Quest for the Perfect Strawberry
Book Review

The Quest for the Perfect Strawberry book review given here is for the text by Dr. Herbert Baum.

The Quest for the Perfect Strawberry (copyright 2005 by Herbert E. Baum) is subtitled A Case Study of the California Strawberry Commission and the Strawberry Industry: A Descriptive Model for Marketing Order Evaluation. The "Descriptive Model" is an economics model, designed and presented by the author, for determining the effectiveness of the California Strawberry Commission (CSC) in it's efforts on behalf of the strawberry industry of California.

The author, Dr. Herbert E. Baum, is uniquely qualified to write this text. After receiving his Master of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Chicago, Baum worked for Naturipe Berry Growers in California (1958-1991) in the positions of VP of Sales and CEO. Additionally, Baum was elected and served as board chairman of the California Strawberry Advisory Board, the predecessor of the CSC, for the terms of 1975-1976 and 1988-1989. Thus, Baum has an incredibly deep understanding of economics, as well as of the strawberry industry (in general), and the CSC (in particular).

When Dr. Baum left the Univ. of Chicago, he had completed all the coursework required for his Ph.D. and only needed a dissertation to receive his doctorate. After completing Quest for the Perfect Strawberry, Baum offered it to the faculty of the economics department of his alma mater, asking that it be accepted as the dissertation that had been put-on-hold for so many years.

With no less than 3 Nobel laureates in the department's faculty (Dr. Gary Becker, Dr. Milton Friedman, and Dr. James Heckman), the text was indeed accepted for a dissertation, and Baum received his doctorate in economics on August 25, 2006. Dr. Baum was 79 years old, the oldest age at which anyone had ever been conferred a doctoral degree by the university.

Click here (this link will open in a new window) for the University of Chicago report on Dr. Baum's graduation, or here (this link will also open in a new window) for a report on the event from the USDA.gov website (has a nice photograph of Dr. Baum in his graduation garb).

Obviously, then, this book has previously been given some very good reviews by some of the world's best economists. There are, however, a couple of things that should be pointed out in this Quest for the Perfect Strawberry book review concerning the economics aspect of this work.

First, the model given is, in fact, a "descriptive model". In some sense, this means that the model evaluates things somewhat more qualitatively than quantitatively. It is not a model that can be used like some formula from algebra.

Nevertheless, this model does show that it is possible to clarify quite a lot of what is involved in making government policy, which should lead to greater government accountability. Dr. Baum states several times in the book that the CSC (and we could all say this of every government agency) should do everything it reasonably can to justify the funds that it collects. This model was created in such a way as to be useful to the CSC for just that purpose.

Second, the portion of the book covering the model (mainly Chapters 4-6) is really for those who want or need to read economics research work. If you find such things uninteresting, then you probably will not care much for those chapters.

There is another main focus of the text to be mentioned in this Quest for the Perfect Strawberry book review. Included primarily in the first three chapters (but also spread throughout the rest of the volume, though rather thinly elsewhere), Dr. Baum attempted to fill in certain (mostly California related) gaps in the post World War II strawberry history which he perceived to exist in A History of the Strawberry from Ancient Gardens to Modern Markets by Stephen Wilhelm and James E. Sagen.

On page 8, Baum wrote:

"Although A History of the Strawberry from Ancient Gardens to Modern Markets chronicled much interesting information, it failed to appreciate the major Revolution, sponsored by non-Driscoll industry leaders, which lead to the development of a breeding, horticultural, and marketing model for the present and future. It was this model, with the California Strawberry Advisory Board (California Strawberry Commission) at the center, which provided the grower funded cooperative development of an industry-university partnership." Among the vanguard of this "Revolution" were two men, for whom Baum states specifically "this book is written to honor two scientists, Dr. Royce Bringhurst and Victor Voth...".

Taking over from Dr. Harold E. Thomas and Earl V. Goldsmith after they left the University of California system around the end of World War II, Voth entered the system first as a Research Technician (1946) (promoted to a Specialist in 1952) and then Dr. Bringhurst joined in 1953. It is in large part through their studies that California (and the rest of the world, in fact) has today's modern strawberry varieties and growing techniques. These advances make it possible for strawberry lovers to enjoy their favorite fruit year-round as fresh-picked produce, and at an affordable price.

Voth, Bringhurst, and other strawberry researchers within the U.C. system received substantial assistance in their efforts from the state's strawberry growers. Much of this aid was given through the California Strawberry Advisory Board (CSAB), later reformed as the California Strawberry Commission (CSC), as part of it's mandated activity to assist strawberry research. The cooperation that has existed between the CSAB/CSC and the U.C. strawberry research community is praised repeatedly by Dr. Baum.


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The following is a short overview of some of the topics covered in the text:

Contents, List of Tables, and List of Illustrations.

Preface: A few words relating how the author came to write the book. There is one sentence on pages xv-xvi that seems especially noteworthy:

"It must be recognized that the Quest for the Perfect Strawberry began with Dr. Harold Thomas, Earl Goldsmith and Driscoll Associates, followed and advanced by the rest of the industry with the previously mentioned leadership as Victor Voth and Dr. Royce Bringhurst carried the banner".

Clearly, Baum did acknowledge the contributions of Thomas, Goldsmith, and the Strawberry Institute, but simply wanted Bringhurst, Voth, and others to receive the recognition that they also deserved.

Introduction: A short overview of the contents and purpose of the text.

Chapter 1: A few words on the history of the strawberry, attempting to address perceived omissions in that history in previous texts. Special attention is paid to the work of Dr. Royce Bringhurst and Victor Voth; and the cooperation between the California Strawberry Commission (and the preceding California Strawberry Advisory Board) and University of California strawberry researchers. The successes in strawberry farming in southern California are featured.

Chapter 2: Brief chapter that explains the formations and purposes of the California Strawberry Advisory Board/California Strawberry Commission and the Processing Strawberry Advisory Board.

Chapter 3: Details strawberry breeding, growing, and marketing in California from the mid-1900's to the early 2000's.

Chapter 4: A consideration of the difficulties involved in evaluating the effectiveness of advertising, particularly the promotional-type of advertising which has commonly been utilized by commodity boards (e.g. the California Strawberry Commission).

Chapter 5: Arguments for (and an introduction to) the author's specifically "descriptive" model for determining the effectiveness of a commodity board's policies.

Chapter 6: A detailed explanation of the variables that Baum includes in his model. The work of the California Strawberry Commission/California Strawberry Advisory Board is used as a "case study" to illustrate the workings of the model. Some of the included material is also of interest from a purely historical perspective.

Summary and Conclusions: Recap of the preceding sections of the book. Also, a look at the (then) current California Strawberry Commission activities (e.g. the "Red Edge" campaign) with an eye to their future evaluation by his descriptive model.

Biography (one page about Dr. Baum), two Appendices, Glossary of Terms, References, and Index.

(Note: this strawberry book review is given simply to introduce strawberry lovers to great writing about strawberries. Please do the right thing and respect all copyrights. Thank you!)

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