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Sanctuary Farm and Ice Cream Stand: A Gathering Place To Enjoy Life’s Simple Pleasures

Jun 30, 2023 12:51PM ● By Katherine P. Cox Photography By Lars Blackmore
It’s a kid’s dream come true. Tree forts. Animals to pet and feed. A huge play area with trucks and seesaws. Basketball and volleyball courts. And ice cream! More than 30 flavors of ice cream to choose from, made on the premises from the milk from the adjacent dairy farm. The aptly named Sanctuary Dairy Farm and Ice Cream Stand isn’t just for kids, even though their motto is “it’s a place for kids to be kids.” It’s also a place for adults to come and relax, hike the short trail that takes you past cows grazing in the fields, buy a hot dog or burrito, pick up some local goods from the farm stand, and picnic on land that’s been in the Johnson family since the late 1700s.

Connecting Kids to Agriculture

The main draw in the summertime is the ice cream shop, the brainchild of Beck Johnson, who had the idea to convert the family’s old sheep barn into an ice cream shop when he was nine years old. He’s 23 now, and rightly proud of his contribution to the family legacy. 

“Each generation has added one thing, so my hope was to add the ice cream shop and use our own milk and be a little more self-sufficient,” Beck says. 

While the farm does not have its own processing plant, they ship their milk and buy back product to produce their ice cream. Beck’s father, Jolyon, named the family dairy farm Sanctuary Farm as a sanctuary “where the traditional agrarian lifestyle can have a safe place.” Small dairy farms are disappearing in New Hampshire, Beck points out, and people are disconnected from where their food comes from. 

“Our big thing is to introduce kids to animals and agriculture in a way that they wouldn’t normally experience it and to tie it into where food comes from; that it doesn’t just magically appear,” Beck says. “Milk comes from the cow and it’s made into ice cream.”

Beck and his brother Jared, who runs the dairy farm, are 10th-generation farmers. 

“We want to see small farms stick around a while longer,” Beck says. 

They started with a vegetable wagon when they were young kids. The idea of the ice cream shop was a way to make the dairy farm more enterprising, in 2009. At the start they didn’t make their own ice cream, but as they got into it, Beck spent three years learning the ropes. He took courses at Penn State University and with Malcolm Stogo, who he calls an ice cream guru in New Jersey. 

“He showed me the highest tier of ice cream making there was. I learned a lot from him. That’s when we started making our own and experimenting and we slowly grew. Around 2012 we switched to making our own ice cream.”

Today they make 60 flavors, with 30 varieties in rotation at the shop at a time. He bounces ideas around with his mother Susan, who Beck says “is extremely good at ice cream production. For certain flavors she does way better than me.” Ten workers help in the production in the licensed commercial kitchen not far from the shop, farm stand, and play area. “It’s where all the magic happens,” Beck says.

Beyond the Sweet Stuff

Ice cream isn’t the only venture on the farm. 

“We do a lot of stuff,” Beck says. 

The farm stand features products from other local farms and producers, with everything from milk, eggs, cheese, and maple syrup to meat as well as items Beck describes as “only things you find in New Hampshire for people who come from out of state.” He says, “We try to incorporate other farms around us.” Ice cream isn’t the only thing you can eat. Hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches during the week, and breakfast burritos and waffles on the weekends are also available.

One of the biggest draws, Beck says, is the play area and the animals. “We say it’s a place where kids can be kids and parents can kind of set them loose and sit back and relax for a while.” There are treehouses—the crooked fort and the princess house—to explore, horseshoe pits, seesaws, a basketball hoop, a volleyball net, and more. Sheep, goats, and donkeys are in a large fenced-in area, where visitors can feed the animals and pet them. “It keeps the animals and the kids happy,” Beck says with a laugh. The cows stay next door at the dairy farm.

An Anchor for Locals

There’s no charge. 

“You can let your kids loose and not even get an ice cream,” Beck jokes. 

Chances are, no one will leave without ice cream. 

“One thing I really like about the environment here is that it’s not just people who come and go and we never see them again. People stay for a few hours; we get to know people in the community. One kid who lives up the road came here when he was a toddler and we hired him this summer. We like to see the community grow around us. We’ve become an anchor for a lot of locals. We try to make it as safe and welcoming as we can for everyone.” 

During the pandemic, while other businesses were shut, the ice cream shop was able to stay open and truly give people a sanctuary, a place they could be safely outside and distanced from other visitors. 

 “We have enough space for people to spread out,” Beck points out. “People really enjoyed being somewhat able to go out.

“My goal when I started was to add another addition to the farm, our family’s legacy, that’s self-sufficient, but not just for us,” Beck says. “It allows the community to see what we have, to see the agrarian lifestyle. My biggest dream was I wanted a way for us to use our own milk.” He has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. 

Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream

209 New Hampshire Route 103

Sunapee, NH

(603) 863-8940


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