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A Georgian who was raised on a peanut farm, Harden came to Washington in 1981 to work for then-Rep. Charles Hatcher, D-Ga., and served in several positions — chief of staff, press secretary, House Agriculture Committee aide — before marrying Hatcher in 1995. She had left the Hill in 1993 to pursue a career in lobbying with Gordley Associates, where she was the Washington representative for the American Soybean Association. In 2004, Harden joined the nonprofit National Association of Conservation Districts — which represents the 3,000 districts tasked with carrying out natural-resource management programs — as chief executive officer. She moved to USDA as assistant secretary for congressional relations in 2009 and was tapped for her current position in August 2011. In late June, Obama announced her nomination as deputy secretary. According to The Albany Herald, a newspaper in southwest Georgia, the 54-year-old Harden is "the highest-ranked Georgian in a presidential administration since the Jimmy Carter presidency." She told the paper, "My roots are firmly in southwest Georgia." In an interview with radio show AgriTalk in 2011, she described herself as a farm girl. "My entire career has been involved in production agriculture," she said. Harden graduated from the University of Georgia in 1981 with a degree in journalism.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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