With such a cool summer this year, August feels like an early kick off to fall. In a few short weeks, the first of the early season apples will arrive at Iowa farmers markets and orchards.

I like to visit local orchards almost every weekend in the fall so I can stock up on apples. Once I bring those beauties home, I whip up batches of applesauce, apple butter, dried apples (using a food dehydrator) and, of course, apple pies. There's something blissful about slowly stirring a pot of applesauce over the stove, while watching my favorite football team score a touchdown on TV.

Speaking of football, I saw a group of high school athletes walking to an early morning football practice while I was driving to the office today, which definitely means that back-to-school time is here.

In this issue of the Iowa Dish, we offer tips for packing a safe and healthy school lunch that even picky eaters will enjoy. And even though summer temperatures have been mild, we'll take a closer look at how Iowa farmers keep their livestock cool and comfortable in hot and humid weather.

In addition, we will show how several Iowa farmers are extending their growing seasons past the first fall frost by growing tomatoes indoors. Plus, we will share the results from the latest Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index ®, which covers what influences Iowa grocery shoppers.

So take advantage of these mild fall days and plan a trip to an Iowa apple orchard or farmers market. To find an orchard near you, visit the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association's website.

Stay Cool: How To Pack a Safe School Lunch for your Kids

Now that summer is winding down, Iowa students are returning to class, but they might not always like what's on the school cafeteria menu.  If you regularly pack lunches for your kids at school, or if you pack a lunch for yourself at work, remember to follow safe food-handling practices to prevent the potential for food-borne illness.  Read more.

Extending the Tomato Season

Iowans crave the taste of fresh-picked tomatoes all year long, not just in the summer. But while tomatoes thrive in Iowa's hot summer weather, they can't survive past the first frost of fall.  So farmers are adopting new technology to extend the growing season in Iowa for tomatoes and other fresh produce, such as lettuce, cucumbers and herbs. Read more.

GMO Benefits Win Over Iowa Grocery Shoppers

Nearly nine out of 10 Iowa grocery shoppers say their purchasing decisions would be influenced by knowing that crops developed with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can produce foods with improved nutritional content, according to the recently released Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index®.  The scientific survey, which was conducted online by Harris Poll, also showed that a large majority, 84 percent, of Iowa grocery shoppers would be influenced to buy foods made with GMO crops when they learn that the technology allows farmers to reduce pesticide use. Read more.