Holy cow — Manning’s is 100.

The North Abington Twp. dairy farm hits its centennial this year, and the Manning family is looking back at a legacy that began with just a few cows and has grown to encompass several storefronts, ice cream and more.

“We are an actual working farm, and there’s an appreciation when people can come out and see that the milk that’s going out to the bottles are coming from the farm,” said Brian Manning, part of the fourth generation of the family working the farm. “People can see the cows. They can see that we work really hard to take care of our animals and take care of our land.”

Founded in 1920 by John B. Manning, the farm, along with its farmhouse and store, sit on Manning Road, where third-generation farmer Paul Manning and his wife, Jean, still live. Their three sons — Brian, Ken and Kevin, who help run the family business — reside close by.

John, who died before Paul was born, hadn’t always been a farmer, but Paul believes it was something he always wanted to do. Back then, John only had six or seven cows who weren’t milked year-round, and he’d haul the milk by horse and wagon to a creamery in Dalton.

Paul’s father, Kenneth E. Manning, started running milk routes in 1939, continuing the home delivery service until 1970.

“We had a very good clientele of old customers but not too many young ones because they could buy it much cheaper in supermarkets,” Paul recalled. “My father saw the writing on the wall.”

In 1964, though, the Mannings had opened their farm store, where guests continue to buy milk and ice cream made right there.

“We are truly farm-to-consumer,” Brian said.

Paul is one of nine children and the only one to continue farming, having returned in the late ’60s after a couple years studying at Vanderbilt University.

“(College) just wasn’t something I wanted to do, and my father had a heart attack, so I guess it was kind of my excuse to come back to the farm, which is what I wanted to do,” Paul recalled.

Paul started running the business in 1974, four years before his dad died. Paul exposed his own kids — which also includes daughters Michelle, Traci and Casey, who work elsewhere — to the farm life. They would wake up at 4 a.m. before school to help and couldn’t always do extra-curriculars. But they went on to receive Ivy League educations; Brian is one of several sibling to attend Cornell University, where he studied crop science.

“Even when I went away, the farm never really left me,” he said. “I knew at, I think, a very young age that I wanted to keep doing this. My parents encouraged me to go and get an education and maximize what I could learn.”

The Mannings still sell milk, as well as egg nog and iced tea seasonally, and they started making ice cream in 1964.

“We didn’t have a product I thought was that good until maybe ’70, ’71,” Paul said. “We just kept experimenting with adding this, adding that.”

Manning’s makes its own mixes for a truly homemade ice cream produced on the farm. At the farm store and the four others the family added over the years — two in Scranton and one each in Dunmore and Clarks Summit, where President George W. Bush stopped in 2006 — customers can get not only cones and scoops but also larger containers and ice cream pies to take home.

Manning’s went from about 15 to 20 flavors to 50 to 55 it consistently carries. Brian said he hopes to continue offering some specialty flavors from time to time, too.

“I loved some of our unique flavors we’ve done, just short-run stuff,” he said. “I loved when we did the chocolate ice cream with the chili hot flavor to it.”

Part of the community

Today, Brian oversees the farm and crops, Ken handles processing and ice cream mixing, and Kevin delivers products to different stores and wholesalers. Kevin also owns Manning’s Mobile Ice Cream Shoppe, an ice cream truck that serves the family’s products around the region.

“It’s different than most jobs in that it’s when you grow up with it, you don’t see it as a job; you see what your dad is doing as just what life is like on a farm,” Brian said. “He doesn’t really go to work. It is just what life is, and growing up, I kind of enjoyed that.”

While Paul continues to help, he enjoys watching his sons tackle the business.

“They do want to do a good job and keep our reputation the way it’s always been,” he said.

Brian said he, his brothers and their parents all work together well, with each of the brothers working to their strengths.

“We all have the confidence in each other, that my brothers understand that I’m doing everything to the best of my ability and they’re doing everything to the best of their abilities,” Brian said. “And no one is looking over someone’s shoulders to make sure something is getting done.”

They’ve evolved over the years, noted Paul, who has listened to his sons’ ideas because he knows “sometimes their ideas were a lot better than mine.” Brian sees his dad and grandfather as people who embraced change, looking for ways to improve the farm and make it more efficient.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, local grocery stores began to run out of milk as suppliers faced issues with bottling capacity, Brian said. But Manning’s kept its supply going because it could more easily adjust its processes.

“We bottled a lot of milk,” Brian said. “And because of that, we were able to say, ‘If the grocery store’s out of milk, you can come to us.’”

And that wasn’t the first time Manning’s came through for the community.

“It’s been that way for other situations, like in ’93 when we had the blizzard and the delivery trucks couldn’t get out to the grocery stores. We could get ours (delivered) because we had a four wheel-drive truck,” Brian said. “We kind of like to be a part of a community that can come through with the basics that families need.”

The farm remains a popular spot even in today’s social-distancing world since people can spread out and see the cows up close as they dig in to their ice cream.

“Most people are so removed from agriculture,” Paul said. “If you asked your grade-school students where milk comes from, they’d probably say the grocery store. Come out and enjoy the open space.”

Like any family business, the Mannings have faced challenges, from finding reliable hired workers to running what could be a lonely farm store in the winter. Paul looks to his wife, Jean, as one of the reasons they have succeeded. A trained violinist, Jean not only raised their six kids but also did all the farm’s bookkeeping and other hands-on jobs.

“It would have been a disaster if I didn’t have her,” Paul said.

The next generation

Where the farm ends up during the next 100 years could depend on some of Paul and Jean’s 21 grandchildren, some of whom already have taken an interest in carrying on the family legacy.

“I had the luxury of my parents not pressing me (about) being involved in the farm (as an adult),” said Brian, father of Julia, 16; Charlotte, 11; and Edward, 8. “I just kind of grew into it. I’m trying to give my kids that same option. This is a business that can expand to fit more people, that if they wished to be involved, it is an option for them. But I don’t want it to be the sole thing that they are looking (at) if it’s not what they want.”

Even so, the farm remains part of life for the fifth generation.

“When we’re bailing hay, everybody is hands-on,” Brian said.

The Mannings hope to mark the centennial but are prepared to wait.

“We wanted to celebrate with the community,” Brian said. “We’re putting it off until a time that’s a little more appropriate.”

Until then and beyond, the family will continue to build on its legacy, which for Brian rests in the ice cream. He and his dad love the basics — chocolate and vanilla — that form the background of many of their flavors.

“I think the legacy is we have found a way to make a premium product that people appreciate,” Brian said. “And they appreciate how it’s made and not just how it tastes.”

Paul hopes his sons keep expanding the business at whatever pace they’re comfortable with, because they’ll need to grow it if his grandchildren want to carry on. It’s tough to procure more land, he added, but they have the capability to expand the ice cream business.

“Farming’s a tough business,” Paul said. “It’s long hours. It’s nice to see someone that wants to carry on and make it better.”

He remembers a time he and Brian were in one of their fields, chopping corn. His son looked at him and said, “Gee, Dad. I love this life.”

“I think that’s one of the most rewarding things,” Paul said. “They’re not here just because they had no other choice. They’re here because they want to be here.”

Contact the writer: cwest@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; @cheaneywest on Twitter

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