What We Do
The Full Story
The Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (TOGA) is a non-profit organization established in 1997 to promote the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries through oyster cultivation and by other means, and as a way of enjoying Virginia oysters. Being filter feeders, oysters remove bacteria and sediments, making the local environment cleaner habitats for marine life, and the improved water quality encourages seagrass growth, which creates better habits for fish. Our main goal is to educate interested citizens of all ages in oyster aquaculture methods. We accomplish this in a number of ways, such as participating in over 25 educational outreach events each year. Thousands of adults and young students have been introduced by TOGA to the benefits of growing your own oysters and, most importantly, to the awareness of the importance of helping to improve the ecology of the Bay.
We teach how to evaluate potential sites for growing oysters (water quality, salinity, turbidity, etc); how to build various types of oyster floats; where and when to obtain spat (oyster seed) and supplies; and the care and maintenance of oysters at all stages. Our current active membership is over 500, geographically spanning from the James to the Patuxent Rivers and their tributaries. Upon recognizing that we needed “experts” to help oyster gardeners evaluate conditions at their growing location, assist in identifying predators, help locate needed materials and supplies, and participate in our outreach events, we initiated a biennial Master Oyster Gardeners (MOG) Course. From nine courses, we have graduated over 120 MOGs who agree to volunteer and provide service to TOGA and its members. The course covers oyster biology, oyster reef ecology, shellfish diseases, breeding programs, hatchery operation and seed
production, growing sites and structures, recognition of predators, and governmental regulations. The course is taught by faculty and staff from VIMS, personnel from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and representatives of the Virginia Health Department. Some of the “other means” we promote the health of the Bay are to conduct various research studies of different strains of oysters in varying salinity and other conditions; contribute to a Fellowship Endowment with the VIMS Foundation to support graduate students researching shellfish and, more broadly, the ecological restoration of the Chesapeake Bay; host five events per year at which we present topics of current interest by experts in the field of marine biology as well as our own members; publish three newsletters per year containing educational articles, results of research projects, and upcoming events;
maintain one of the most current and oyster-gardener-oriented websites available to the public; and help write, publish and maintain several publications on raising oysters. Oyster farming became the primary source of Virginia oysters several years ago. Growing your own oysters is good for the Bay, they are good to eat and fun to raise. If you would like to learn more about TOGA, please come to a board meeting (dates and times posted on the TOGA Calendar) or contact our Board of Directors.