McDonell Farm was one of the paintings Moses featured in her book Grandma Moses: American Primitive. The passage describes farm life, as if the artist were seeking to create a verbal equivalent of the painting. She was inspired by the children's nursery rhyme "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" (misspelled in her title). The clusters of people at work, children at play, and animals in the pasture are dominated by one of her most muted and poetic landscapes. Moses gathered her sources for the vignettes and figural groupings from popular media, such as magazine illustrations, greeting cards, and advertisements. She traced the contours of figures and buildings and incorporated them into her compositions, carefully saving the clippings for future use.
Grandma Moses balanced elements intuitively, contrasting colors such as greens and browns, figural groupings and empty space, abstract pure color and narrative detail, and her handling of these compositional components is unusually sensitive in this lyrical landscape. The strength of design and gentleness of tone are presumably the qualities that attracted Duncan Phillips. In 1949, he purchased a winter scene, Hoosick Falls in Winter (1944), which had been included in her one-person exhibition at the museum. Having both a summer and a winter landscape by Grandma Moses in the collection, Phillips judged his holdings of the artist complete.