People who practice permaculture refer to themselves as 'permies'. It is so much shorter than to say 'permaculture practitioner'. Plus, it sounds cooler. PLUS, it sounds very australian, which is it.
Here is a brief history.
Two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison came up with the term permaculture as an alternative to the monocropping agriculture that they saw severely depleting soils, and as a replacement to the way people looked at agriculture philosophically, economically and practically.
If you are not sure if you even want to read further, I say, ok, don't. BUT... if there is anything that could visually make you see where this is heading, check out Geoff Lawton's online video of when they changed the agricultural practice in a part of Jordan by the dead sea. I think you'll be amazed and excited about the ramifications if growing food where there is precious little water is done differently that currently is the case. Please check out Geoff Lawton!
No two permaculture definition is the same because it encompasses many aspects of sustainable living approaches. The one my instructors Dick Pierce and Selwyn Polit gave is ;
An ethical design system for ecological living
One of the aims is to reforest the Earth. Think for example of mangroves. In certain parts of Asia, cutting away the mangroves has lead to thousands of deaths due to tsunamis. Mangroves are an obstacle of the water and on top sustain a multitude of life.
Another goal is to reclaim the soil. Monocropping practices dictate that fruits and vegetables are grown in straight rows in order to allow machinery to drive in between and pick the food. The paths in between are not mulched which leads to nutritional depletion of the soil from the sun plus the soil gets stirred up and gets lost by way of dust.
Yet another very important one is to grow the food where people live. That one is very significant for local economies and places that have farmer's markets. It makes for healthier grown food (organic plus the longer fruits and vegetables take to your plate, the more nutrition it loses), plus it supports local farmers and diverse growing practices.
A major part of permaculture is ethics. The three major ones is to take care of the earth, care of the people who live on it and give away the surplus.
As you can imagine, practicing permaculture is not solely about growing food organically. It requires a belief system that goes against the current economic thinking. It is not liberal in the literal sense. It is communal and inclusive.
For those of you who live in countries that are economically burdened, or who rely on foreign aid, you can imagine what difference it can make if the outlook of the West changed from market driven, only profit driven system,to one that I would say is more Islamic and takes care of the community. Well, in the Islamic way how it is proposed in the Koran anyway.