Essential elements of self-organization illustrated through localized agri-food systems

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3 Citations (Scopus)
70 Downloads (Pure)


Self-organization is prevalent in local agri-food systems (LAFS), which must often adapt rapidly to both internal and external pressures. This was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, which required rapid self-organization in LAFS due to increased demand for smaller-scale and localized food producers and distributors. Previous research has explored drivers of self-organization in LAFS, often as an artifact of slow-boil socioeconomic or environmental crises. However, there is less research investigating the ingredients required for self-organization to successfully materialize. This paper argues that there is a gap in both the literature and practice that overlooks three core elements required for effective self-organization, or ideas that can transition from thought into action. These fundamental elements – agency, demand, and resource – must all be present and work in harmony for effective self-organization to occur and must be understood as a package. From evidence collected through “patchwork ethnographic” research in Oxford, UK and Freiburg, Germany this paper details how these elements impact decisions and actions taken by LAFS actors. Understanding these core elements can have practical ramifications for practitioners, facilitating better understanding of why ideas or actions may be (in)effective and how to foster effective self-organization, as well as highlighting avenues for self-organization research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-770
Number of pages26
JournalAgroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
Issue number5
Early online date19 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2023

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.




  • Self-organization
  • local agri-food systems
  • local food systems
  • patchwork ethnography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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