Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 951–963 | Cite as

Organic farming in the past and today: sociometabolic perspective on a Central European case study

  • Eva Fraňková
  • Claudio Cattaneo
Original Article


This paper contributes to the vivid academic debate on potentially more sustainable models of food production, focusing especially on energy issues. Applying social metabolism and energy flow analysis, it compares the functioning of a current small-scale organic family farm in the village of Holubí Zhoř, Czech Republic, with the historical performance of the village agroecosystem in c.1840. Historical data from the Franciscan stable cadastre and current data from direct field research are employed to quantify main productive assets (land, livestock, machinery and labour) and related energy flows into energy balance indicators. Their comparison shows that the present farm lies halfway between modern mechanized and traditional organic agriculture and thus constitutes an indicative case of the limits and potentialities of present-day more sustainable farm systems. Methodologically, the study is innovative by applying the social metabolism approach on the local (village and farm) level in the context of the global North, and by advancing the use of Energy Return On Investment (EROI) indicators for agroecosystems.


Sustainable farm systems Social metabolism Organic farming Local food systems EROI (Energy Return On Investment) in agriculture Franciscan stable cadastre 



This research was supported by the Czech Science Foundation, Grant no. 13-38994P: Quest for sustainable food production: Social and financial metabolism of selected local food systems. Claudio Cattaneo acknowledges support from the Sustainable Farm Systems project, partnership Grant 895-2011-1020 awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The historical cadastral data were provided for free by the Moravian Provincial Archives in Brno (Czech Republic). We are further grateful for the help of Majka Chudíková and Lucka Jahnová with the field data collection, Bára Machová, Hana Bernardová, Kamila Svobodová and Hana Prymusová with translation and interpretation of the historical data, Martin Černý and Nikola Šťastná with data transcription, Simone Gingrich for her kind support during the analysis, and Nadia Johanisová for language corrections. We are also grateful to two anonymous referees for their valuable feedback.

Supplementary material

10113_2016_1099_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (319 kb)
Comparison of land use patterns: historical and current national scale (1843 and 2012), and case studies (village c.1840 and farm 2012). Source: own calculation based on Kušková et al. (2008); MoA (2013); ČÚZK (2015) (PDF 319 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Social StudiesMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Barcelona Institute of Regional and Metropolitan StudiesAutonomous University of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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