As we settle into a table at Bonton Farms’ Coffee House in South Dallas, Gabe Madison tells me that when she met the nonprofit’s leader, Daron Babcock, the now busy shop and its neighboring restaurant were merely ideas. “I was amazed at his vision,” she remembers. A longtime Thomson Reuters executive, Madison recently made a big career switch to become president at Bonton Farms, a nonprofit working to effect change in Dallas’ southern sector with its two farms, farmers market, and more. She shares that her go-to coffee order is an Iced Honey Butter Latte then begins talking about her goals.
Madison is starting big, aiming to break ground on Bonton Farms’ Health and Wellness Center on Bexar Street this year. “Because we started out as a farm, building nutrition as part of the prescription to wellness is what we are looking to provide, as well as access to healthcare and services,” she explains. The nonprofit also hopes to break ground on affordable housing in 2023 and is reactivating its therapy programming alongside Parkland psychiatrist Dr. Michael Selders. “He understands this,” Madison says, “He has his own garden that he utilizes with his patients as a way to heal from a lot of the trauma and pain that many people have.”
Madison knows firsthand about that pain, having watched her brother struggle with addiction and incarceration. “I see so much of him in the people who are in Bonton,” she says. The siblings were raised in a small East Texas town called Pollok, where Madison says they experienced racism. Though they grew up with the same parents in the same home, she says her brother’s experience was very different from her own. “Being able to overcome that and trying to dull that pain through addiction has been his nightmare and his challenge,” Madison says.
For Madison, her upbringing spurred her to dream bigger. She graduated from Baylor University with business and marketing degrees and entered corporate America, accepting an HR leadership role at Georgia-based flooring manufacturer Mohawk Industries before moving over to Thomson Reuters. There, she rose to director of community relations in 2015, guiding the media company’s engagement with North Texas nonprofits during the remainder of her 11-year tenure.
She connected with Babcock through her work with Dallas-based Café Momentum and began bringing groups of Thomson Reuters volunteers to Bonton Farms in 2018. Two years later, she worked with others to help pass the Bonton Farms Bill, which wipes away petty fines for former inmates to help them get a fresh start. “That’s when Daron saw my engagement,” Madison says.
Babcock asked her to join Bonton’s board and she soon became its chair. She realized the founder needed someone to “put legs” to the vision that he had for the nonprofit and began searching for this integrator and executor. “All the time, God was telling me, ‘It’s you,’” Madison laughs. “I kept hanging up on God.”
Madison thought she already had her dream job at Thomson Reuters. “I couldn’t imagine it,” she says, “Why would I leave this good, cushy corporate role to go do something so radically different? But then I said, ‘Impact is really what I’m after.’” Madison took on her new role at Bonton Farms in September 2022, commuting daily from Frisco. The drive is worth it, she says. “It’s not a job. This is my life’s work.”