To educate interested citizens of all ages in oyster aquaculture methods and promote small-scale aquaculture to improve environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (TOGA) is a non-profit organization established in 1997. We participate in over 25 educational outreach events each year, at which thousands of people have been introduced to the benefits of growing oysters and, most importantly, to the awareness of and the importance of helping to improve the ecology of the Bay. We teach how to evaluate potential sites for growing oysters; 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 membership is over 650, spanning from the James to the Patuxent Rivers and their tributaries.
We conduct a biennial Master Oyster Gardeners course, covering oyster biology, oyster reef ecology, shellfish diseases, hatchery operation and seed production, growing sites and structures, recognition of predators, and governmental regulations. The course is taught by faculty and staff from The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), personnel from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and representatives of the Virginia Health Department.
We also promote the health of the Bay by conducting various research studies of different strains of oysters in varying conditions; contribute to a Fellowship Endowment with the VIMS Foundation to support graduate students researching the ecological restoration of the Bay; publish three newsletters per year containing educational articles, results of research, and upcoming events; maintain one of the most current and oyster-gardener-oriented websites available to the public; and help write and publish several publications on raising oysters.