word right what was the biggest lesson that you learned from that challenge? Even when I felt anxious I'd think, well I shouldn't be anxious you shouldn't be a person that feels anxious not like, why do you feel anxious? It's okay to feel not that beautiful, soothing human person, and I shouldn't feel sad or feel like I should be better by now. So it's my biggest challenge, but it's also now my greatest win every day when I get through the day being kind to myself.
Suzie Millar 41:53
I used to do the same, I had terrible, negative self talk. And then I realised I would never speak to my friends like this. You would never ever say this to your friends so you shouldn't to yourself. It's been so nice to have you on and thank you again for being so open and willing to be vulnerable because I realise how difficult that is. So thank you again.
If you enjoyed this episode of Think outside your hive, please rate us, review us and subscribe to help spread the word. You can also check us out on the podcast section of our website, Scottishbeecompany.co.uk and follow us on all our socials, @Thinkoutsideyourhive. Today's show was produced by Vicki Gimby with music by Alex Fernandes and Vicki Gimby.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai