After living in England, Australia, French Polynesia and France, David Hughes has settled in Whanganui - where he aims to grow heritage wheat.

Mr Hughes arrived a year ago, and has bought a house and 2.25 hectares in No2 Line at the top of Durie Hill. He has a patch ploughed up ready to sow a cover crop - and later 10 varieties of heritage wheat. He came to New Zealand after living in France for 15 years, because he wanted to be back in an English-speaking country. He chose this country because it was "less aggressive" than Australia, but with many of the same benefits.

He chose Whanganui after spending a weekend with Heritage Food Crops Research Trust director Mark Christensen.

Mr Christensen has been growing Monty's Surprise apples, heritage tomatoes and beans and introduced him to others with heritage food and organic interests.


Whanganui's other advantages were affordable properties and friendly people.

Mr Hughes was able to buy a rural property suitable for growing wheat but minutes from town. "Whanganui is great. I feel very happy about the choice I have made," he said.

He has joined Toastmasters and the Green Party, is doing some translation work and is one of several volunteers who help Mr Christensen every Monday. In his 20s Mr Hughes left England for Australia, where he worked in banks as an accountant. The Westpac bank sent him from Australia to Noumea and Tahiti.

When he got tired of the corporate world he went to France. He worked there as a self-taught translator, mainly of financial writing at first. While there he had some involvement with Petanielle, a group of farmers and gardeners who want to preserve agricultural biodiversity. Then, in New Zealand, working as a volunteer on organic farms, a host suggested he carry on Petanielle's work with wheat in New Zealand.

He's imported 100 grains each from 10 century-old wheats in an Australian gene bank.

Mr Christensen grew them on last season, with the aim of eventually having a quantity of seed worth sowing with a tractor. The varieties may be more suitable than modern wheat for making sourdough bread. And they may cause fewer allergy problems for people.

"Wheat has been very mucked-around-with over 100 years, which is possibly why we have got some of those issues."

If the wheat is promising, Marton organic grain grower Suzy Rea may try using it. Mr Hughes also intends to import more heritage seed. "The project could go in a number of directions," he said.