Saturday, August 21 was a big day for Aaron and Taryn Rowland, owners of Rogue Oysters, a small oyster farm located on the Northern Neck near Lancaster, VA. It may not have been as big a day as when they put their first oyster cage in the water, or when they made their first sale, but it was still a BIG day. On August 21, the farm received new seed. Babies, if you will. Probably around half a million baby oysters, measuring about a millimeter in size. The seed comes from a hatchery, Oyster Seed Holdings, Inc., located near Gwynn’s Island, VA. They only receive new seed twice a year, and caring for the tiny, unassuming little bivalves will be an intense process for the next couple weeks.
But Aaron and Taryn have the passion and drive it takes to raise the seed into a quality product. The seed is currently in the nursery, located inside a tiny building at Greenvale Marina on Greenvale Creek. Oysters are housed in small buckets within a larger tank called an upweller, that continuously pumps water in from the creek. The creek water comes in from the bottom up, through a screen on the bottom of each bucket, providing oxygen and nutrients to the oysters before being discharged back out to the creek. The screens need to be cleaned daily, which can be very time and labor intensive.
Once the oysters are at least ¼ inch in size, they are transferred to small cages hanging from the floating dock, just outside the building that houses the upweller. But not all the oysters arrive at the ¼” size at the same time, so the seed must constantly be sorted with a ¼” mesh – another time and labor intensive process.
After growing in the cages suspended from the floating dock, the oysters are then put through a tumbler that helps to streamline the process of sorting them by size. Once they are between ½” and ¾”, they are ready to be placed out on the farm. The farm is located just outside the mouth of Greenvale Creek on the Rappahannock River.
So who does all of this work to clean screens, sort by size, transfer from nursery to floating dock to farm to market? Sometimes Aaron and Taryn work together, but since Taryn has a full time day job, Aaron is known to put in some LONG days! But he doesn’t do it alone. Rogue Oysters prides itself on being an integral part of the community and providing employment opportunities through inclusive hiring practices. They welcome minorities to join their team and they provide opportunities to underserved communities whenever possible.
Another thing that Aaron and Taryn are passionate about is the environment, and seeking out ways to become carbon negative. From the solar lights at the marina to the electric powered pressure washers, they consider their footprint in every decision they make. But just their simple decision to start an oyster farm shows their commitment to improving the health of their local waterways. Since a single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, just think how much water gets filtered as they move one million oysters through their farm each year!
When the market faced serious challenges in 2020, Rogue Oysters was only able to sell about 20% of the oysters they had available. However, since they are so committed to their mission, they were able to partner with Friends of the Rappahannock to create a sponsorship program where individuals could sponsor the placement of the remaining 80% of the oysters in the river.
Another way in which Rogue Oysters is supporting the environment is by welcoming guests to their farm, as they are located on one of Virginia’s official water trails. The year 2020 saw a huge increase in ecotourism, and these guys are definitely embracing the movement. Aaron and Taryn welcome tour requests and are very hospitable guides; Aaron is even a certified Virginia ecotour guide! They’ll show you the nursery at the marina, or they’ll meet paddlers out on the water to see the farm and watch them harvest. Paddlers can launch at the Greenvale Creek boat ramp and paddle a half mile to the marina, or paddlers are even welcomed to launch right there at the marina, just steps away from the nursery. It’s about a 1.5-mile paddle from the marina to the farm. And if you plan at least two days in advance, you can even pre-order some oysters to take home with you.
Rogue Oysters isn’t just growing oysters to sell at your local seafood market. They’re connecting with their local community, they’re giving back, and they’re improving the health of their local waterways. Their forward-thinking, make-lemonade-from-lemons attitude is cutting edge and it’s inspiring. The name “rogue” is very fitting. So give them a call, order some oysters, and paddle on over to see the farm and catch a glimpse of how they’re using their little spot on Greenvale Creek to make the world a better place.