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Brightwater Puts Northwest Arkansas on Nation's Culinary Map

August 24, 2017
Foundation grant fuels expanded center of food learning

Although it has only been open for less than a year, Brightwater is already changing the food landscape of Northwest Arkansas.

More than just a traditional culinary school, Brightwater has established itself as an indispensable educational asset for the region - and as a destination for diehard foodies.

The growth of Brightwater, from its modest roots as the culinary program of NorthWest Arkansas Community College to a holistic center of food learning and culture, began with a vision among local leaders to develop a comprehensive food strategy for one of America’s fastest-growing regions.

Art. Business. Wellness. Those are the themes at the heart of the school’s educational model.

Brightwater’s planners wanted to train great chefs who understood cooking as art, culinary nutritionists and food entrepreneurs alike. They wanted to create an institute that used food as a tool for economic development, to build a strong workforce for the expanding hospitality industry in Bentonville and throughout Northwest Arkansas. And they wanted a school that focused on food’s relationship with peoples’ wellness, stressing the importance of sustainable farming practices and the value of locally-grown and locally-raised food in community health.

The Walton Family Foundation backed this ambitious transformation through a grant in 2015 to build the new 27,500-square-foot Brightwater facility in downtown Bentonville’s market district, in a former Tyson Foods processing plant. Funding also supported the development of new curriculum, state-of-the art equipment, the hiring of new faculty and rebranding of the culinary school.

“The grant provided really the entire foundation” for Brightwater, says its executive director, Glenn Mack.

Another grant in 2017 will help Brightwater expand its training capacity even further to meet the growing demand for food professions in the region.

Beyond academic and career training for full-time students, Brightwater has become a gathering place in downtown Bentonville and has fully integrated into the broader cultural ecosystem of the region.

It offers recreational cooking and mixology classes, hosts food festivals and other events ranging from seminars on how to create a food budget to how to prepare healthy meals under tight time constraints.

“There really is no typical day at Brightwater, and that's what I love about it,” says Glenn. “At any given day, there are multiple things going on. We have really caught the attention of food professionals around the world, [who are] ‘Wow, you're doing what we wish we could do.

Seeds of Opportunity is a storytelling series recognizing 30 partners the Walton Family Foundation has worked with over the years to build better schools, protect our environment and improve quality of life in our home region through culture, recreation and the arts. They are people and organizations who – through creativity, imagination and urgency – are advancing opportunity for people and communities at home and around the world.
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