Go to just about any meeting to do with any aspect of government on the Vineyard and it feels like an AARP convention. Just like the rest of America, the Vineyard is pretty much a gerontocracy these days, a government of the people by the elders.

So, where are the young faces? Who are the future leaders? Are Island youth disengaged, or just otherwise engaged? And what vision do they have for the future?

These are among the questions to which answers will be sought tonight, on the opening evening of the Living Local Harvest Festival. At a meeting, of course, although a rare one in which the majority of the panel will be young.

One of those panelists will be Jannette Vanderhoop and she will have both some encouraging and not-so-encouraging perspectives to present on where Island youth is at.

Yes, she said, lack of involvement in public affairs was a worry.

“I think it is a concern,” she said yesterday. “And that is clearly going to be one of the major themes of the discussion.

“I don’t know anyone my age who is really doing anything in local politics.”

Indeed, she is troubled by the lack of involvement in politics in general. She cited two problems, apathy and what she termed uneducated passion.

She recalled a conversation she had with a friend shortly after the re-election of President Bush five years ago. Her friend was unhappy about the election, but had not bothered to vote.

“I said, ‘I can’t have this conversation with you,’ even though we weren’t disagreeing,” she said.

As for uneducated passion, she recalled another discussion with a young friend who objected to the idea of paying taxes.

“I tried to explain that we have this amazing infrastructure and these great schools and social systems, which taxes paid for, and that sure, you can say ‘damn the man,’ but it would be anarchy and chaos if we didn’t have these things in place,” she said

“I have some friends who are very passionate about some things, but they’re not educated about it, and that frustrates me.”

But she said many of those young people are contributing to the community in other ways.

“What I see is a lot of young people involved in the arts and things like the locally grown initiative. A lot are doing really cool things that are environmentally-conscious — growing their own fruits, vegetables, animals.

“And they’re into poetry and music and art. Making a lifestyle for themselves. I think we’re involved, but in a different way, not so much into government and politics, but more into the social and arts scene.”

Her own list of activities underlines the point that many are not disengaged, just engaged in other ways.

She ran the Aquinnah Cultural Center for three years, is involved in the Vineyard Artisans Festival, is an artist and gardener, is an Adult Community Education teacher and board member (but an irregular attendee of board meetings), a former teen mentor for a tribal youth group and a cultural presenter in the winter at schools here and on the mainland.

As for engagement in politics, she suggested people now wait until a little later in life, just as they waited to take on other things like marriage and parenthood.

On the broader question of being a young person on the Vineyard, she said she thought it important to get off the Island for at least awhile.

“I was Island born and raised, but I went away for boarding school for two years and then to college, in California, as far away as I could get,” she said.

“I think it’s really important to go away, so you have something to compare it to, and to be exposed to other things.

“If you don’t leave this place, you have a tendency to hate it.

“I don’t know why that is. We have blue ribbon public schools, the teachers are great, but it can be a really stifling existence I guess. There’s not a lot of opportunities, not a lot of expansive ideas. Going away really broadened my horizons.”

Still, nowhere else had the same sense of community. Not that the Island is without its problems. There are major problems with teenage pregnancy and addictions, she said, which are not often enough acknowledged.

Her one-sentence prescription for the future?

“I would like for the Island to remain a place where I don’t have to lock my doors.”

One of the older panel members will be Steve Ewing, whose youthful involvement in the Island community was different from Ms Vanderhoop’s, more practical, more orthodox.

It began with less organized things, such as Earth Day and beach cleanups. He was involved in politics from about the age of these kids, but he was into politics proper by the time he was in his 20s.

His first board was the Edgartown conservation commission, which he sat on for “13 or 14 years.” He then went onto others, including the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Great Ponds advisory committee, the town dredge committee, and he currently is a member of the land bank advisory board. He also served briefly on the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation board.

Mr. Ewing, though, is not one to criticize those who contribute in other ways.

“If you love the place and want to make a commitment, it would be great to help in whatever way you can,” he said. “People have different skills, and it’s hard to sit through meetings.

“But, that’s where the decisions are made, and it’s hard to bitch and moan if you don’t get involved.

“Go to any town meeting and you won’t see a lot of young faces. I think that’s kind of the impetus for this thing Friday.”

The most important requirement for affecting change was patience, he said. Not a thing young folks tend to have in abundance.

“Growing up, you tend to think you can just tear it down and start over. Then you realize you’ve got to get in the middle of it.”

Mr. Ewing, who also grew up on the Island, said it was always tough for young people on the Vineyard, and in some ways was becoming harder.

“I hire young local kids and they rent a place from me. One is building a house, because his family had land. But unless your family had land or you get lucky and get some affordable housing, you’re really screwed.

“I see this sense of hopelessness with my guys who work for me. ‘Where’s my future here?’ they say.”

Like Ms. Vanderhoop, he also broadened his education off-Island. And worked off-Island, too, in order to make a go of it here.

“I used to go to New York in the winters, to get work, in the seventies and eighties,” he said.

He did tiling and terrazzo work in New York, worked on Central Park boats, washed dishes at night.

“You did what you had to do,” he said, to support your Island life.

He was not, he stressed, saying young people don’t try as hard now.

But the balance of life has shifted. It is more crowded now and it is hard to get established.

“The costs get so high, you start to question whether it’s worth being here. That’s what I see them doing,” Mr. Ewing said.

“The obscenity of someone building a 10, 15, 20,0000-square-foot summer house, to be lived in for a couple of months a year, for just a few people to use when there are people who can’t afford a 10-by-20 shack, is glaring,” he said.

Ultimately, he said the Island needs to decide how many people could live here. It needs to broaden its economic base.

“But the quality of life is still decent here,” Mr. Ewing said. “The schools are decent. There’s no crime. You don’t have to lock your doors.

“They just need a reason to stay here, the young people,” he said.

Ms. Vanderhoop, Mr. Ewing and the rest of the panel begin their discussion at 7:30 p.m. in the old Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury tonight.