Crowing roosters, nibbling goats and buzzing honeybees: Fritz and Jim Mitnick's farm in suburban Indiana Township is truly peaceful-but far from quiet.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
It's hard to know where to begin in describing the Mitnick farm. For starters, there's Mike and Harry, the pair of plant-nibbling goats that Fritz Mitnick calls "self-propelled weed eaters." Then there's the two white, spotted chickens who scurry about and the scarlet-plumed roosters who chase them.
Perhaps the most striking detail is the colony of honeybees that Jim Mitnick carefully tends and the ruckus that invariably happens at the local post office when the queen bees arrive that Jim has ordered by mail.
On the property sits a towering red barn, first constructed elsewhere in 1891 and brought here by the Mitnicks in 2001. There's also a smaller white barn that the chickens and roosters shared for years with a family of doves until marauding hawks did away with their peace-loving prey. The circle of life is very evident on this "hobby farm" in Indiana Township.
The stunning home that anchors this 34-acre property was designed by Jim, an engineer, and built in 1991.
The low-slung front of the house has a disarming simplicity, like a cottage nestled in the woods. Fritz, with her easy laugh and no-nonsense charm, is perfectly at home here designing stunning rugs, cooking with garden herbs and making jelly from her strawberry patch.
But wander around back past the frog-filled lily pond, and everything changes. There you get an entirely different perspective on the house. The low-slung cottage has blossomed into two stories of imposing grandeur, calling to mind the beachfront estates of Long Island's Hamptons. It's simultaneously a chic suburban residence and a working farm-home not just to a menagerie of animals and insects, but also to sprawling gardens brimming with vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers all summer long.
Seeing this property today, so full of life and sound and quirky personality, it's hard to believe it was just grass and trees when the Mitnicks bought it two decades ago. As the years have passed, they've put their stamp on this landscape, literally and figuratively.
Fritz's creative nature is everywhere, especially in the pieces of rusting farm equipment that sprout unexpectedly amid trees and bushes. She has turned these huge relics, used a generation ago by her father on his farm just outside of Chicago, into an outdoor art installation.
Jim's engineering prowess can be glimpsed in fruit trees he so carefully prunes, in the honeycombs he coaxes into being and in the vines of berries that he expertly tends. ("Trees are almost architectural," Fritz says, smiling.)
This place is truly their home, and it feeds them creatively just as its bounty feeds them literally. It is difficult to describe, but even more difficult to forget.