Her own bran of zen

Posted September 23, 2014

Photo: Donna Keyser, spokesperson.
State fair visitors might not expect to find a yogi working the wheat booth, but instructor Donna Keyser’s enthusiasm for healthy, home-baked bread is contagious. She also has more than 30 years helping integrate more whole grains into school meals, long before it was popular or mandatory.

Donna started as a Speak for Wheat spokesperson in 2008 and shares her Kansas ag know-how at events like the Kansas State Fair, Riley County Farm Bureau Ag Days and the National Festival of Breads But, do not expect her to take too much credit for her insights.

“All I learned, I learned from good people,” she said.

Her learning started early, with harvest meals on the family farm in Linn County that instilled her passion for homemade bread.

During harvest, Donna’s grandmother would wake her before it was light outside. Together, they would bake bread and prepare the noon-time meal — potato salad, sliced tomatoes, fried chicken. Donna would take those memories, baked with tender loving care, with her always.

Preschool to Dietetics

However, Donna might not have become Donna Keyser, M.S., R.D., L.D., SFNS (Master’s of Science, Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian, School Food Service and Nutrition Specialist) had it not been for another of those “good” people.

Donna started out as a preschool teacher with a degree from Kansas State University, eventually working in the Lawrence school district.

There, her background caught the attention of the district’s food service director — whose son happened to be in Donna’s class. After a while, the director asked Donna to be her assistant, which she did.

One day, her boss exclaimed, “Go get your master’s degree and run your own damn program.”

So, she did. Donna returned to her alma mater and earned a master’s degree in dietetics. 

Those Tasty Brown Speckles

When Donna started as food service director for the Manhattan-Odgen school district in 1990, students ate homemade wheat foods — dinner rolls, hamburger buns and more — baked in a central district bakery. She expanded the bakery’s use of whole grains, even helping the district obtain bran from the K-State milling school.

At first, Donna said students asked what the brown speckles were in their bread. But, by the time the school district switched to whole white flour, the kids asked where their speckles went!

“I just think that it is part of life that students should not miss — good, home-baked bread,” she said.

Transitioning from School to Spokesperson

Donna retired six years ago, but she just “had to have something to do.” She signed up as a Speak for Wheat spokesperson ... and as a yoga instructor.

Donna also works for the State Department of Education, teaching school food service classes across the state and consulting with individual school districts on efficiency reviews. She said that urban and rural districts have “a whole different set of questions and concerns” about wheat foods, creating a big communications challenge for agricultural advocates.

“Without agriculture, none of us are going to be here,” she said. “We need to make sure people really do understand what is happening in agriculture and who is feeding us.”

Donna is a true champion for Kansas farmers, whether it is at the State Fair, in a cafeteria or the yoga studio.

Cindy Falk, nutrition educator with Kansas Wheat, said, “Donna is a perfect spokesperson,  interacting and teaching  people about the nutritious food for which Kansas is known.”

Namaste, Donna. 

by Julia Debes