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Dr. Wilma and Kendal Albert

If someone told you the tiny Caribbean Island of St. Lucia resembles Prince Edward County, you’d certainly ask how that could be. A first answer would be that they share Wilma Albert, a native of St. Lucia who is now a resident of Rice. Her life history reveals more similarities between these distant locations.

At Kenny’s Healthy Living Emporium on Farmville’s South Main Street, where she is co-owner with her husband Kendal, Wilma recently explained why she came to the United States from St. Lucia. After finishing the education available on her island of less than 240 square miles, she obtained a green card and traveled to New York to complete a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Her plan was to work in tourism, St. Lucia’s second source of income.

The crowds, traffic and frenzied pace of the city, however, made her realize she missed the tranquility of her native land, the foods she had cooked with St. Lucia’s herbs, the tales that had been passed down by her ancestors.

That way of life is depicted in the beautiful epic “Omeros” by Derek Walcott, St. Lucia’s Nobel Prize laureate in poetry (1992). That there is a second Nobel prize winner from an island of less than 200,000 people shows the richness of that culture. Sir Arthur Lewis, author of “The Theory of Economic Growth,” received the prize in 1979 in economics.

Farmville’s voice of St. Lucia relates what brought her from New York to Virginia. It began with Kendal “Kenny” Albert of Chelsea, New York, who admits he was drawn to “her natural and pure energy.” At that time he was managing the Louis Armstrong Museum at Queens College, commuting two and a half hours a day to work round trip. But as a child, he’d visited family in Rice many summers. He would sometimes act up so he would be sent there because he enjoyed his visits to Virginia.

When Wilma traveled with Kenny to visit the Nottoway, Prince Edward and Cumberland areas, she fell in love with what she told him was all she needed in life, “house and land.”

In New York, Kenny had taken her to a mall and said he’d buy her “whatever you want.” She wanted nothing there. The village of Rice, however, was tranquil as opposed to frantic, free as opposed to restrained, comfortable as opposed to oppressive. She saw a better quality of life in this community. The natural friendliness was very similar to countries of the West Indies.

Jobs were scarcer here, though. Now a U.S. citizen, Wilma completed a Ph.D. in human resource management while employed at the Powhatan Correctional Center in that department. Still, she always knew her true love involved the use of herbs in healing arts, which she’d learned in St. Lucia.

She now offers classes in the science of cooking holistically and private consultations by appointment.

When Wilma and Kenny first moved to Rice, they missed the food they enjoyed in New York, and for a time drove back every few weeks to stock up.

“We need our own pantry,” Kenny explained, “and what we don’t eat we sell to the community.” Now they come to eat at their store, first opened in 2007, which they consider a community pantry.

Building a clientèle was crucial to continuing this natural way of life. “Our first customers were the elderly,” Wilma said. They were looking for alternatives to fast food that has too much salt and sugar. Word of mouth has brought in different groups, from college students to newcomers to simply the curious.

“Its reciprocal,” Kenny said about the growth of the business. “We get satisfaction in providing education to customers. And customers repay us with healthy eating and recommendations of our products and services.”

They both visit St. Lucia when they can and recall the history of that and other islands in what Columbus called “The West Indies.” Those first explorers saw the twin peaks that jut up from the sea resembling women’s breasts. When Wilma looks at Farmville, she sees natural wonders that recall her first homeland and encourage her to enjoy life in both places.

Dr. Michael Lund can be reached at lundmc@longwood.edu.