Bonton Farms Wellness Center: Addressing historic healthcare gaps in South Dallas

Story and photo by Jennie Trejo. Video by Jedarrian Jones.

Last month, Bonton Farms broke ground on a Community Wellness Center in South Dallas. The moment on Dec. 7 was significant because hospitals and health clinics have historically not opened in or near the Bonton neighborhood, which has made it difficult for residents to access high-quality medical care.

“Bonton Farms’ mission centers around disrupting unjust systems,” Gabe Madison, president of Bonton Farms, says. “We know that when communities like Bonton are equipped with the most basic tools, our people, our families, and our communities will flourish.”

The 11,000-square-foot building is set to open in 2025. The center aims to be multifaceted, providing holistic primary and preventative medical care, promoting financial well-being, and cultivating healthy food access for an estimated 400 residents annually.

Bonton Farms started as a nonprofit urban farm. Over the years, they have begun to focus on issues that extend beyond food insecurity, such as housing and health, in an effort to be more holistic in how they approach community needs.

“It was a lot to do with understanding that just addressing food insecurity was not going to address the overall issues of healthcare,” Gabe explains. “I can’t help the community and just say, ‘Hey, we can only provide you food,’ because my community member is still hurting in different ways.”

According to Gabe, the lack of access to healthy food has exacerbated people’s health outcomes for generations. “So now you see chronic issues in the community like diabetes and high rates of high blood pressure, which can then lead to heart disease.”

Dallas City Council District 7 Representative Adam Bazaldua also addresses this disparity.

“We have data that shows that we have life expectancies so different north of I-30 than we do south of I-30,” Bazaldua says. “And the access to health care is something that we can do to make sure to close those gaps.”

The City of Dallas is just one of the many supporters that have come together to make this $5.2 million project possible. Its other partners include the Methodist Community Collaborative, which will provide primary medical care and staffing, and Baylor Scott & White Health for prevention and intervention services.

The project also includes a Financial Wellness and Resource Center, supported by nine partner banks like JPMorgan Chase, Southside Bank, and others. It will offer essential tools for communities, covering budgeting, credit repair, debt management, wealth building, home ownership preparedness, entrepreneurship, MWBE Certification, and small business loans.

While Adam says that the City is backing the project wholeheartedly, he admits that has not always been the case for this South Dallas community.

“We have, as a city, failed the southern part of our city. We’ve allowed for these disparities to exist. And it’s efforts like these that are directly to address those issues that we know have been facing our city for so long,” Adam says. “That’s why it was a no-brainer when Bonton [Farms] asked the City of Dallas to partner.”

Tasha Mica Lee is a proud resident of the Bonton community and a member of the Bonton Farms staff. She says that she is excited about the groundbreaking of the new Wellness Center, and what it will do for herself, her family, and her neighbors.

“As a cancer survivor, I have personally experienced the reality of barriers to quality health care that exist in my community.”

Tasha was diagnosed with end-stage non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during the pandemic. She believes that lack of access to both preventative wellness checks and transportation were the biggest barriers to her health journey.

“If I would have been able to have preventative care, I could have been diagnosed sooner than the end stage,” Tasha explains. “Maybe instead of going through such intensive chemotherapy, I could have had more options.”

During treatment, Tasha says her biggest hurdle became transportation. To get to her chemotherapy sessions, she was taking public transportation for 45 minutes to an hour to get to Parkland, or an hour-and-a-half to two-hour ride to Baylor.

“To know that this Wellness Center now will exist less than a mile from my doorstep is a blessing,” Tasha says. “I look forward to the day that I can walk into Bonton Farms Wellness Center for wellness services.”

The positive tone that Tasha uses to describe the future of Bonton is one that was echoed throughout the groundbreaking ceremony. Gabe says that the work that they are doing at Bonton is centered around a total transformation of the neighborhood.

In addition to food insecurity, Bonton Farms aims to address housing, transportation, and financial wellness issues. Their goal is to help the whole person and educate them in a way that is culturally-centric to the community.

“We want people to understand that this is an opportunity zone, not an impoverished area,” Gabe explains. “We want people to look into this community to hire skilled workers, shop, and get some of the best healthcare in the county. We want to be that shining light– that beacon– in sunny South Dallas.”

Adam says that they talk a lot at City Hall about equity versus equality and leveling people’s playing field. Now, he believes that leveling is giving a better opportunity and trajectory for a community that for so long wasn’t given the same resources that were invested in other areas.

“Bonton Farms just exemplifies neighborhood self-determination and resiliency,” Adam says. “I’m extremely proud of all of the work that Bonton has done under the leadership of Gabe.”

Gabe affirms that Bonton is resilient, and, if given the opportunity, will do well with their newfound access.

“We did not have time to waste and wait on a city situation to come and solve our problems,” Gabe says. “We said as a community: We can do this. We can attack this and then show other communities how they no longer have to wait, and how they can do this for themselves.”

As for Tasha, who now proudly refers to herself as a cancer survivor, she hopes that the new Bonton Farms Wellness Center will remain a resource to her family for a long time.

“This is going to be a place where my daughter could come, and she can help train someone,” Tasha says. “Maybe her kids’ kids will be here helping train people to keep this going because this is not just for fashion and for show. This is for generations. This breaks a generational curse. And that’s what we need to do.”

If you would like to learn more or get involved, you can visit the Bonton Farms website.