(Aug. 29) Herb Baum, a retired strawberry industry leader, was expected to become the oldest person to be awarded a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago on Aug. 25.

Baum’s work in the produce industry and his scholarly work in economics came together last year when he published his dissertation as a book.

The book, “Quest for the Perfect Strawberry; A Case Study of the California Strawberry Commission and the Strawberry Industry: A Descriptive Model for Marketing Order Evaluation,” provides historical and economic analyses of the commission’s work, the 79-year-old Baum said.

Baum, who earned his doctorate in economics, said working in the produce industry is exciting because it’s filled with the challenges inherent in a free market system.

“You never know exactly what your supply is going to be as a shipper,” said Baum, who analyzed the work of the Watonsville-based California Strawberry Commission as part of his work toward a doctoral degree in economics. “You never know exactly what your demand is going to be. You don’t know what your competition is going to do.”

Part of the challenge for Baum during his 33 years with Naturipe Berry Growers Inc., Salinas, Calif., first as vice president then as president and chief executive officer, was in trying to predict the competition’s next move and analyzing how they might affect the market.

Baum, who also is a former two-term chairman of the California Strawberry Commission, said he’s happy to be the university’s oldest doctoral recipient because he has long intended to finish his degree. He said his book should serve as a good resource for produce industry members.

Baum, who was chairman of the commission from 1975-76 and from 1988-89, said the research for his book demonstrated that the commission did not contribute to the strawberry industry’s growth as much as did private sector businesses in the industry that developed new varieties and marketing plans.

Baum’s book “is a well-executed study of an industry partially monopolized by government authority,” said James Heckman, a member of Baum’s doctoral committee and a Nobel Prize winning economist, in a university news release.

Two other Nobel Prize winners, including free market economist Milton Friedman, also served on Baum’s dissertation committee.

Baum was to receive his doctorate of philosophy in economics more than 50 years after he left the university, having completed all requirements except for his dissertation.

He served as president and CEO of Naturipe from 1979 until his retirement in 1991.
After retirement from Naturipe, Baum worked as a produce industry consultant until he retired from that in 1999. At that point, he began working to complete his doctorate.