Homesteading is hot stuff these days, but it's frustrating. Many how-to manuals seem to be written by relative newbies who are glamorously photographed tending chickens and harvesting vegetables on their spotless new farms.

It's refreshing, then, to read Homesteading in the 21st Century (Taunton Press, $24.95), cowritten by George Nash and Jane Waterman, whose photos reveal them to be unadorned, middle-aged folks doing real work.

Waterman grew up poor on a New Hampshire dairy farm and graduated to homestead hippiedom in Tennessee and then Vermont, where she and her then-husband farmed and lived off-grid and off-road.

The journey from there to here has been long and interesting, and it includes careers as both midwife and physician. Long story short, Waterman's now a full-time homesteader, with husband Nash, at Gopher Broke Farm in northern Vermont.

He grew up outside New Haven, Conn., comfortable with tools and later construction work, and for more than 40 years now, he's been about as self-reliant as a person can be. Today, he and Waterman raise their own vegetables and fruit, meat and eggs, while restoring pastures and orchards, selling to local markets, and planning their next venture - a sausage business.

If there is one lesson they stress, it's that if you want to homestead, there is no one thing that will earn your living. You must do many things, be resourceful, and embrace hard work, but you needn't lose yourself in the woods and grow a beard.

"Your mindscape is more important than your landscape," the couple write. In other words, do what you can.

Nash and Waterman cover topics - how to pick a realistic homestead site, the ins and outs of pumps and soil-building, and the basics and quirks of raising food and animals.

And children. They've done that, too.

If you're serious about self-sufficiency, to any degree, this book is a valuable resource.

- Virginia A. Smith