Cotton Festival

Different departments and divisions make Farm Festival fun


A message from Town of Marana Special Events Coordinator Monique Hagberg.

The days are getting shorter and Fall is in the air. We know what that means. Marana Farm Festival is here, and Town of Marana staff is excited to invite the public to Marana Heritage River Park to enjoy a night of rodeo demonstrations, carnival rides, food, and fun.

Residents, visitors, and businesses alike can enjoy a traditional country fair with top-notch family entertainment that combines Marana’s agricultural and rodeo heritage with carnival attractions. There will be games, rides, great food, rodeo demonstrations, and a mutton bustin’ competition. Enjoy live music, explore the petting zoo, and participate in the pumpkin races. Proceeds from the pumpkin races will benefit the Marana-Foothills Optimist Club. 


There will be free parking and event entry, but fees will apply for vendors throughout the park. This year there will also be a one-dollar charge per carnival ride to help manage over-crowding. Town of Marana staff works hard to create events that are as accessible to the public as possible while maintaining costs and ensuring affordable opportunities.  

The Town of Marana Signature Events series is a multi-departmental endeavor to create unique experiences for the Marana community and includes Marana Founders’ Day, Star Spangled Spectacular, Marana Farm Festival, and Marana Holiday Festival & Christmas Tree Lighting. It takes the combined effort of nearly every department to make each event a success. While the public can anticipate interacting with Event and Parks and Recreation staff on event day, there is a tremendous collaborative effort to make things safe and welcoming from behind the scenes.

With anywhere from 3,000 to 17,000 people in one night, there are safety concerns to be considered when designing each event. From security to medical treatment, Marana Police Department and Northwest Fire District work together to ensure public safety.

The event facilities are in top-notch shape due to the combined efforts of Parks and Recreation and Public Works staff. The Traffic Division designs the best setup for getting in and out of the event as well as providing enough available parking, and the Development Services Department works hard to inspect all structures to ensure safety.

The Town’s administration staff is also hard at work making sure all vendors, partners, and contractors are formally processed so the business community can have an engaging presence at Town events.

When all departments come together seamlessly, events are a success. That is once again the goal this weekend for the Marana Farm Festival. 

For more information on Marana Farm Festival and future events, please visit Thank you to our signature event sponsor Core Construction, and additional sponsors Tucson Local Media, Trico Electric Cooperative, Pima County Farm Bureau, 5th Avenue Productions, Red Diamond Rentals, Tucson Kona Ice, Ciao Down, and Post Farms.

See you on the farm!

Marana Farm Festival is this Saturday, Sept 29 from 4-9PM at Marana Heritage River Park.



Marana marketing campaign wins national award


MARANA - Town of Marana received national recognition on Thursday, September 6 with an Award of Excellence from the City-County Communications & Marketing Association for the category Photography Single-Image Use.  

The submission, labeled “Abaaa-ndon Sheep!” featured a photograph of a young competitor at the Marana Cotton Festival Mutton Busting competition holding on tightly as their sheep raced through the rodeo arena. The photograph was captured by J.D. Fitzgerald.  

The intended goal of the photograph and ensuing advertising outreach was to grow the Marana Farm Festival, promote the event as a way to celebrate the Town of Marana rodeo and agrarian roots, and to demonstrate how rodeo is not only a key component of farm life but part of the very fabric of Marana’s rich tapestry. 

The Town not only saw the size of the event grow over time, but saw a huge increase in social media interaction in posts using striking, professional images.

“Outstanding entry presentation and image,” the judges wrote.

“We made an effort to use dynamic images in our event marketing and outreach and the community really responded,” said Communications Manager Vic Hathaway. “We saw more comments and shares on our social media posts about the event, and had over 2,000 more views on our on-line photo galleries.”

Mutton busting is one of the most popular features at Marana Farm Festival, with the next event scheduled September 29, 2018. Visit for more information.

The Town of Marana also won a Savvy Award for Special Events: One-Time Events from the City-County Communications & Market Association.

JD Fitzgerald is an award-winning photographer and cinematographer based out of Tucson, AZ. For over seven years JD served as a staff photojournalist winning several awards from the Arizona Newspaper Association and the Arizona Press Club. He has also produced many films local artists and advertising for small/medium sized businesses.

His clients include: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Congressman Ron Barber, Town of Marana, Marana Unified School District, Marana Police Department, and Northwest Fire District.

The City-County Communications & Marketing Association announced the 2018 winners of its national Savvy Awards Competition during a ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee in Wisconsin. 

The Savvy Awards, held in conjunction with 3CMA’s Annual Conference, recognize outstanding local government achievements in communications, public-sector marketing and citizen-government relationships. The Savvies salute skilled and effective city, county, agency or district professionals who have creatively planned and carried out successful innovations in communications and marketing. 3CMA accommodates local government organizations of all sizes and budget classes by judging entries in several different population groups.

Cotton Festival sees great growth


The bright lights of the carnival rides and food trucks illuminate a spot of desert surrounded by a cotton field on one side and a burgeoning housing development on the other. For one night out of the year, this land goes from a tranquil community park with small gardening plots to a traditional country fair with flashing lights, raucous music, and children’s laughter.

This third edition of the Marana Cotton Festival was the biggest yet, with attendance more than double from the year before, but built on the same old fashioned fun it was based upon. 

The heart of the Marana Cotton Festival celebrates the farming and rodeo roots of the Town. Marana’s history is of soil-covered hands and dusty boots, a municipality formed by area farmers over forty years ago. On event day, nearly the whole community came out to experience Marana’s rodeo and agricultural heritage.

Rodeo once again ruled the day. The event opened with a rodeo that showcased demonstrations by experienced rodeo competitors, but also saw young children getting their boots dusty for the first time in the Mutton Busting, Boot Scramble, Stick Horse Barrel Racing activities. Throughout the festival you could hear their times being announced, and those who wanted a closer view were treated to the rodeo traditions that have been going on in the area for hundreds of years.

Few events bring a smile to the crowd’s faces as Mutton Bustin’. For many, the smiles on their faces might suggest this was just the beginning of their lifelong affiliation with the sport. Soon the sheep may be exchanged for horses, and for a few, even bulls. 


The Cotton Festival featured carnival rides and two musical acts, but the loudest sound of the day was probably at the cotton pile. After watching a pair of John Deere mechanical cotton pickers rumble through the fields to harvest the crop, the hauls were dumped into a hay bale pen for the children to play in. There were squeals of delight and loud laughter for hours as children scooped up the fluffy cotton and threw it at each other, at themselves, or up in the air to watch it float down to earth. Children ran, jumped, and played together in the cotton from the time the yield was dumped until the last rides were shut down five hours later. 

What is a carnival without carnival rides? Whirling and spinning rides were a huge attraction. Their neon lights lit up the Marana Cotton Festival sky, serving as a beacon for miles around. Reds and blues and greens flashed and streaked against the ebony night sky, while the yelps of their riders let all those around them know about the thrill seeking fun to be had.

The smell of popcorn, barbecue and desserts filled the air as food trucks and vendors served their wares. Fresh popped kettle corn, mounds of curly fries, and deep fried desserts were served side by side with mouth-watering meatballs, delicate French pastries, and piping hot gourmet pizza. There was something for every taste and craving. 

The steak fry and Chili Bowl chili cook-off provided good food for great causes, and the beer gardens provided refreshment on a perfect night. 

Cheerleaders and youth soccer teams patrolled the grounds, reminding people to check out the carnival games. Even Trixie the Goat tried on her finest tutu and tiara to tell people about the great fun at the 4-H Club fundraiser. 

The Marana Community Choir showed off their beautiful voices and sweet harmonies before giving way to Blue Monsoon who quickly got the dance floor moving with their take on country favorites and rock and roll classics. Small children and couples put on their dancing boots and moved to the music. 

Perfect weather made for a perfect evening as the Town came together. The third annual Cotton Festival was the biggest yet, growing just as the town is growing, but like Marana, its growing size did not take away from the small town, country feel.

Cotton Festival Blog #6: Busy Weekend in Marana


Every month the Town of Marana provides a column from one of our Town Staffers to the Marana News and Explorer News. This month Special Events Coordinator Monique Hagberg wrote about the Cotton Festival she is working to put on, as well as Parks and Rec's Wild Burron Trail Dirt Dash.

This weekend will be a busy one in Marana, with two different events that both touch on some of the very things that make the town so special. The Cotton Festival celebrates Marana’s history, and the Wild Burro Dirt Dash is a great way to explore our great trails. 

The Marana Cotton Festival celebrates the Town’s agrarian and rodeo heritage by providing a day of fun for the whole family. The event will be held at the Marana River Heritage Park from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 15, and is free to the public.

We want our signature events to appeal to the whole family, so we have made sure there is plenty to do for everyone. For the kids there is the giant cotton pile, free carnival rides, petting zoos, mutton busting and plenty of games. 

Best of all, most of the kids events (save for the mutton busting) are free. Our events are designed to be a fun, inexpensive night out for the families in Marana. 

For the grown-ups there are two beer gardens, the Chili Bowl chili cook-off and the steak fry. 

The whole family will enjoy the rodeo activities and all of the great food vendors. Music will be provided by the Marana Community Theater: Community Choir and “Nu Country” band Blue Monsoon. 

The emcee for the event is KIIM 99.5 DJ Buzz Jackson. Not only does he represent KIIM-FM, but Jackson is a resident of Marana and has enjoyed our signature events in the past.

The town’s parks and recreation department loves trying out new events, and one of the newest is the Wild Burro Dirt Dash on Sunday, Oct. 22. The sport of trail running is gaining popularity, and we are hosting our first trail running race. Not only does the event celebrate the town’s commitment to health and fitness, but it provides a unique way for us to show off our great trails and the beautiful Tortolita Mountains. 

Trail running is not unlike cross country, but cranked up a notch. The dirt dash is a grueling 18.1K on a one-of-a-kind single-track course. If you can handle it, this race will force you through massive elevation gains, extreme downhills and many technical sections. 

This is not for the inexperienced runner, as endurance levels are guaranteed to be pushed while immersing you in beautiful desert views that are sure not to disappoint. 

Whether you are an experienced runner or hiker, or have partaken in trail running, this is a great way to experience Marana’s Tortolita Trail system like never before.

Just like Marana’s road races, there is electronic timing, a race bib and finish line snacks, but new to this event is a custom participation metal featuring our Wild Burro mascot.

Space is limited as this event is exclusively for the first 250 registered participants. 

Marana has so many things to offer our families, and these two events are fantastic showcases for some of the best aspects of our town. Whether you want to celebrate history, hear some great music, eat some great food, or just watch the kids have fun, then the Cotton Festival is for you. If you want some great exercise, some great views, or to push yourself as an athlete, then the Dirt Dash is the event you are looking for. 

Marana News: Cotton Festival preview


The Marana News previewed this weekend's Cotton Festival:

Monique Hagberg walks through a dry patch of ground nestled between a large swath of cotton and the constant hum of a housing development. 

This sleepy patch of agrarian land, known as Marana Heritage River Park—with its bountiful Arizona cottonwoods and lush green grass, will soon transform into the entertainment epicenter of the town. Thousands of spectators are expected to pour through the park’s dirt-crusted entrance this Saturday for the town’s third annual Cotton Festival. 

Hagberg, who is tasked with organizing the event for the town, estimates that upwards of 4,000 people will be there for this year’s event—up from last year’s 3,000. 

Attendees will have the chance to participate in a number of events, from a chili cook-off under the park’s ramada benefitting the Marana Food Bank to carnival rides and a rodeo exhibition hosted by the University of Arizona rodeo team. 

The best part, according to Hagberg, is the event’s price tag, or lack thereof. 

“The reason we do our events in the town is really to give our residents something that they can invest in, and something they can come out and enjoy,” she said. “We really make a point of making our events as free as possible. For instance, for this event, the only thing that you pay for is the food, and the beer if you want to participate in that.” 

Read the rest of the story at the Marana News. 

Cotton Festival Blog #4: Mutton Busting and Rodeo

At the heart of the Cotton Festival is rodeo. From adult demonstrations to young riders and ropers, the best that Marana has to offer will be on display during the Marana Cotton Festival. The University of Arizona Rodeo Club will put on team roping and barrel racing demonstrations during the event.  

Even the youngest and least experienced in rodeo have a chance to participate in several events. For the thrill-seekers there is Mutton Busting, where well-padded children ages 4-6 ride on the back of sheep and try to hold on as long as they can.  With the child on-board, the sheep will race into the arena, creating a bumpy, exhilarating ride.

Children wear helmets with safety cages as well as padded vests, and the sheep are chosen based upon the age and weight of the child to help ensure both are as safe as possible.

The cost of the event is $20 and you must pre-register your rider at

The event is fun for both the riders as well as the spectators, and is a highlight of the Cotton Festival. It is a great introduction to the sport of rodeo and a fun way to experience livestock in in a different setting than many children are accustomed.

Not sure if Mutton Busting is right for your child? Then the Boot Scramble is another fun way to participate in the events. The Boot Scramble is a race where children have to find their boot in a big pile, put it on, then race back to the finish line.

There is far more to the Marana Cotton Festival than just rodeo events. There are free carnival rides, music from the Marana Community Choir and Blue Monsoon, food trucks, petting zoos, two beer gardens, and the giant cotton pile which is more fun for the kids than you can imagine. Admission and most of the festivities are free, though there are costs for food and drinks.

Cotton Festival Blog No. 3: Meet Buzz


Marana’s Signature Events are all about bringing the community together. They are about giving the Town’s residents a unique, fun experience and about working hand in hand with our community partners. This year’s Cotton Festival will give us the opportunity to combine both.

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Our emcee for the event is Kiim 99.5 DJ Buzz Jackson. Not only does he represent Kiim FM and the Cumulus family of radio stations who are a important partner in our event, but Buzz is a resident of Marana.

Buzz has lived in Marana since moving to Southern Arizona 16 years ago and has remained a presence in the community. He has been involved in the Town’s Holiday Festival and Fourth of July Star Spangled Spectacular and is excited about the Cotton Festival.

 “Anything I can do to expand my involvement is something that I look forward to,” Buzz said. “Being a part of the community and bringing my family to these events is a lot of fun.”

At Kiim 99.5 Buzz plays all of our country favorites, but tries to add a little fun to every broadcast. He must be doing something right as he has won air personality of the year awards from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. His broadcasts are also heard on many of Westwood One's country stations across America every day.

Buzz has also embraced Marana. He likes to ride his bike on The Loop and can be seen walking Wrangler the Dog in the neighborhood. He is excited to interact with the Marana community at the Cotton Festival.

 “These people are my neighbors,” he said. “It is great to share these events with them and be a part of them with them.”

The Cotton Festival is not possible without our community partners. This year the event is presented by Comcast, in partnership with Core Construction.

Cotton Festival Blog No. 2: Chili Bowl


While we are always trying to make improvements to all our Signature Events, we also like to keep them rooted in tradition. That is true of the Cotton Festival, which harkens back to Marana’s agrarian roots, and tries to have a small time carnival feel, while simultaneously providing visitors a first class event.


Even though the festival is nearly two months away, we are conducting weekly meetings to work out all the little details to make your Cotton Festival experience the best we can. From parking to food to the beer garden, we are planning to have everything run as smooth as possible to make the night a success.

Our goal is to take the things that work, and see if we can make them better. One of those things is the chili cook-off. It has been a good event, but the idea was to expand it, and so this year the cook-off has become the Chili Bowl.

The winner of the Chili Bowl earns the title of Marana’s Favorite Chili, which is one coveted championship, but more importantly, the proceeds go to a great cause. We already have several organizations fine-tuning their secret recipes to try and take home the championship. We hear that even several weeks out they are testing recipes, perfecting spice blends, and answering the important questions like “how hot is too hot?” and “beans or no beans?”

Right now groups like Avra Valley Fire, Northwest Fire, the Marana High School Culinary Arts team, Firehouse Subs, Highlands Grille and the Marana Chamber of Commerce have all indicated that they wish to compete, but there are still openings for those who think their chili is the best in Marana. The only catch is you must have access to a commercial kitchen and be able to produce 5 gallons of the good stuff, and be able to serve it at 135 degrees.

For those who don’t cook chili but want to eat chili, they can pay $5 to be a judge and sample all the great offerings. The funds raised by the sampling fee will go to benefit the Community Food Bank in Marana.

The contest will award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, as well as a taster’s choice award.

What’s better than eating some great chili or eating some great chili to benefit a great cause? The whole event is part of the fun of the Cotton Festival.

For more information on the Chili Bowl contact Marsha Johnson at 520-334-7109 or e-mail at

Countdown To Cotton Festival Blog No. 1

By the time the last of the fireworks exploded over the skies at the Fourth of July Star Spangled Spectacular we were already jumping head first into planning our next signature event, the Cotton Festival. In reality planning for the event began long before, but now that Independence Day is behind us, we go full bore into not only planning October’s Cotton Festival, but also the Holiday Festival & Christmas Tree Lighting, which occurs six weeks later.

All of our events take a lot of teamwork to happen. While we have an events coordinator who oversees the operation, we cannot put on an event that hosts thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people without the help of most of our departments, as well as Northwest Fire and other community partners. To make sure your experience at the Cotton Festival is an enjoyable one, all of our departments meet weekly to ensure their role in putting on the event is clearly defined and is working in harmony with all the other departments.

Like most of our signature events, this year’s Cotton Festival promises to be our biggest yet, and that means we have to plan to accommodate for more people, more traffic, and in turn, give them more fun things to do. Although we are in the early stages of planning, we have already expanded the number of carnival rides that will be available. This year we will have five FREE attractions for children of all ages, sizes, and thrill seeker levels. There will be things for adventuresome teens, to the most cautious toddlers.

That is just a start. We have already been hard at work coordinating our rodeo activities, looking for the perfect musical act to provide the soundtrack for the evening’s festivities, and are looking at how to get more volunteers involved. We truly want this to be a community event.

We have just begin putting together the plan for the “Chili Bowl”, the chili cook off hosted by the Community Food Bank in Marana. They are beginning to gather local businesses and organizations to compete for the best tasting chili. Cotton Festival attendees can pay to try bowls of chili and vote for their favorite. The funds raised from the tasting go to the Food Bank in their efforts to fight hunger in the community.


Yummy chili and a good cause sounds good to us.

We have listened to your feedback and we know that the animals at the petting zoos are very popular and that the kids just love to play in the fluffy cotton pile. We are hard at work brainstorming on how to make both of those experiences even better.

Soon it will be time to turn our attention to the food vendors that make Cotton Festival so much fun (and delicious.) Once again we are working with Marana High School to use the Cotton Festival as a way to let their clubs entertain the kiddos, while also fundraising for their own activities.

While October 21 seems like a long way away, it will be here before any of us know it. Although we are getting an early start on things, there is still so much left to do to make sure you have a great time at Cotton Festival.

We will keep posting updates at the Marana Newsroom as well as on our social media platforms, so keep an eye out.

See you in October.

Summer Schooling, Part 5: Marana’s Heritage, Alive and Well

Last week I spent lunch with my family at the Cattleman’s Café.  It is in a working cattle auction house located in north Marana.  I have been there a few times before to eat, but I have never been there on an auction day. It turned out to be far better than a lunch with my family; it was an experience and my kids are already asking when we can go back. 

Usually when you pull up, there are a few trucks and cars outside, and the café is full of locals, but the rest of the converted barn is quiet.  The historic photos that are all over the place are a good reminder of where the Town came from and contribute to the feel of the Old West.

On auction days, the lot is full of trucks with large trailers and the barn side is a flurry of activity.  Livestock is moving in and out while an auctioneer is lively and getting the best dollar he can out of the crowd.  Today, the crowd consisted of hard working cattleman, ranchers, and their families.  They are legitimate cowboys: all wearing jeans, boots, and Stetsons, trying to make their hard work pay off.  Their kids were up in the loft practicing their roping skills and just having a good time. 

Those photos that adorn the walls really come to life when you see everyone there.  The nostalgia you feel on any other day is replaced with history come to life and a feeling that the Old West is alive and well.  It is a good reminder of the value in preserving the heritage of the town and the importance of incorporating local community values and traditions that create a sense of place in everything we do. 

I have been a practicing landscape designer in the Tucson region for about five years and am nearly done with my master’s degree in planning.  In both professions we are always looking into how to create a sense of place, how to make a park or subdivision come to life.  In Marana I don’t think we need to look into creating a new one, but rather need to continue embracing the one that already exists. 

I would encourage everyone to enjoy lunch with your family and friends on an auction day at the café (Wednesdays from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm).  Go to the Heritage River Park for the Cotton Festival and show up for the Founders’ Day Parade.  Embrace the ranching and farming community that exists and have a great time learning about our past and carrying it into the future.  

Tucson Local Media: Cotton Festival Provides fun, free family event

Photos by J.D. Fitzgerald/Tucson Loca Media

Written by Brad Allis, Marana News

The town of Marana has worked hard to create and improve its signature events. The newest of these events is the Cotton Festival, which joins the Fourth of July Star Spangled Spectacular and the Holiday Festival in providing free, family entertainment to the residents of Marana.

This year’s festival is Oct. 10, and the town is already trying to top last year’s event. 

“This is going to be a great family event, and we would encourage everyone to come out,” said Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson....

Mutton Bustin' is here and waiting for you!

Does your son or daughter dream of a home on the range?  Would they rather rustle up some doggies than play video games?  If so, then the Marana Cotton Festival’s Mutton Bustin’ competition may just be the place for them.  Every year, kids from across the community compete to stay atop a bucking sheep for as long as they can.  At this event, they can experience the thrill of a real rodeo without the bucking bronco.  Equal parts fun and excitement, this is sure to be an experience the youngins will never forget.  Sign them up today!