Made in NEPA is a series that showcases locally based manufacturers and the products that they proudly create right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look at the companies and the impact they’re making in NEPA and beyond.
A Family Farm Keeps a Sweet Tradition Alive
Back in the ‘60s, the Manning family was planning to build an ice cream store at their dairy farm in Dalton. A local official came to discuss the new shop and put a traffic counter on the rural country road. Four—maybe five—cars passed by the farm in a day. He told the Mannings that the lonely backroad wasn’t busy enough to sustain a seasonal produce stand, let alone an ice cream shop.
Yet, the Mannings decided to build it anyway.
The story is almost hard to believe if you visit the farm nowadays. On a busy day, hundreds of folks will stop in for a taste of Manning’s famous ice cream. The chalkboard menus are always crammed with dozens of flavors, and the coolers are packed full of farm-fresh milk and ice cream pies. For many families, it’s simply a tradition to take a scenic country drive, grab a cone and say hello to the cows.
Manning Farm Dairy operates their farm store in Dalton, as well as four other retail shops across Lackawanna County. Their delicious, wholesome milk and legendary ice cream all come straight from the source.
Over 100 Years of Farming
Paul and Jean Manning currently own the farm, working alongside their three sons, Brian, Ken and Kevin. The farm has been in the family ever since Paul’s grandfather bought the property in 1920.
In the ‘30s, the farm started bottling their own milk and delivering it door-to-door. But with the rise of convenience stores and supermarkets, the home deliveries started to dwindle. The Mannings needed to find a way to keep the farm thriving.
That’s when Paul’s father got the idea to start making ice cream. He opened the original dairy store in Dalton in 1964. Before long, the secret was out: this ice cream was worth the drive.
“We started to really get crowds coming up here. We had a number system, and we’d be 50 numbers deep,” recalled Jean. “But people would be watching the cows. We didn’t have the pavilion or the picnic tables then, but they’d walk around.”
When Paul and Jean took over the business, they decided to expand the original shop and open additional retail stores to meet the demand. They opened their second location in Clarks Summit in 1984 and later added stores in Scranton, West Scranton and Dunmore.
Of course, surviving as a century farm is no easy feat, especially as the number of dairy farms continues to decline across Pennsylvania and the entire nation. Places like Manning Farm Dairy help to keep NEPA’s agricultural heritage alive.
“With 21 grandchildren, we’d like to think that maybe it will move to the next generation,” Jean explained. “Paul was the third generation. Our sons are the fourth generation, which is kind of unheard of. If it goes to the fifth generation, that will really be something to talk about.”
“From the Cow to Your Cone”
Long before the farm-to-table trend took off, Manning Farm Dairy was already doing cow-to-cone. The farm is vertically integrated, which means that all stages of the milk and ice cream production are handled on-site.
The process starts in the fields, where they grow the crops to feed the herd. The feed is stored in the blue silos that you can see behind the ice cream store. A computerized system also helps keep track of each cow’s health, from the amount of milk she produces to how much she eats and drinks in a day.
A healthy, well-fed cow is a happy cow, which makes all the difference when it comes to milk. The girls are milked twice a day, every day at three in the morning and three in the afternoon. The milking parlor features large windows so visitors can peek inside and learn how the milk gets from the farm to their fridge.
The milk is processed and bottled within the next day (no kidding when they say it’s fresh). Then, it heads out on the delivery truck to the farm’s retail stores and wholesale customers, which range up to an 80-mile radius beyond the farm.
Local Scoops & Sweets
In addition to bottling their own milk, Manning’s also makes their famous ice cream in-house. In the back of the farm store, a row of batch freezers stir up a decadent mixture of fresh milk, cream and cane sugar. The employees fill countless tubs with ice cream, sprinkling in the toppings and swirling in the ripples by hand. It’s fast-paced work, but it still has that personal touch.
When it comes to ingredients, Manning’s only uses the best of the best. They bake their own add-ins like brownies and cookie dough, while other ingredients are sourced out, like chocolates from Gertrude Hawk of Dunmore.
During the summer, Manning’s will serve over 50 flavors at their ice cream parlors, and they’re always coming up with new creations. Yet, the classic flavors are always the bestsellers.
“Believe it or not, vanilla passes everything always,” said Jean.
Pure vanilla extract makes this rich, nostalgic flavor even better.
“Five or six years ago, vanilla extract went through the ceiling,” explained Jean. “We were paying $350 a gallon for vanilla extract. But we refused to move to something lesser. It has come down since. It never comes down to the original price, but it has come down. But that’s to say, we don’t compromise our quality. If anything, we try to make it better.”
Manning’s makes all the tried-and-true favorites like cookies and cream, chocolate chip cookie dough and mint chocolate chip. You’ll also find creative flavors like caramel sea salt and Cookie Monster, a bright blue ice cream filled with crumbled Oreos and chocolate chip cookies. And you can’t miss frozen treats like ice cream sandwiches, cakes and pies, which are all decorated by hand.
Visit Manning Farm Dairy
They may be one of NEPA’s most well-known ice cream shops, but Manning Farm Dairy still stays true to their local, family-run roots.
“Seeing what you’re doing, working hard at it, seeing the community appreciate your efforts, working with your sons towards improving your business—I don’t know how you beat that,” said Jean.
You can find Manning’s milk and ice cream at their five locations throughout Lackawanna County. The stores are open daily year-round, excluding major holidays. All locations are cash only.
Manning Farm Dairy Locations: