Bonton Farms isn’t a typical Texas farm. It’s tucked at the end of a street lined with multifamily homes and a handful of churches in the South Dallas neighborhood of Bonton — just a stone’s throw from downtown high-rises. The
compact 1.5-acre lot packs in rows of vegetables, with just enough space left over to roost chickens, raise goats and house a Mangalitsa pig named Libby.
But the urban farm’s impact on the predominantly Black community has grown to be much larger than its original footprint. “The first thing you need to know about Bonton Farms is that it is more than just a farm,” Gabrielle “Gabe”
Madison says. “It is an organization dedicated to transforming people’s lives.” She knows because it transformed hers.
The first time Gabe visited in 2017, she was the director of community relations at a Fortune 500 company looking for a volunteer project. Five years later, she was named president of Bonton Farms. She left her corporate job after more than a decade in
September so she could focus on helping the nonprofit achieve its mission — disrupting systems of inequity to create lasting change and revitalize a community.
“The more involved I became with the people here, the more I knew that I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines,” Gabe says. “I saw the opportunity to take what I learned, what I’ve experienced and the network I built over 22
years in the corporate arena and bring that to a place that is doing amazing work.”
Gabe Madison (right) in the kitchen at Bonton Farms. Photo: Ben Torres
She’ll have help, and not just from her dedicated team. Gabe is one of 16 nonprofit leaders the PepsiCo Foundation and Doritos SOLID BLACK selected for the 2023 Black Changemakers program, which is designed to uplift Black community advocates, remove
barriers and ensure they have the opportunity to create positive change. Along with a $50,000 grant to Bonton Farms, Gabe will receive leadership development training with Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and fundraising
coaching, software and technical assistance from Network for Good.
“Many Black community and nonprofit leaders face roadblocks in gaining access to capital to start, sustain and/or scale up their work,” says C.D. Glin, President of the PepsiCo Foundation and Global Head of Philanthropy for PepsiCo. “We
seek to narrow that gap and provide participants with the assets they need to not only survive, but to adapt and thrive.”
Bonton Farms adapted and is now thriving. The nonprofit was founded by CEO Daron Babcock in 2014 to be an oasis in a “food desert” — an area that has limited access to fresh and nutritious foods. The nearest grocery store is a 90-minute
bus away from Bonton, and because nearly half of the area’s roughly 3,000 residents are affected by poverty, many don’t have access to personal transportation. Bonton Farms offered the community a place to find fresh produce, as well as
cooking classes and nutrition counseling.
Nearly a decade after that original 1.5-acre plot was first planted, Bonton Farms has expanded to an additional 38 acres of farmland, as well as opened a farmer’s market, café and coffee shop that serve the community. Those facilities are
operated by a staff of 50 full-time employees and apprentices, many of whom are from Bonton. And that’s just the first phase of the transformation efforts.
Many Black community and nonprofit leaders face roadblocks in gaining access to capital to start, sustain and/or scale up their work. We seek to narrow that gap and provide participants with the assets they need to not only survive, but to adapt and thrive.
“When you peel back the layers of why there is a food security problem, you see how many more issues there are,” Gabe says. She was brought on to help Bonton Farms address them. Gabe was part of the team that worked to get the Bonton Farms
Act passed into Texas law, allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to wipe fines from their records upon release. Soon, Bonton Farms will break ground on a health and wellness center that will offer physical and mental health treatment, as
well as financial coaching. There are also plans to build a 36-unit apartment building, creating safe and affordable housing for nearly 200 residents.
They don’t intend to stop with Bonton, either. “Our job is to take our vision and scale it in a way that the work that has been done here can be done in other communities, too,” Gabe explains. “We want the change in Bonton
to be the change we see in the world.”
Support from the PepsiCo Foundation and Doritos SOLID BLACK will allow Bonton Farms to impact the lives of even more people.
“That brings me a joy and an excitement that I just can’t explain,” Gabe says. “Every day, I thank this team that I’m blessed to work with and this community that I’ve been blessed to be a part of. I feel like we’re
doing something major. And I absolutely love it.”
Meet the full class of 2023 Black Changemakers.