Rick is also a chef at an annual crayfish and red rice festival at the Spring Mill Café in Conshohocken, held as a benefit for a friend who is developing a dental service in Haiti. The red rice and crayfish come from Rick’s family’s organic farm. (Photo by Shawn Hart)

by Len Lear

Richard “Rick” Josiassen, 65, is about as brilliant and cerebral as you would expect a scientist and specialist in schizophrenia research to be. Josiassen, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Fuller School of Psychology in Pasadena, California, and a NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) post-doctoral fellowship in clinical neuroscience, is a research professor of psychiatry (psychology) at Drexel University College of Medicine as well as the Chief Scientific Officer for Translational Neuroscience, LLC, which is next door to the Spring Mill Cafe in Conshohocken.

Rick’s wife, Rita Shaughnessy, who has both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, is a psychiatrist and currently the director of outpatient psychiatric services for Drexel University College of Medicine. In fact, Rick and Rita “do a fair amount of research together.” Rick’s daughter, Rachel Doria, of North Wales, was working with autistic children until recently, when she gave birth to a son.

As an example of the research of this scientific couple who live in Mt. Airy (Rick has lived there for 25 years and Rita since they got married 17 years ago), they have raised awareness of an often overlooked aspect of schizophrenia, low serum sodium. They reported a case study in the June, 2011, issue of Psychiatric Annals, a professional journal, that could theoretically help long-hospitalized schizophrenia patients to become clinically stable enough to be discharged into the community.

The paper was an extensive study of a 64-year-old schizophrenia patient who was discharged from Norristown State Hospital after 48 years, once his serum sodium was corrected! Rick and Rita and three colleagues concluded that “The prevailing view … has resulted in poor management of this condition (low serum sodium). Insufficient diagnostic tests are ordered, and patients usually remain untreated … after two years of ongoing treatment with tolvaptan, the patient was deemed sufficiently clinically stable to be discharged into the community…”

But along with his sober, scientific passion for making life more rewarding for schizophrenic patients and their families, Rick also shares a passion for another discipline that might seem to be as incompatible with brain research as a man on roller skates is with mountain climbing. Rick is in love with his family’s farm, the Lofgren Brothers Farm, which was founded in 1912 by his forebears, Sam and Paul Lofgren, then 23 and 21, respectively, in Richvale, north central California.

According to information provided by the family, the Lofgrens had left Sweden and crossed the ocean to a sod house on the prairie outside Loomis, Nebraska, where they found not abundance but blizzards and hail, drought and tornadoes and crop failure after crop failure. The Richvale Land Company in California had promised Midwestern farmers a garden spot where orchards, vineyards and row crops of all kinds could be cultivated year-round. Upon their arrival in December of 1912, however, Sam and Paul Lofgren found “a muddy bog of impassable sloughs.” There was only open space in all directions and worthless mud everywhere. A traveling companion disembarking in Richvale simply sat down on the railroad tracks and cried.

Thanks to their impossible work ethic, however, the Lofgren brothers eventually established one of the original rice farms in California, an industry that produces more rice today than any other state in the nation except for Arkansas. The original Lofgren homestead remains an active family farm and has passed into the hands of Rick’s brother, Curt Josiassen, and his family, sister Joan and mother Orpha, 89, the fourth generation of Lofgren descendants. Their dad died in the early 1990s. Rick grew up on the farm, although he moved to Philadelphia in 1978 to do a research fellowship with the late Dr. Charles Shagass, who was head of the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute. At first Rick lived in Ambler and has stayed in this area because he “fell in love with Philly …

“I have not put a shovel in the rice fields since I left high school, but I still love the land … Most of the rice in California is farmed industrially with little respect for the land and its wildlife, using pesticides and herbicides. In contrast, my brother Curt saw the destructive results of industrial farming, and as a youngster he resolved to grow rice differently, using the traditional methods of his grandfather and great-uncle.

“So in the 1990s, Curt began cultivating rice organically, using no chemicals and allowing fields to rest three years before planting any organic seed. All of the Lofgren Brothers rice is grown and milled to strictly organic standards. These include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards as well as the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) official certification.”

Now, 100 years after the Lofgren brothers sank their boots and their life savings into the mud of Richvale, the farm sells their organic rice primarily to large brokers, who in turn sell it to large food chains like Trader Joe’s and Cosco. But thanks to an agreement Rick recently helped to negotiate with the Weavers Way Co-op stores in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy, the co-op purchased a ton of the family’s aromatic Heirloom Red Rice and Harvest Medley, a blend of several organic varieties. As of September, it has been on the shelves in both stores. (The price may fluctuate in the neighborhood of $2.79 a pound.)

According to Norman B. Weiss, purchasing manager, as of last week, “We sold about 150 bags of the Organic Harvest Medley and about 110 bags of the Organic Heirloom Red so far. I think this is a little better than what we expected. We are also going to start featuring the rice in a prep food dish or two. While direct price comparisons are difficult due to things like items not being exactly the same and some items going on promotion a few times a year, the Lofgren Brothers rice branded as Weavers Way everyday price is about 20% below the main competing brand.”

Glenn Bergman, Weavers Way store manager, added that they “are also gearing up to provide a 5% discount on the rice for any WW member … and we are also planning to sell to other co-ops (under the Weavers Way label).”

Geechee Girl Rice Café in Mt. Airy has also been using the Lofgren Brothers’ Heirloom Red Rice for three years, and Rick says at least two other restaurants in our area have recently begun purchasing the rice and should be using it in their cooking.

In addition to his obvious skills as a scientific researcher and now a rice salesman, Rick took 10 years of classical piano lessons and paid his way through graduate school by playing guitar, piano and bass. Under the name Back Alley Productions, Rick, Rita and neighbors also stage about three or four concerts each summer in their own Mt. Airy backyard. Usually there are about 60 to 70 people in the audience, and some of the area’s most prominent jazz musicians have performed there such as Doc Gibbs with the late Syd Simmons, Sherry Butler, Minas and Denise King.

Weavers Way recently did a tasting for the public of the Lofgren Brothers rice, which was such a success that they will be doing another one at the Mt. Airy store on Saturday, Dec. 1, noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 215-843-2350, ext. 133, or visit www.weaversway.coop