Zane Marsh is a laid-back, easygoing Miami graduate with a fungal fascination.
"I like to have fun and kind of explore things, so I guess you could call me a free-spirited kind of guy," Zane said. "And I grow mushrooms."
Zane graduated from Miami last May with a degree in psychology, but that isn't where his true interests lie. If, for some reason, the topic of conversation turns to fungi, Zane's eyes immediately light up.
"I don't even want to do anything with- well I do want to do something with my psychology degree," Zane said. "But I mean, I just started growing mushrooms and I love it. Now I'm trying to make a business out of it."
Zane says he was first introduced to the prospect of growing mushrooms during his senior year at Miami when a friend brought it up to him.
"He was talking to me and said 'Hey, you know science and stuff like that,' and he brought me to one of his grow rooms," Zane said. "Seeing that, I was just like 'Wow, this is fascinating.' I'd never seen mushrooms being cultivated before, and it was just really cool."
After he graduated, Zane decided to give growing a try. Using the knowledge he'd accumulated from his friend and some research he'd done on his own, he started to grow mushrooms in a garden at his home.
From these humble beginnings here in Oxford, Zane hopes to branch out. He's got a lot of ideas about how mushrooms can be used to improve the world.
According to Zane, mushrooms are an underrated wonder-plant. Among the over 20 varieties of fungus he grows, he says that there are species that work as water filters, some that serve as pain medications and some that just taste good.
"[Mushrooms] can do so many things that people don't even consider," Zane said. "They can break down microplastics, they can clean up toxins in the water like pesticides and fungicides, they can be used for medicine. It's incredible."
But the capabilities of mushrooms don't stop there. Zane says that with the right research and application, they can be dried and used for clothing, compacted to be used as building material, and even replace the medicines we use every day.
"That's part of the thing that's so unique about these plants," Zane said. "When you eat these things, a lot of times you're getting both a functional and a pharmaceutical value just by doing something as simple as eating."
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However, there are a few speed bumps on the road to a mushroom utopia.
"There's a real stigma against mushrooms, I feel," Zane said. "Like, for instance, when I went to my first market [to sell mushrooms], you wouldn't believe the amount of stares I got. It was like I had a horn on my head."
He said that nearly everyone who approached him thought he was peddling either poison or psychedelics. But even amidst the strange reactions to his products, Zane says he loves what he does.
"By the time people leave my stand [at the market], they're like 'I want to buy your product because I feel safe and because I know it's healthy for me,'" Zane said. "And that gave me a lot more satisfaction than I ever thought it would."
Looking well into the future, Zane has dreams beyond growing and selling mushrooms.
"My true goal is to have a sustainable community where people can come and go and just get away from urban life, and realize that this is maybe a better way to live," Zane said.
And for Zane, the plants he grows are the first step toward changing the world and making that dream a reality.
Until that time comes, he's looking to expand his business here in Oxford from selling at farmers markets to reach a wider clientele. He recently secured a 700-square-foot indoor space to start growing his mushrooms in, and he hopes to raise both capital from and interest in his plants before he turns his goals outward.
"It amazes me every time I learn more about these [mushrooms]," he said. "Because they're absolutely beautiful, sheer beauty, and they can do so many amazing things if we just let them."